How we made: N by Norwegian, March 2015

The “Miami issue” was a good N by Norwegian issue, with subjects ranging from Lego hipsters to game-changing Hungarian piano-makers and the beery history of Pilsen, the Czech Republic. But the anchor to the issue was definitely the Miami cover story, which celebrated 100 years since Miami Beach was incorporated as a town (and tied in nicely with Norwegian’s new routes to Fort Lauderdale)…

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It was a funny trip, with art director Rickard Westin, photographer Tim White and me spending almost a week on Miami Beach. At first, it was a bit of a disaster. We were staying in a slightly grotty apartment within walking distance of nothing, and there’d been a misunderstanding at the venerable Joe’s Stone Crab, where we’d ended up footing a monstrous bill for six people, after which a series of resulting recommendations had left our souls and wallets a little broken (give the Fontainebleau a miss if you don’t have a Maserati). More to the point, we didn’t have much of an idea who was going to tell us the great story of Miami, and the taxi drivers (of which there were a lot) seemed more interested in telling us about their failed business ventures.

The next day wasn’t much better, with heat, hangovers and establishments charging us eye-watering sums for plastic-y sandwiches whilst assaulting our eardrums with Latin house music. But Rickard has an amazing ability, no matter how radiant or sunny the city, to find the darkest, dingiest bar – which is how we found ourselves, late in the afternoon, at Mac’s Club Deuce. Mac’s is a wonderful bar, and an outlier in the heart of Miami Beach. It’s cheap and smoky, lit up by lurid neon signs that were installed for the Miami Vice wrap party here back in the 80s. There’s usually old American rock coming from the jukebox, and basketball on the TV. The locals around the 360-degree bar aren’t much to look at, which oddly is a relief in Miami.

But the kicker, which the super-friendly bartender told us as she served us our fourth beer (the two-for-one happy hour here lasts eleven hours), was that Mac, the owner, had just turned a hundred. We were doing a story about Miami Beach being a hundred, and Mac was even older than the town he lived in. It seemed like pure editorial kismet.

Mac ended up being a wonderful interviewee, even if he couldn’t spare more than twenty minutes or so, and we decided he should be on the cover. The concept we settled on was to have him on the beach in a subtle homage to the book, The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared. There was just a slight problem: Mac hadn’t been to the beach, 150 metres down the road, for more than 30 years – and he wasn’t about to start now. In fact, he wasn’t prepared to go further than a block from the bar.

So Photoshop came to the rescue. We shot Mac against a wall outside his bar, and Tim shot Rickard on the beach (by an iconic lifeguard hut) with a suitcase, trying to look like a hunched old man so that the shadows would look accurate. Some Photoshopping later, we had a cover. It’s not the most perfect image you’ve ever seen, and there’s a touch of irony to the fact that we took a man with an almost pathological aversion to sand, and portrayed him on the beach. Still, it just about works.

And I think, in the end, we got a good story (read it here), supplemented primarily by Calvin Zook, a hilarious tour guide who seemed like he came straight from a Woody Allen film. It’s probably the longest story I’ve ever written, and I’m sure another editor would have hacked it to pieces. But I think the people, and the colourful history, warrant it.

As a post-script, Mac died in 2016, aged 101. In early 2017, I went back to Mac’s, and was happy to see that it hadn’t changed one bit, except that there wasn’t an old guy in the back office doing the accounts the analogue way. I was also happy to hear that Mac had liked our story, and that scores of people had come in with copies of the magazine to show him – which apparently he liked. It somehow meant a lot. I really hope that the bar survives, just as Mac has kept it since the 1960s. It would be a tragedy if it were turned into expensive condos – or a place that does overpriced sandwiches and Latin house music. Read the full issue here.

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