With a fresh colonial feel to its communal areas and a look that’s more South Carolina than South Beach this deco dame emerged in 2009 from a fabulous freshen-up and face lift. Contemporary art, a modern attitude, and a charitable spirit ensure The Betsy South Beach hotel, an independently owned hip hostelry, shines on by the sand.
130, including 35 suites and 30 rooms with balconies.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £289.79 ($313), including tax at 14 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $45.60 per room per night on check-out.
Rates do not include breakfast (from US$15) or a daily resort fee ($45.60).
A hotel celebrated for its philanthropy and arts and culture programmes, lots of the pieces on display in the hotel are for sale.
At the hotel
Spa services on the rooftop, library, full gym, high-speed WiFi, beach chairs. In rooms: Sferra linens, Malin+Goetz products, snack-packed minibar and TVs and top-notch audio/video connections including iHome docks.
Our favourite rooms
If you’re a real vistaholic, 328 is a Royal Suite on the corner, with the best possible sea view. We of course love the high-ceilinged Royal Suites which overlook the ocean but that glory comes at a price. Light sleepers may want to request a room that is not next to the lift.
Enjoy some shade from the hot South Florida sun, reclining on one of the elegant white sunloungers flanking the secluded courtyard pool; alternatively soak in the rays and city's skyline at the rooftop pool.
For the full photoshoot-ready effect, retro lemon-yellow accessories for the roofdeck by day, glittering disco threads for after-hours South Beach party-hopping.
If you’re a philanthropy admirer, stay here with a clear conscience: the hotel is a do-gooding heavyweight with its fingers in lots of charitable projects.
This is a lovely hotel for urbane families. Baby cots can be added to the room at no extra charge although these don’t fit in a classic room.
The restaurant uses locally sourced and farm-to-table ingredients, and is committed to sustainable fishing practices. Green cleaning products and energy efficient appliances are used throughout the hotel; the Betsy also chooses business partners who are committed to sustainable practices.
On the balcony, poised in pole position for first-class Ocean Drive people-ogling.
Pretty Fifties vintage dresses and dapper khaki linens.
The much-hyped LT Steak and Seafood is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With award-winning chef Laurent Tourondel at the helm, the restaurant serves a scrumptious Southbeach spread with dishes like Belgian waffles covered in fresh berries, meyer lemon mascarpone and passion fruit, short rib bao buns, charred short ribs and other steak house favourites; there’s also a sushi bar. The Alley, a modern trattoria is tucked away at the back of the hotel and illuminated by neon artwork inside – twinkling fairy lights on the outdoor terrace – and decorated with vintage photographs. The menu contains nonna-approved Italian classics, including Neapolitan-style pizza, homemade pastas and creamy gelatos; there’s an appropriately long list of Italian wines, beers and classic cocktails too.
Pause in the cheery, sea-breezy laid-back lobby bar anytime from 11am to 11pm for a coffee or a cocktail.
11pm in the lobby and Alley.
Order the usual in-room American cuisine classics from 8am to 10pm.
The nearest airport is Miami International, about 20 minutes away. A taxi should cost between US$35-US$40. Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) flies direct from London Heathrow. From New York, catch a non-stop flight on United Airlines, American Airlines or Delta.
The Omni Metromover station is the closest station – 15 minutes away by cab. It serves downtown Miami, from Omni to Brickell. The main Amtrak station (www.amtrak.com) is a 30-minute drive.
From the Airport Expressway, cross the Julia Tuttle Causeway and head for the shore – the hotel's smack-bang on Miami Beach. Valet parking is available for $45 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
South Beach is, well, right there, so spend some time digging your toes in the sand, frolicking in the waves and people-watching. Apart from the outdoor exploits, night owls should also leave a Design District-shaped window in their diaries for an evening of eating at the hottest new eateries and perusing the edgiest galleries. Most of Miami's art deco manses lie along Ocean Drive, so it's worth wandering down for some architectural eye-candy. For boutiques and eateries head to Lincoln Road, an outdoor shopping hotspot. The hotel's artistic nature might inspire you to drop in on Miami Basel Art Fair come December, or arrive in March for annual electronica celebration, the Ultra Music Festival.
Neo-classic American cuisine is on the menu at Barton G Miami Beach, with comfort-food favourites delivered with enough va-va-voom and kitsch to rival a Terry Gilliam set. Prime Italian on Ocean Drive is the pasta-toting kid brother of the Miami steakhouse institution Prime One Twelve nearby – and both are worthy of a reservation. Low-key Osteria del Teatro on Washington Avenue has a wonderful way with Italian dishes. For hush-puppies, bourbon-glazed meats and high-end chicken 'n' waffles, try Yardbird's Miami outpost. If the words, 'key-lime French toast', 'lobster mac and cheese' and 'crispy shrimp with a whisky-maple glaze' have you brandishing a knife and fork, get thee to the Local House for an indulgent feast.
For a reliably smooth espresso to pair with your morning paper, Segafredo on Lincoln Road should do the trick.
Sip at Smith-approved Shore Club at 1901 Collins Avenue. The hotel’s Skybar has bordello-stye interiors and tropical outdoors areas, we love the Garden Red Room in particular. Lost Weekend on 218 Espanola Way is divey and casual with a jukebox and vintage trappings; or for something a little sleeker, settle into one of the gilded booths at Japanese-style drinkery Kaido. Their drinks are daringly different: Rhubarb Gimlet with barley-mizu-shochu-infused licorice, or the Buruu Berrie, with cognac-infused brown butter, tonka beans and blueberry shiso shrub, plus more innovations.
