José Molena
| Credit: José Molena

It took visionary hoteliers like Chris Blackwell and Ian Schrager to divine the potential behind the gritty early-nineties façade of Miami's South Beach. Now, in what can only be called the bandwagon effect, everyone wants to get in on the act, from family-friendly giants such as Loews to blue-chip chains like Ritz-Carlton. The thrill is gone, sigh many of the party animals who pioneered SoBe. But you can't prove it by the 1.25 million visitors who spent the night last year. Whassup, Miami?The city's latest hotels tell the story.

People walking down Collins Avenue recently swore they heard cannon fire. In fact, it was the $150 million Shore Club gearing up — and declaring war on the Delano.

With the arrival of Philip Pilevsky's full-blown resort aimed at the witheringly hip, the playing field dominated by Ian Schrager's Delano since 1995 is suddenly feeling crowded. That the two principals go way back has made their battle SoBe's favorite new spectator sport. Pilevsky, a developer whose real estate portfolio tops $1 billion, was Schrager's landlord at Studio 54, and a partner in his Paramount, Royalton, and Morgan hotels.

So how does the upstart measure up?The five-acre oceanfront property combines two Art Deco hotels with a new 21-story tower by architect David Chipperfield. "One lesson we've learned from the boutique-hotel explosion is that design can be tiring," Chipperfield notes. But if minimalism is dead, as Faith Popcorn types are saying, no one has told Chipperfield. The 325 rooms are chaste essays in white plaster, Mexican sandstone, and angular teak-frame furniture (the most desirable accommodations are the eight poolside villas). Fiber optics wash the lobby in green light one moment, red the next. The Tower Bar features a backlit fiberglass wall and a concrete bar.

Pilevsky says no hotel can match the cast he's assembled for star power. Robert De Niro has a branch of Nobu restaurant. Reformed model Christy Turlington commands the Sundãri Spa. Alfresco lounging alcoves with fireplaces are by landscape architect Miranda Brooks. Also on board are an Oribe salon, a Me & Ro jewelry shop, and a Scoop fashion boutique.

While acknowledging that a certain hotel down the street helped make his own possible, Pilevsky says the Shore Club is a "totally unique" product: "For example, one thing we are not is Disneyland for adults." 1901 Collins Ave.; 305/695-3100, fax 305/695-3299; doubles from $525.

A block from the beach, SoBe's 55-room NASH was recast last year by the design team behind one of the nabe's more civilized hostelries, the Astor. Cool but not icy, the debutante's style is expressed in blond wood, a hushed palette, and sepia art photographs. Avoid rooms in the back — they overlook an alley where garbage is collected at 7:30 a.m. (the $9 million renovation budget bought a lot of things, but double-glazed windows was not one of them). The Nash is great for bridge travelers who are prepared to trade up from, say, the rather bare-bones Winter Haven but not quite ready for the Delano. 1120 Collins Ave.; 305/674-7800, fax 305/538-8288; doubles from $210.

Crescent Hotel 1420 Ocean Dr.; 800/445-8667 or 305/604-8225, fax 305/604-8233; doubles from $225. Noted architect Henry Hohauser's 1938 landmark was reborn late last year as an all-suite hotel whose 26 units come with full kitchens, queen-sized sleeper sofas, and blowups of black-and-white movie stills above the beds.

The Sagamore 1671 Collins Ave.; 305/535-8088, fax 305/535-8185; doubles from $290. Opening next month on a prized plot beside the future Ritz-Carlton, this 93-suite property is cast in the same mold as its sister hotel, the Crescent, down to the light nautical theme and king-sized pillow-top mattresses.

Kent Hotel 1131 Collins Ave.; 800/688-7678 or 305/531-8800, fax 305/672-2881; doubles from $130. As one of the (budget) hotels that got SoBe going again, the Kent earned its $1 million—plus renovation. The 54 guest rooms now have hardwood floors, lilac bed linens, and stainless-steel accessories.

