Miami Beach has literally hundreds of hotels, some as unique as the book-filled Betsy, or the decidedly lavish Casa Casuarina, formerly the home of Giovanni Versace. Here are two others that I have really loved in the past month.
The Setai, Miami Beach is actually a sibling to Casa Casuarina. Both are now owned by the Nakash family who – as well as dominating the American luxury blue jeans market – also happen to have the rights to the Setai name for USA and Israel.
I stayed in the new Tower, built between the original 1930s Art Deco hotel and the beach; the view out over the Atlantic was breathtaking. Choose a Tower Suite for even more space, and the light and fresh air that comes with being able to open sliding glass doors onto your private terrace.
This hotel is increasingly a gathering place for top people, with many interests. Those who like lounging near the water can lie on the sandy beach, or next to one of the hotel’s three parallel outdoor pools. Those who like shopping now find a selection of 10 superb boutiques in the hotel, including Edoardo Borrelli bespoke tailoring, as in nearby Coral Gables; and Orlebar Brown swimwear from London, where you can have your own house or garden printed on your swim shorts.
And then, not surprisingly, The Setai is a centre for food. Some undoubtedly come here just for the Peking duck made by duck master Chow Kam, who has been roasting these beauties for over 10 years.
Jaya is interesting in that its name implies Asia, but it is truly international, with an indoor/outdoor setting. At breakfast its buffet is one of the world’s best: I have never before seen both guacamole and a bowl of perfectly ripe avocados that can be prepared to order (I had sliced avocado with a superb omelette).
Other outstanding dishes appeared at dinner. Yes, I do recommend Chow Kam’s light-as-a-feather Peking duck, but also the scallop and shrimp dim sum covered in truffle-cream foam and slices of black truffle, made all the more enjoyable by a glass of American pinot noir: The Four Graces, Willamette Valley 2017.
There are other draws that make The Setai, Miami Beach a magnet for connoisseurs: it is a main sponsor of the annual Art Basel Miami Beach, which this year saw a pop-up of Alec Monopoly cartoon sculptures in one of the hotel boutiques. But its art connection runs year-round. Right now, there are still 1.5-metre-high collage portraits of, say, Kate Moss, all done by Chuck Close, a New York-born artist who spends much of the year here at The Setai.
One reason why this hotel is so successful is that the owners are prepared to invest: a pull-back awning that covers the property’s main water-lined courtyard apparently cost US$2 million, but what an effect. The courtyard, which has peripheral and in-water seating, can now be used year-round.
The Setai, Miami Beach, is at Collins and 20th Street. Head further up to 40th Street on Collins and you come to The Confidante, an Unbound hotel (part of Hyatt, which also owns the complex). This large Art Deco hotel is something of a conundrum and its signature is the team: they are superb. Anyone will do anything at this 354-room hotel. The GM was sadly away, but his deputy, Matthew Brink, relayed how that very day he had bussed tables and help strip beds. No wonder there is repeat business, especially for ‘snow birds’ escaping the winter weather up north; this is exactly the kind of friendly (and family-friendly) luxury hotel that they revel in.
As soon as I had checked in, I had a small issue that needed a spot of dry-cleaning – no problem. Within five minutes, I had four managers squeezed into my not-exactly-spacious room, but they took the garment, a Nicaraguan promised to dry-clean it personally and it came back good as new.
There are actually two adjacent pools, one adults-only. Two simple signs on a towel cart as you go into the pool area tells you, immediately, which pool is which. Brilliant. I went through the whole area to the public boardwalk that runs from 5th Street up to 46th Street and I could have run, jogged or walked the full 6.4 kilometres of boardwalk. As I went I looked through the dunes to the beach, dotted with lifeguard huts.
Using my pressure-pad room key to return from the boardwalk, I looked up at the hotel. It was originally three buildings, dating back to the 1930s. One tower is still topped by a radio mast, once used to talk to the airport, which apparently would radio the hotel that VIP guests were on their way.
The hotel has variously been called The Lord Tarleton, The Crown Hotel and then, after a spell as apartments, it re-opened as Thompson Miami Beach before being bought, and re-flagged, by Hyatt in 2016. Its past has been deliberately retained, as in retro corridors now partly hung with collections of local art, which change every eight weeks. Bedrooms are mélanges of bright patterns, not necessarily subtly complementary to each other, but reminders of the mid-20th century.
One block has a memorable indoor/outdoor gym on its 11th-floor rooftop. The fresh-air part, with machines and Sobe Kickboxing batons, offers scheduled boxing and Green Monkey yoga classes. Next to this is the two-room spa, which sensibly calls its signature facial Miami Beach (yes, of course, everyone wants to look like all those lovelies on the boardwalk). Sensibly, too, many add on crystal energy stone therapy, which involved a pink stone rolled over my body to inspire love, trust and clear communication.
Come to think of it, they are always inspiring something or other here. Matthew Brink and an equally lively colleague, Becca Tash, are more excited than ever right now: this month the hotel opens its 250-seat Carmen Miranda ballroom, converted from nine bedrooms. It also opens a second restaurant, Wild Palms, which will add an alternative to the very-busy Bird&Bone all-day American diner.
I started my own day with complimentary coffee from one of two push-pots in the lobby, and like others threw myself back into a tan leather sofa – oh so 1950s! – to read today’s Wall Street Journal. This is certainly a characterful hotel, and one like the Setai that I will always remember.