“You had to be a big shot, didn't cha
You had to open up your mouth
You had to be a big shot, didn't cha
All your friends were so knocked out
You had to have the last word, last night
You know what everything's about
You had to have a white hot spotlight
You had to be a big shot last night, oh oh...”
-Big Shot, Billy Joel
Friday, February 12, 2010, 9 p.m. – This type of partying started 10 years ago with our first visit to this city and it might end tonight. We are about to head downhill on a sled of debaucheries, excess and sin for the tenth night in a row. I hope someone tells the world about us when we are gone, in order to remember our stories and keep them as a blueprint of fun, and if not handled correctly, a cautionary tale. We are pleasure hounds stuck in a party version of Groundhog Day. We start with breakfast at the Raleigh Hotel, followed by a day at the pool sipping Caipirinhas and Rosé, a disco nap, a group dinner, and a karaoke rendition of “Only the Good Die Young” or Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” to end the night at 5 a.m. Some days we end up on a yacht, others we spend in the spa or lying on the beach. We are driven by conversation and stories, and if we only had a court reporter to monitor the exchanges, we would make Judd Apatow look like an amateur.
We stroll into STK, Miami’s latest hit restaurant, and where this trip began 10 days ago. I see the hostess, Lorin, a sultry Sicilian girl in a tight black dress, with sex in her eyes and seduction in her smile. She shakes her ass, gives us all hugs, and leads us to our seats. Upon arrival, the table is already filled with Waygu Mini Macs, a bottle of champagne, and multiple shots of Don Julio Silver. You see, they know us here because although Miami may have a big head, it's really just a small town. As we sit down and the music pulses, my mind drifts... Can I make it another day? Can I deal with leaving? Miami is made for pleasure and these decadent scenes play out nightly. Aside from the nightclubs that I spoke about last week, it is the hotels and restaurants that play host to these daily festivals of overindulgence.
Miami hotels and restaurants are like the cocktail waitresses who work in them – when they first get into the game they are intoxicatingly beautiful and innocent, but after a few years of too much drinking, drug use, sex, and overcharging, they are in desperate need of a facelift. Some die, and others, through the miracles of plastic surgery and marketing, sprout back to life. Miami was not the birthplace of the “boutique hotel” or the “mega restaurant,” but it is one of the few places where they grew up and flourished. In these temples of excess, a glass of wine and a slice of pizza may be prohibitively expensive to the average consumer, while two minutes away it can be surprisingly affordable and delicious. In some cases I feel like Miami hotels and mega restaurants are just stone cold pimps wearing designer exteriors, prostituting pizza, steaks, and Journey songs at massive markups. In other cases they display creativity, beauty, and special moments of incredibly sophisticated hospitality.
There are many bright spots and some truly incredible properties in Miami, with more to come like the Cipriani Resort and the SLS Ritz Plaza. Miami is and has always been innovative in the hotel market. Although new building is probably on hold (as it should be), there are still some great deals out there for you. With that said, here are my favorite hotels and restaurants in Miami…
Best New Hotel: W Hotel & Residences
The W Hotel is the perfect mix between a super high-end property, like The Setai, and a party hotel, like The Shore Club. The interior is absolutely spectacular and even somewhat understated by W standards. The W wasn’t the first in the boutique hotel game, but their resources and infrastructure make them the market leader and they are still opening properties as fiercely as they were during boom times. This property holds a Mr. Chow, a Wall Nightclub, and a Mediterranean restaurant called Solea. It is the hottest property in Miami right now and there doesn’t seem to be much in the pipeline that can compete. I am not always a fan of this chain, but The W Miami hits the mark.
Most Beautiful Design & Pool: Mondrian Hotel & Residences
The Mondrian opened almost two years ago and is located off the strip on the bay side of Miami. It is about a five minute cab ride from the heart of the action and is well worth the trip. The property was designed by Marcel Wanders, heir apparent to Philippe Starck’s throne and, in my mind, possibly the most talented young designer there is. He has managed to create what could be The Delano 2.0 and the blueprint for future boutique properties. The pool overlooks the bay and is the most superb place to watch the sun set. The cabanas are also incredible in scope and beauty, and rates are usually pretty reasonable compared to those of strip hotels.
Undercover Classic: The Raleigh
The Raleigh has been open for almost 100 years. Recently sold by Andre Balazs, the property maintains the Balazs aesthetic of classic glamour and elegance. The shape and design of the pool and “backyard” are perfect for lounging, whether with a family, a bunch of single friends, or a date. Its sensibility is very European, from the coffee bar in front to the classic Porsche in the porte-cochere. It definitely has the best and most reasonably priced food program in the hotel zone.
