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Bridget Gleeson Travel Writer

Avalon Hotel
Vintage Wonderland: South Beach

After one bicycle ride down Ocean Drive, I was ready to chop off my hair, start smoking cloves, and ditch my Macbook for a vintage typewriter.

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Like everyone and his brother, I’m crazy for Mad Men – partly because creator Matt Weiner’s meticulous recreation of 1960s New York is aesthetically stunning. (Check out this handy map to the real-life Manhattan cocktail bars, department stores and old-school hotels frequented by Don and company, many still operational. I also like reading about the show’s shooting locations in Los Angeles.) But I’ve never seen a place that embodies that sixties-style retro glamour like the Art Deco District of South Beach.

Despite the influx of sleek new mega-resorts and plush sushi eateries, a dozen blocks of Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive – lined with hundreds of whimsical 1930s-era buildings in Mediterranean Revival, Miami Modern (MiMo) and Art Deco architectural styles – still feel like a candy-colored outdoor museum.

My advice to you, design-oriented travelers?

1. Stop by the Art Deco Welcome Center (at 10th Street & Ocean Drive) and sign up for a walking tour with the Miami Design Preservation League.

3. Use the DecoBike bicycle share program to rent a beach cruiser and explore the district on two wheels. Rates start at $5/hour and a nifty iPhone app lets you know where bikes are available at the user-friendly kiosks, which are plentiful in South Beach.

3. Stay at The Hotel, formerly known as The Tiffany – for a one-stop retro getaway, you can’t do any better. Todd Oldham designed the interior. I’m in love with the porthole-shaped windows in the lobby cafe, the painted wood planks and marine-colored tiles at the swimming pool, and the historic Tiffany spire soaring above the rooftop bar.

4. Have a cold martini at The Betsy Hotel, a cool 1940s structure that mixes genres: though designed by L. Murray Dixon, the man behind many of South Beach’s Art Deco works, it’s the only example of Florida Georgian architecture on the street. B Bar is the hotel’s famous speakeasy.

5. Check out the Art Deco collection at Wolfsonian-FIU, an excellent design museum in the neighborhood. I particularly liked the vintage advertisements and Paul Frankl’s ‘skyscraper furniture,’ not to mention the fanciful elevator.

 

Back to Mad Men for a minute. Did I mention I’m friendly with – dare I say, friends with – one of the series’ supporting actresses? I won’t say who. But I met her during a big wedding weekend in California over the summer, and, to my surprise, few people seemed to recognize her. So even though I had to tend to my own bridesmaid duties, I couldn’t help myself – I just had to hound her for details during the rehearsal dinner, reception and post-wedding brunch. She talked about her repeated auditions for Matt Weiner, her vintage costumes and her real-life crush on one of the other actors (nope – not Jon Hamm!) She’s delightful and I tried to make her my friend. Reminds me of Joan’s wise words to Peggy when she’s writing a newspaper ad for a new roommate:

If this were me I would say something like ‘fun-loving girl, responsible sometimes, likes to laugh, lives to love, seeks size six for city living and general gallivanting. No dull moments or dull men tolerated!’

- Season 3, Episode 4, The Arrangements