Cultural Fridays on Calle Ocho
The final Friday evenings of every month in Miami, between the hours of 7 pm and 11 pm, there is a free local art festival and street party like no other: Viernes Culturales, on Calle Ocho. That’s SW Eighth Street for the uninitiated, the main drag of the Magic City’s Little Havana neighborhood. Although this is one of a few monthly arts celebrations that happen around the city—most notably the Gables Gallery Walk (held on the first Fridays of every month in Coral Gables, 7 pm - 10 pm) and the Wynwood Art Walk (on second Saturday evenings along SE 2nd Ave. in Miami’s Design District, between 7 pm - 10 pm)—none are as lively and exotic as this one!
The action is centered between SW Fourteenth and Seventeenth Avenues along Calle Ocho, which runs one way toward the east along this stretch. To get there from South Beach, simply take the MacArthur Causeway West to the I-95 and head south. Take exit 1B (SW 7th Street—US 41 West, a right-side exit) and make a right. Continue west on SW 7th Street until you get to SW 12th Avenue, and make a left. You’ll cross over one-way Calle Ocho, that is, SW 8th Street. Make a right one block South of Calle Ocho, and look for a parking spot along the street in the residential neighborhood. You’ll see many people doing the same thing, so it’s reasonably safe, and—even better—free! Here’s a map from South Beach.
C’MON, SHAKE YOUR BODY AND DO THAT CONGA
While I may not have found Gloria Estefan down there dancing to the rhumba beat, there were enough Miami landmarks in this three block radius to make you want to whip out your camera. First, there was Maximo Gomez Park, home of the ever popular domino circuit.
Red, white and blue signs around the area reminded you that even though this was America, the freedom wasn’t limitless: leave the booze outside, keep your shirt on, and don’t spit on the floor!
On an adjoining wall is a colorful mural featuring the musical contributions of Hispanic America, whose envoys represented here formed an almost tropical Mount Rushmore: Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Selena, and Carlos Gardel, the King of the Tango.
Domino Plaza, the space just to the west of Maximo Gomez park, was abuzz with exhibits of all things artsy and Latin.
Musicians entertained passersby with exotic instruments, while a street performer did the tango with a life-sized stuffed companion glued to his shoes in front of the Tower Theatre.
The theatre, opened in 1926, is one of Miami’s oldest landmarks, serves today as a cultural center for the area. It’s also the kick-off for the free Calle Ocho walking tours, which meet at 6:30 pm on the night of the Viernes Culturales, and it serves as an art gallery, to boot.
Art was everywhere, but clearly, at this event it wasn’t something just captured on the canvas. It was there in the energy of the street itself.
Families and friends crowding along tables outside neighborhood bars; people dancing with abandon in restaurant patios. The place was alive with celebration.
SANTERIA-INSPIRED ART AT THE MOLINA GALLERY
Though the art was as plentiful as the beer, the portraits of Santeria deities hanging in the window of the Molina Art Gallery (1634 SW 8th St
PAPA LOVES MAMBO
Lily’s Records (1260 S.W. 8th St., Miami, FL 33135, 305-856-0536), across the street and up a little, is the place to locate that hard-to-find Latin CD. I’d been combing my local stores for weeks trying to find some lilting, Cuban flute music, and was at a loss to explain it (“It sounds kind of Calypso…” the reply: ”...but Calypso is Jamaican!”).....well, long story short, I found what I was looking for here, with the assistance of some very patient sales clerks, who knew the difference between a mambo and a charanga: Enrique Chia presenta a Rene Lorente Y Su Flauta Cubana. It’s had me in a Chiquita Banana mood for the last several days, whistling my new favorite song, Cachita. Go out and buy it! It really gives this city some happy theme music, kind of like what Herbie the Love Bug did for San Francisco in that masterpiece of cinema, Herbie Rides Again.
If all this activity gives you the munchies, stop off at local cafe I Love Calle Ocho (1547 SW 8th St., Miami, FL 33135, 305-643-3737) for some crepes and a turbo-charged cafecito. Nearby, Casa Panza (1620 SW 8 St., Miami, FL 33135, 305-643-5343)is the place to go for tapas (Spanish style appetizers), while El Pub Restaurant (1548 SW 8 St., Miami, 305-642-9942 )is where it’s at for Criollo—Cuban country food. For a more complete description of Calle Ocho restaurants and Cafes, 3 Guys From Miami provides an excellent and thorough tour of them on their website.
A TAMER VERSION OF CALLE OCHO FESTIVAL
The best thing about this art walk is that it can be as wild or mild as you are. The atmosphere is considerably less crazy and crowded than the yearly Calle Ocho Festival, Little Havana’s answer to Carnival, but not quite as mellow—or highbrow—as the Coral Gables version mentioned above. Nonetheless, there is a venue to be found here for any energy level, and you’ll still fit right in no matter what!
Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays programs are made possible by the generous support of their sponsors as well as the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners.
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