Best Spa: The Standard Miami
Sister property to the New York and L.A. Standards, this one is completely different yet maintains the same stylish essence. This property is much more reminiscent of Sunset Beach on Shelter Island, also run by Balazs. Focused around a new-age spa, this hotel is peaceful, affordable, chic, and fun. The main attractions are the great bay side restaurant and the spa, which features a Turkish hamam, a steam room, a sauna, and great treatments like bay side massages and clay body wraps. There is also an extensive program of yoga and meditation classes to choose from. Most importantly, Sunday’s Pornographic Bingo is not to be missed, no matter where you are staying in Miami.
The Classic: The Delano
The Delano is a groundbreaking hospitality achievement, the original and arguably best hotel in Miami. Experiencing Philippe Starck’s “Alice in Wonderland” motif is a must for any hospitality junky. The lobby, the pool, and the cabanas are absolutely stunning, especially when you realize they were done 20 years ago. Known in its heyday for hosting the likes of Madonna, The Delano still drips with style and swank, although the crowd may have changed a bit. With that said, the addition of The Florida Room downstairs is bringing back the youth to this hotel where South Beach was born.
Best Budget: The Catalina
Alan Lieberman launched The Catalina across the street from The Delano, The Shore Club, and The Raleigh a couple of years ago as a budget alternative to these properties. He established The Catalina and then acquired the two hotels next door to create a hotel block party. The rooms, though small, are stylish and each includes an incredibly comfortable Tempur-Pedic mattress. There are two rooftop pools at the hotel and all guests are treated to a complimentary happy hour daily. The Catalina has its own beach club and two great restaurants, great additions to the budget property. I especially loved Kung Fu Sushi, which was the perfect answer for dinner when trying not to break the bank – not an easy task in this area of Miami.
Best Non-Boutique: The Gansevoort South
The Gansevoort South may not be my favorite property because of its size, but it gets rave reviews from most of my friends. The property has two pools including one on the roof, which seems to be preferred, with a great scene both day and night. The rooms are huge compared to most properties and laid out nicely (some even include kitchens). The most exciting part of the property is the retail space, which is not laid out in a traditional manner, inside the hotel. Rather, The Gansevoort has a high-end Vegas-like mall which surrounds it on the street level. This mall includes restaurants STK and Philippe, clubs Coco de Ville and Louis, a coffee shop, and a David Barton Gym. Finally, there are two New-York-based retail stores in the mall, Big Drop and Curve Soleil. The ladies I know say great things about Curve Soleil; it shouldn’t be missed when looking for that perfect outfit. If you have to go big with your hotel, then The Gansevoort is the only way to go.
• Raleigh Hotel seems to be planning a restaurant with a high-end New York operator and possibly a new lounge space.
• Sagamore Hotel is said to be doing a deal with Playboy to become a Playboy Hotel.
• I am told that The Shelborne is finally making moves toward a major renovation and transforming itself from an aging property into a modern stylish boutique. This is exciting considering the sheer size and location of the property, right in the heart of everything.
• Riande Continental was acquired a while ago by Ian Schrager Company. He is said to be bringing affordable luxury to this hotel with designer John Pawson.
• SLS Hotels, who just launched their flagship in Los Angeles, is developing the Ritz Plaza Hotel. If it ever gets built, adjacent to The Delano, it may be the most exciting hotel development in Miami in the past 20 years.
My Favorite: Casa Tua
Some of the best meals I have ever had have been in Miami, my most recent being last week’s dinner at Casa Tua with Josh Shames and Georgica owner, David Schulman. The ambiance of this restaurant is like the private home of a sophisticated and fun-loving European family. The meal began with an amuse-bouche of puréed vegetable soup with crispy croutons and a Sardinian wine, Kanai Riserva 2005, recommended by the sommelier. It perfectly matched our request for an Italian wine that was dry and earthy with a hint of boldness to wake up our ignorant palettes. For appetizers we enjoyed the perfect Branzino Carpaccio with pink grapefruit and hazelnuts, Burrata with organic tomatoes, and the signature Casa Tua Tuna Tartare. We followed these dishes with a medley of pastas including a stuffed Gnocchi over butternut squash purée with prosciutto crisps, an intoxicatingly fresh lemon risotto, and an orecchiette with broccolini, scampi, clams, and broccoli rabe. The meal was topped with a perfectly velvety Tiramisu and a nice mild cigar in the private rooftop club, a Cipriani Upstairs without the attitude.