Hotel Chelsea 944 Washington Ave.; 888/554-3123 or 305/534-4069, fax 305/672-6712; doubles from $125. The well-priced South Beach Group's latest entry has 42 rooms that evoke the Orient with bamboo floors, "floating" beds, and slate bathrooms. The youthful, party-hearty atmosphere heats up during happy hour, when sake flows freely for patrons.

Royal Hotel 758 Washington Ave.; 888/673-9009 or 305/673-9009, fax 305/673-9244; doubles from $135. White fiberglass headboards that do double duty as bars and "digital" chaises with attached TV-computer stands are Chicago designer Jordan Mozer's solutions for 42 of the tiniest rooms south of New York's Hudson (there are also four suites).


Launching three properties this year, Ritz-Carlton is putting its money on Miami big-time. Already up and running: Key Biscayne, a 352-room seaside pile with 44 acres of tropical gardens and a Cliff Drysdale tennis center (415 Grand Bay Dr.; 800/241-3333 or 305/365-4500, fax 305/365-4501; doubles from $195). To come in October are the 115-room twin-tower Coconut Grove hotel, which takes its style cues from such neighboring historic houses as the 1916 Renaissance-style Villa Vizcaya (2700 Tigertail Ave.; 800/241-3333 or 305/648-5900, fax 305/648-1448), and South Beach, a 375-room property that incorporates the restored fifties-vintage DiLido Hotel (1 Lincoln Rd.; 800/241-3333 or 786/276-4000, fax 786/276-4100). Ritz-Carlton won't be the first luxe chain to touch down in SoBe: there's already the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, a tinselly, swaggering diva that combines a new 700-room beachfront tower with the 100-room 1939 St. Moritz wing. The latter, without question, is where anyone without children would want to reserve (1601 Collins Ave.; 800/235-6397 or 305/604-1601, fax 305/531-8677; doubles from $189).

Mandarin Oriental, Miami 500 Brickell Key Dr.; 866/888-6780 or 305/913-8288, fax 305/913-8300; doubles from $259. The 329 guest rooms in this new $100 million, 20-story behemoth are as slick and sleek as the Hong Kong bachelor pad of a roving seven-figure telecommunications prodigy. (Put another way, Gloria Estefan should book the Mandarin for her next video shoot ahora.) Fifteen minutes from South Beach on Miami's Brickell Key, a rather ghostly and largely residential 44-acre islet linked by a bridge to the financial district, the fan—shaped (after the Mandarin chain's logo) "city hotel" is geared both to business travelers and vacationers who want a controlled diet of SoBe hysteria. Women are loaned pashmina shawls in star chef Michelle Bernstein's Azul restaurant, and reading glasses are available in four strengths for making out the menu's fine print ("lobster cappuccino with lemongrass froth"). London spa ace Susan Harmsworth designed the 15,000-square-foot triplex treatment facility, complete with Pilates studio. This being a Mandarin, service is top-flight.

Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort Miami Beach 1545 Collins Ave. Like the Shore Club, this $64 million, 422-room property mixes the old (the Art Deco Royal Palm and Shorecrest hotels) and new (two cloud-scraping towers). Look for it in September.

W Miami South Beach 1701 Collins Ave. Rubbing shoulders, almost, with the Delano is the W chain's 203-room remake of the 1940 Ritz Plaza. A "waterfall" bar by architect Michael Csycz (he did Lenny Kravitz's Miami crib), feather beds, and wireless poolside Internet access are all on the menu for the 2002 opening.

Setai Resort & Residences 101 20th St. Launching in fall 2002, this Asian-inspired 90-room beachfront resort and residential tower is being designed by Adrian Zecha, the fabled founder of Amanresorts. The line forms to the left for one of the teak cabanas.

Casa Tua 1700 James Ave.; 305/673-0973, fax 305/673-0974; suites from $500. From the designer who did the Ferragamo family's Lungarno hotel in Florence, SoBe's hyper-luxurious Casa Tua offers Gaggia espresso machines in each of its five suites, plus Loro Piana cashmere blankets and Santa Maria Novella toiletries. Since all of these goodies can be purchased, owner Micky Grendene calls his property not a boutique hotel but a "hotel boutique."