Polo makes you think of ladies sipping champagne in muted cocktail dresses and men riding horses on lush green grass. But the La Martina Miami Beach Polo World Cup, running through Sunday in South Beach, serves up something a bit more “rock ’n’ roll,” says Bruce Orosz, president and co-founder of The Polo Life, which runs the tournament. The ponies and their riders, in teams of just three, hack it out on a plot of sand that’s 10 times smaller than the regulation polo field. Meanwhile, a DJ pumps rhythmic music between the matches, and spectators enjoy pink cocktails in more casual — but still stylish — attire. Ladies don South Beach-style sundresses in bright shades like fuchsia and turquoise with wedge sandals, and men sport white linen pants, fitted tees and boat shoes. (It’s wise to wear sand-friendly footwear for this oceanside event, after all.)
The venue, set up directly on the beach between 20th and 22nd streets near Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Setai hotel, consists of a large, tented VIP grandstand furnished with cushioned white folding chairs for match-watching, bar tables and stools for socializing, and wicker sofas and chairs with gray and tan cushions for special guests. Cocktail waitresses wearing crisp white tank dresses serve spectators cranberry and pineapple concoctions in the grandstand, and down the stairs in the sand, restaurant booths supply delicious fare. On Thursday, Gold and Pepper Italian Cuisine, a brand-new restaurant in South Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood, served pasta and more — we particularly enjoyed the risotto salad with asparagus, green and black olives and clams.
There’s no denying the view from the grandstand at the ninth annual tournament is pleasing — gorgeous ponies galloping back and forth in the sand and ocean waves crashing in the background. Between the playing field and the water, the beach is filled with sunning tourists, some of whom gather at the fence to watch the riders compete. If you’re staying at a hotel along Collins Avenue, the walk is quite lovely as well, since the boardwalk that parallels the beach delivers you straight to the tournament venue.
And speaking of hotels, there’s no shortage of lovely beachside, art-deco-style retreats within walking distance of the tourney, including the glitzy, French-influenced SLS Hotel South Beach and the recently opened James Royal Palm, which features hip, modern décor and spacious rooms with separate sitting areas. Both of these hotels host polo tournament VIP after-parties — these are the places to be if you want to mingle with the players, polo pro Thomas Kato told us.
If you’d prefer a luxury hotel, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Loews Miami Beach Hotel is also a short stroll down the boardwalk from the polo venue, offering 790 rooms, including 52 recently revamped suites. And the elegant Four-Star The Betsy – South Beach, set across the street from lovely, palm-tree-filled Lummus Park, is always a sophisticated choice.
General admission for the four-day tournament, which started Thursday, is free. A three-day pass — providing you with access to the VIP grandstand and the nightly after-parties, as well as endless beverages and food — costs $375. If you don’t have much time, purchase a one-day VIP pass for $130. Friday night’s VIP event is hosted by The Mondrian South Beach, and Saturday’s cocktail after-party takes place at Hyde Beach at SLS Hotel South Beach.
As for restaurants to hit while you’re in the area, Quattro Gastronomia Italiana’s Northern Italian cuisine is a must, as is Casa Tua, with its lovely lantern-lit patio, and Villa Azur, a gourmet French-Mediterranean restaurant. If you’re looking for something new, Restaurant Michael Schwartz at The Raleigh just opened this week. Its menu changes daily; during our visit on Wednesday, it featured grilled octopus with hazelnuts, kumquat and green olives, and local yellow jack ceviche with tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeños. And we can’t complain about the cocktail list, either, which included a pink and delicious Sassafras Manhattan — an appropriate way to end a day at the Miami Beach Polo World Cup.
Photos Courtesy of The Polo Life, Loews Miami Beach Hotel, The Setai