In the mid-1990s, when I first began wintering here, there wasn’t much to discover in the neighborhood referred to by locals as South of Fifth, a.k.a. SoFi, a narrowing triangle of streets from Fifth to the end of the island at 17-acre South Pointe Park. There was one high-rise condo building at the southernmost point (now dwarfed by half a dozen towers), Art Deco hotels in varying states of disrepair, one beach bar, bodegas, Joe’s Stone Crab, and two-story apartment buildings that might best be described as neglected. It was a big deal when Big Pink, serving diner-like food in a retro-pink building, opened for biz. (Happily, it’s still open.)
Fast forward to 2016, and this booming area is fast becoming a destination for new restaurants, galleries, bars, and hot hangouts. New height restrictions have quashed mega-tower development, so the area — so far — retains its old-beach neighborhood vibe.
“Fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t walk here at night,” said Francesco Cavalletti, restaurateur who opened the stylish Italian trattoria La Locanda in 2003. “We knew that Washington Avenue was scheduled for a facelift. Now there are crowds walking by and there are choices for everything. The neighborhood has grown so much. It’s residential and not trendy.”