January 28, 2016
Located within the historic district formerly (and formally) known as Lemon City, just north of Wynwood and the Design District, Miami‘s Little Haiti is a community rich in the culture of the Caribbean. Like Little Havana, Little Haiti is a nickname for the neighbourhood, not an official incorporation. But it aptly sums up the general vibe of the region, which is populated largely by residents who have emigrated from the island nation.
If you popped up in the middle of Little Haiti at, say, the Caribbean Marketplace, you might not even realize you weren’t in the Caribbean. This colourful building, painted in bold patterns of gold, red, blue and green, is a central gathering place for locals. At 9,500 square feet, the building easily houses a variety of vendors, including those selling Afro-Caribbean crafts, art, food, clothing and more. Entertainment throughout ranges from spoken word poetry and storytelling to jazz and world beats. The marketplace opens every Thursday through Saturday from 10 am and closes at 7 pm, and truly is a wonderful introduction to this warm and welcoming culture.
The Caribbean Marketplace is part of the Little Haiti Culture Complex (LHCC), which also comprises the Little Haiti Cultural Center. This auditorium and classroom facility continues the education of visitors and Magic City denizens alike with a roster of “mind, body & spirit” programs ranging from capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art, to yoga. Nearly ten resident dance and theatre companies offer performances and classes there, as do local artists. The LHCC also features exhibition and gallery space with museum-quality lighting for artists to display visual artwork, including photography and sculpture. Art Beat Miami, which coincides with Art Basel Miami in December, and Big Night in Little Haiti – a concert series produced by The Rhythm Foundation and Little Haiti Cultural Center that takes place free every third Friday of the month – are two special events that happen within and around the LHCC.
For a broader taste of the indie music scene, stop in at the inveterate Sweat Records. A vegan café-slash-coffeehouse-slash-music venue, Sweat was launched by two friends, one a lawyer, the other a club promoter. Since 2005, the Sweat team has not only sold records, CDs, books, magazines, novelty gifts, music T-shirts and other band-related items, but it has also put on shows that range from ska to folk to punk on its Little Haiti in-store stage that always brings a crowd. In addition, Sweat produces an annual block party, Sweatstock, which Miamians hold in higher regard than the big festivals.
Neighbour Churchill’s Pub also promotes live music, launching artists from Marilyn to Mavericks since 1979. The joint is known as well for offering the other three necessities in life: beer, shepherd’s pie and football – the soccer kind of football, not the American kind of football. Look for the painted walls that display a British flag and a portrait of Churchill himself and you’ll know you’re in the right place. Other clues include: rowdy Arsenal fans, back patio karaoke, a crowd of smokers on the corner at midnight, the sounds of a live jam, and all the signs of a party spilling out from the doors.
After saluting Churchill, you might want to pay tribute to Toussaint L’Ouverture. Or, at least, his likeness, which is cast in bronze. The father of Haitian independence, General L’Ouverture marks the intersection of NE 2nd Avenue and 62nd Street, right in the heart of Little Haiti. Another spot dear to the hearts of the locals, the Cathedral of Saint Mary is a historic Catholic congregation, formed in 1929. The church itself was built and moved several times in the area; this particular stucco incarnation dates back to 1957 and features elements such as terrazzo floors, a glazed tile dome, and brass plates and hinges patterning the doors.
During the daytime, you can also view the pastel facades of the shopping plazas and the wall art and murals that exist nearly everywhere. These mostly depict daily Haitian life – and indeed, decorate everything from cell phone stores to barber shops and salons – but also include a black-and-white mural tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., called “Prince of Peace,” by the late artist Oscar Thomas, on 62nd Street as it heads west towards Liberty City. You’ll see carts filled with tropical fruits in season (anything from mangoes and papayas to coconuts and carambolas) for sale, and have the option of stopping into many bakeries, such as Piman Bouk’s New Florida Bakery, for puff pastry pates (pah-tays) filled with beef, chicken or codfish; dense Haitian bread; sweet coconut cakes; and candies like tablet de pistash (nut brittle).
For a full meal, try Piman Bouk Restaurant or Leela’s Restaurant. This modest-looking place serves a beautifully presented blend of Haitian and South Florida-American fare that rivals some of the better kitchens in Miami, thanks to the decades of experience touted by owners Chef Devillien Lubin and Marthe LaFrance. While it’s hard to go wrong with any of the traditional Creole/Kreyol foods – queue boeuf (oxtail), tasso (fried goat) and lambi (conch in tomato sauce) – if you’re not feeling adventurous, barbecued ribs, barbecued chicken, and whole fresh red snapper, served steamed, are always available. Keep in mind that like Cuban fare, Haitians always enjoy beans served over white rice (usually a red kidney or black bean puree poured over rice, called sos pwa for short). But unlike Cubans, Haitians adore spice. A condiment called pikliz is made from vegetables, mostly cabbage and carrots, cured with vinegar and chili peppers. It’s delicious, but from the right kitchen it could also steal your breath for a second.
After fortification, if you have little ones in tow, plan to check out the amenities at the safe and well-groomed Little Haiti Soccer Park. In addition to the pitches, where neighbourhood teams practice and older players meet for pick-up games, a playground, a splash water park and a vita course (a fitness trail with outdoor equipment), is on hand to exhaust and cool off active youngsters.
Little Haiti, while not particularly touristy, is authentic. It’s also a neighbourhood in transition – which means that by 2020, touristy is exactly what it could be. As land in Wynwood and the Design District is gobbled up by luxe corporations installing high-end art and architecture, the smaller gallery and boutique owners are eyeing the real estate just to the north of them. Many have already rented properties, and the prediction is that the hipster art scene will blend in with Haitian culture to turn this area into one of the more intriguing mixtures in the city. In our opinion, it’s already pretty interesting, all on its own.
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Miami from London Heathrow. Why not check out some of these Latin clubs on your next trip?
Have you been to Little Haiti? Where are your favourite places to go in the neighbourhood? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Jen Karetnick