Best Sushi: Nobu @ The Shore Club
Two items that they rarely have in New York that are out of this world: Dover Sole Tempura and Hearts of Palm Salad. I recently tried the Kobe Beef for the first time and I have to say, it was the softest piece of meat I have ever eaten. I don’t know who else pretends to serve Kobe Beef but I have never tasted meat like this before.
Best Asian Palace: Mr. Chow @ The W Hotel & Residences
In South Beach Mr. Chow’s is on a much grander scale then I have ever seen before, finally beginning its modern day expansion, after Philippe forced its hand. The boys from New York are in Miami running it and they definitely have some momentum, especially because they are located inside the “it” hotel of the moment, the W South Beach. Everything is the same as the original gangster – be prepared to wait, but enjoy knowing you are where you should be, for now.
Best Scene: STK
Recently launched in the Gansevoort Hotel, the One Group has built a mega vibe-dining palace, while managing to maintain the integrity of the product. If you come expecting STK-style you won’t be disappointed, as the Mini-Macs are outstanding and the soundtrack is perfect. They have imported one of the Maître d's from Prime 112, which tells me they are wasting no time going right for the king of Miami, Myles Chefetz. They did it in L.A. and New York, but here's the truth: this restaurant is made for Miami. If vibe dining was a sports star, this restaurant would be Lebron and Miami would be Shaq, just what he needed to get to the finals.
Best Miami Mega Restaurants: Prime 112, Prime Italian, and Prime Lounge
There is absolutely no difference between these three restaurants. They are all riffs on Prime 112, they are always jam-packed with people, and they are always awesome. The system is as follows: make a reservation a week in advance, tip the head Maître d’, and enjoy the incredible food and countless number of celebrities, sports stars, etc. Don’t waste your time in the bar or dining room at the original, just sit in the Lounge or Italian and enjoy everything. I would tell you what to order but that wouldn’t matter because everything is spectacular. Bring your appetite, your wallet, and some hot chicks, and if you don’t have a nice car, take a cab.
Best New Restaurant: Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
Located in Midtown Miami, somewhere between South Beach and the Design District, is Sugarcane. It is owned by the Sushi Samba group, but that is generally where the similarities end. The menu focuses around share plates combined with a spectacular drink list full of cocktails, sakes, and rums. The space has multiple kitchens that specialize in different types of food, including Tapas, Robata, and Raw Bar including sushi, crudo, and a spectacular array of the freshest oysters I have ever had. Highlights of my meal included bacon-wrapped dates with linguica and manchego cheeses, a jamon serrano sushi roll, balsamic brussel sprouts and the fluke crudo. It also seems like Sugarcane will develop a very good scene at the bar, making it an ideal setting for early evening and sunset cocktails. Lee Schrager, the founder of Miami’s Food & Wine festival, declared the whole roasted chicken the best he has ever had. If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is. All I can say is WOW.
Best Cheap Eats: Sandwicherie
Sandwicherie may be my favorite place to eat in Miami Beach. Period. The crisp baguettes with fresh vegetables, quality meats, and deliciously delectable Dijon vinaigrette are the sandwich equivalent to a powerful aphrodisiac. These sandwiches explode with flavor and have just the right textural mix. My personal recommendation is to stick with the hard boiled eggs, pate, or prosciutto – anything else takes away from fresh and powerful flavors of the fillings and sauce. Whether you're eating at 4 a.m. or noon, these sandwiches are absolute perfection.
Best Foodie Restaurants: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink and Michy’s
I don’t believe many of my current readers will know much about these two restaurants, but as you begin to explore more in Miami, outside of the hotel zones, Michael's and Michy’s are a must. Michael Schwartz is defining the “Locavorism” movement in Miami, serving local products and sometimes, I am told, even growing them himself. Many say Michael's Genuine is the best restaurant in Miami.
Michy’s is a restaurant created by Miami’s other celebrity chef, Michelle Bernstein, and her husband David Martinez. The restaurant's design is whimsical and airy, and the food is sophisticated but approachable. Chef Bernstein calls it luxurious comfort food, I call it scrumptious.
Now I have to get back to New York and see what I have missed in the buzz of fashion week and preparations for spring. Tomorrow I am beginning a juice fast, The Blueprint Cleanse, to allow my body to repair from this eating and drinking odyssey. Keep life delicious and see you next time at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.