MIAMI — We walked briskly through the tunnels under AmericanAirlines Arena, making nothing but left turns like NASCAR drivers, as we closed in on our final location, which at this point was still undisclosed. I was a few steps behind the man dressed all in while, who was leading me to our destination. I had no choice but to follow him, because he not only knew where we were going, but he had the figurative golden tickets: a pink wristband that would open closed doors and raise velvet ropes.
I have seen my share of NBA arenas, and by that I mean the areas of the arenas that are usually closed to the public — the guts of the stadiums, where they store mascot props and spare basket stanchions and boxes of syrup for sodas. These are usually the areas where they stick sportswriters as well, so we see the parts of the stadiums that haven’t been prettied up and readied for public consumption. Yet I’d heard that there was an area in AmericanAirlines Arena that would flip my expectations — a luxury nightclub carved into the concrete under the seats, just steps away from the court. This was where the celebs in attendance at games would eventually end up. This is the ultimate Miami way to watch a basketball game being played in Miami. This is, of course, where I needed to be.
Before long we neared the portal that led out to the floor on the side of the court near the Heat’s bench. As we neared the court, we suddenly hung a turn and were met by a few large men in suits, who looked us up and down. It was the same look I’d seen in South Beach a few times when I rolled up at a club where I had no business rolling up.
My host unearthed a few wristbands, and moments later we were past security, snaking through a darkened hallway and into Hyde at AmericanAirlines Arena. Hyde debuted this season, a 250-seat “lounge” space that offers “award-winning mixology, cuisine, events, hospitality and design in a space featuring multiple bars, an array of lounge seating and a private dining room.” Moët & Chandon even serves up Moët Ice Impérial, the world’s first-ever champagne specifically created to be enjoyed on ice, as the “Official Champagne of White Hot: The 2013 HEAT Playoffs.”
It was over an hour before tip-off, so the space was still filling up. I grabbed a seat at the bar and passed on the iced champagne — I was ostensibly working, after all. But I was hungry, so I ordered the first thing on the menu and chatted with the bartender, as she explained how it works — fans reserve space online watch the game from inside Hyde, then stay after and either celebrate or drown their sorrows. A DJ was perched high above the room, spinning music, and a few huge TVs showed the pregame show. The Hyde experience is not cheap — it’s about $100 just to get in the door — but this is supposed to be over the top. You’re paying for the experience, and if you’re one of the many people in Miami for whom money seems to not be an object, it’s probably worth it to rub shoulders with VIPs and get the South Beach experience without even crossing a causeway.
Before long my food showed up, and as a foodie, I have to say I was impressed — some sort of a sushi roll with spicy tempura popcorn shrimp piled on top. This was food I wouldn’t be surprised to get at Nobu, not inside a stadium. And in the interest of in-depth journalism, I performed an in-depth investigation on about ninety-percent of the roll. My initial reaction was right on: It was delicious.
As you can see from the photos below, plenty of VIPs have been through Hyde. Forget taking your talents to South Beach — the South Beach experience is downtown now, inside, of all places, an NBA arena.