With his creased baseball cap, blond ponytail, and scruffy beard, Jeff McInnis looks more like a truck driver than a South Beach chef. But this Florida Panhandle–raised Southerner has found a home in Miami. “I cannot think of another city I would rather be in right now,” says McInnis, executive chef and partner at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. He credits “being surrounded by water” as a big part of the allure, and when not in the kitchen, he spends much of his time surfing and fishing—at least he did before the birth of his daughter, Bryce, in September, named for his great-grandmother, an Alabama farmer whose backyard geese and chickens inspired the restaurant’s moniker. He’s collaborating with his partners on a sister restaurant set to open in early 2013. The name says it all: Swine Southern Table & Bar.
“I feel familiar here, but it’s a brand-new, exciting city,” says Lourdes Lopez, who was named the new artistic director of the Miami City Ballet this past summer, the only other person to hold that title since Edward Villella founded the internationally lauded company in 1985. Born in Cuba, Lopez first came to Miami before her second birthday but left at fourteen to pursue dancing, going on to become a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. “If you wanted to dance, you had to go to New York or Europe, and that is not the case anymore,” she says. “Now there are tremendous resources here. I have seen it become a cultural landscape that feels very rich to me. More than a melting pot, it is a mosaic of individual communities and cultures.”
When this Miami Beach native opened his first bookstore in Coral Gables, it was two years after the Mariel boat lift and a year after a Time magazine article proclaimed Miami “Paradise Lost.” But Mitchell Kaplan, who just celebrated his original store’s thirtieth anniversary, saw a city “hungry to express its literary sensibility.” Despite competition from online discounters, Kaplan now has eight thriving Books & Books stores and affiliates, hosting some six hundred events a year that attract writers from Anthony Bourdain to Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Nilo Cruz. He is also one of the founders of the Miami Book Fair International, which has been a model for hundreds of others around the world. “As soon as I opened,” he says, “I understood Miami was a much more serious place than people gave it credit for.”
Carlos Betancourt radiates a rock-star vibe—bronzed skin, a silver eagle ring as big as a golf ball, tight black T-shirt, and tousled hair. That same style, at once gritty and glitzy, could describe his artwork. Using photography as well as found objects and loads of color, Betancourt, whose work has been shown in museums around the country, conveys a fantasy world that often incorporates elements of nature, including images of fruits, plants, shells, and human bodies. “Anytime you are in conflict, nature will give you intuition,” says the Puerto Rico native, staring out over his neatly organized studio in a modest one-story bungalow surrounded by live oaks, banana and orange trees, palms, bamboo, and ferns. “Miami forces you to be in the present, forces you to look—every time you cross the causeway.”