Down through Little Haiti we go, passing Mexicans, Argentines, and Panamanians, and then we skim the border of Little Havana, a cocktail of Cubans with a splash of Costa Ricans and Brazilians. This is where South America meets peninsular USA. Welcome to Miami.
Our cruise through this melting pot brings us to the Art Deco district of South Beach and its showpiece alleé, Ocean Boulevard. Everyone from the Rat Pack to Gianni Versace has passed along (and posed on) this street searching for nighttime nirvana. As we reach the northern end of the boulevard, neon bar life gives way to gentler hotels, and at the tip stands our graceful colonial-style home for the next few nights, the Betsy.
The staff is friendly but efficient. The valet takes care of the rental car; bellboys haul our luggage from the trunk; the concierge, in pleasing designer uniform, swings open the doors. We are greeted by Cory, the front-of-house manager, with a surprise: we were supposed to have arrived yesterday. Gulp. But, ‘Hey that’s no problem,’ he says. He’s held the room and we can still stay for two nights. (Now that’s American-style service at its best.)
Opened in 1942, the Betsy was designed by L Murray Dixon, one of the two daddies of Miami’s Art Deco District. (The other was Henry Hohauser.) The Betsy was the last Florida Georgian style building erected near the beach – it’s on the landward side of Ocean Drive – and some say it is Dixon’s masterpiece in the genre. The Betsy reopened in 2009 after a full makeover from architect Carmelina Santoro.
The high-ceilinged, ground floor houses the open-plan reception, restaurant, and a lounge bar perfect for sofa-flopping and caipirinha-sipping. (Cocktails are expertly mixed here.) This is ceiling-fan-cooled heaven. It is also a showcase for the hotel’s changing art exhibits: during our stay, the walls were filled with photographs of rock stars, with Jill Furmanovsky’s photo of Blondie crowning an impressive line-up.
Across the road on South Beach, the Betsy commands its own strip of sand, replete with chaises, parasols, well-stocked bar, and excellent service. Within moments Mr and Mrs Smith are lounging by the water, iced drink in hand. South Beach is a melting pot of people-watching: gay, straight, young, old, the toned and the tubby – all amble past. Some say South Beach is the country’s finest stretch of sand: you can walk its 20 miles, if you so desire, but a stroll and a quick dip before stretching out to bake is more our style.
With the sun starting to dip, it is time to catch up with the luggage and check out our suite, which turns out to be the perfect place for a prolonged love-in. Dark-wood floors are offset by soft white linens. There are two rooms, both made for recline. One has a comfy sofa, minibar, and flatscreen TV, while the other doesn’t mince words: the luxurious king-size bed is front and centre. In place of chocolates, bookmarks grace the pillows, each made from recyclable paper, embossed with romantic poetry, and embedded with seeds, a hint that here your love should grow (or maybe bear fruit?) The bathroom is a vast white-tiled oasis, housing a huge walk-in shower – big enough to sit down in and watch the television tiled into the wall should you run out of ideas (or just need a break from the action).
Thanks to the ever-obliging front-of-house team, there’s no wait for a coveted table at BLT Steak, the in-house restaurant. Chilean wagyu bavette is what I plump for, while Mrs Smith opts for the lighter, sustainably sourced grilled local yellowjack. A browse through the extensive wine list is followed by freshly baked popovers and a jar of warm pate. Delicious. Starters of fish ceviche come highly recommended – justifiably so – but it is my wagyu steak that gets the Oscar, with the fries winning for best supporting side. The $60, three-course set menu also gets a good-value award, especially on Ocean Boulevard.
To walk off dinner these Smiths stroll north to the nocturnal playgrounds of the Delano and the Shore Club. Philippe Starck’s wide-columned Delano lobby plays host to a big-name DJ and top-dollar drinks. It’s cooler and friendlier by the pool. Next: Delano basement club or the Shore Club’s penthouse party? An 18-floor elevator ride delivers us to the Shore’s alfresco roof jam, where Mrs Smith charms the bouncer; we are soon enjoying great views and whispered tales of that 1999 shooting during a P Diddy soirée.
Key Biscayne’s southern end beckons the next morning, and we head to the of a mere 20-minute drive from the South Beach frenzy and the site of the Key Biscayne National Park. With deserted beaches, nature trails, and a friendly man who rents bicycles, it is the perfect place to kick back after a night on the tiles. Our mojo restored, we explore on bicycles and are rewarded with a cooling ride through a forest alive with butterflies.
On our way back to town we make a pit stop at Jimbo’s. Set in its own tumble-down marina, Jimbo’s is a watering hole straight out of Ken Kesey’s Electric Cool Aid Acid Test. Resident eccentric Jamaican Pete shows us his Mick Jagger moves as his mate dishes out the Budweisers. It’s all very laid-back and plays home to an eccentric mix of waifs and strays: all well worth a visit, an authentic remnant of Sixties’ counterculture with heart. Tip generously.
Had we arrived back earlier, a spa treatment would have been on the cards. As it stands, we’re just in time to admire the sunset from the Betsy’s stylish rooftop bar. We clink glasses and congratulate ourselves on finding this tranquil haven as we watch the hordes of hedonists starting the weekend on Ocean Boulevard below.