Walking down Collins Avenue in South Beach last weekend, the first thing that came to mind (besides not getting the memo about wearing five-inch-heels) was that—minus those name-bearing neon signs—the hotels essentially look the same. This didn’t come as a surprise, of course, since the art deco style of the 1940’s has been so well preserved—but I’d never really thought about how hard hotels need to work to distinguish themselves on the inside.
It was with this in mind that I stepped into the gleaming white lobby at the Shelborne South Beach, a landmark hotel since 1940, when Ava Gardner was a regular. It recently reopened following a $20 million renovation spearheaded by hotelier Keith Menin (whose uncle has owned the hotel since 1983). Some highlights: 50 redesigned rooms (50 more will be completed this spring), GuyandGirl Boutique (selling South Beach essentials like sunglasses, swimwear, and eco-friendly sunscreen), and the speakeasy-style Vesper Café (the only way to enter is through the kitchen).
It was a bit early for dinner at Vesper Café (another Miami memo: don’t go out to eat in South Beach until 9 p.m.), so I had the entire 70-seat restaurant to myself in which to sip something from the James Bond–themed cocktail menu (try the Octopussy, with Cîroc red berry vodka, lime juice, blackberry purée, and prosecco). The food wavers between heavy comfort food and more delicate fare; I went for a combo: chicken wings and tuna tartare; followed by shepherd’s pie of Kobe beef, whipped potatoes, and melted cheese; and Chilean sea bass with bok choy. The finale was a very "light" dessert of doughnuts and fried Oreos.
I somehow fit into a bathing suit the next day to take advantage of the new infinity pool, lined on one side with private cabanas. The blue-and-white, wood-paneled hideaways—yours if you commit to spending $250 on food and drinks—come complete with private bathrooms and showers. The pool’s playlist is what my friend aptly described as “tranquil trance”—perfect for napping or mingling. The music picks up at around 5 p.m.—but we didn’t stick around for happy hour: I had some high heels to buy before my last night on the town.
Booking Tip: For the best rates at the Shelborne (not to mention all Menin Hotels), check out secret-rates.com.
Other Hot Hotel Openings in Miami:
A dream team of hotelier Sam Nazarian, chef José Andrés, and Philippe Starck are behind this highly anticipated property that’s opening in April. Lenny Kravitz even lent his hand, designing the penthouse suite and a bungalow overlooking the pool.
This 186-room oceanfront property is technically not new, but it reopened in December as a Kimpton (it was previously a Doubletree) after undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation. 1717 Collins Ave; 800-994-6103.
The St. Regis, Bal Harbour Resort
Opened on Jan. 19, this grand, design-centric resort (rock-crystal chandeliers; antique mirrors; godflower marble) has 243 rooms and suites, all with ocean views; a Remède Spa; and a first-class art collection. 9703 Collins Avenue; 305-993-3300.
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.