In Miami, the Standard hotel is anything but – by a long shot. It makes a point of not being part of the South Beach ‘scene’; it doesn’t slot easily into the super-luxe SoBe category; it’s not on Collins Avenue or Ocean Drive, as you’d expect; and it’s home to one of the most stylish spas you’ll ever go to. André Balazs’ ultra-cool palace of minimalism hasn’t just pared down its fixtures, streamlined its technology and vanished away clutter; it is also quite staggeringly difficult to find. Mrs Smith and I cruise up and down roads we know are definitely in the right area, chatting to the exasperated taxi driver and hoping that the hotel will reveal itself, like a Magic Eye image, in our peripheral vision.
A likely contender hovers into view, on the edge of a small island just off Miami Beach, connected to the mainland by the Venetian Causeway, a series of bridges that spans Biscayne Bay. The sign outside reads Lido Spa & Resort – the building’s previous incarnation. Underneath it, attached upside down, inside a locked box on which is written ‘Beware of the leopard’ (OK, I made that last bit up), is the hotel’s new name: the Standard. ‘Oh, I see,’ I say, as the penny drops. Mrs Smith grins sheepishly at the driver, who is now mumbling something colourful in Spanish under his breath, having driven us past here several times already.
Whatever the word ‘Venetian’ suggested to us, we see no gondoliers: sleek yachts and speedboats dominate the waterways, but the ambiance is certainly both as serene and lively as it is in the city of canals. We drink in the view for a few moments before we head to our room, which is appropriately called a Wet (Large). Aside from fitting in with the Standard’s spa and wellbeing theme, this name turns out to be justified by features such as an old-fashioned outdoor bathtub on a private sundeck. There’s also a lightly screened terrace area with a sunbed, placed further out on its own patio, and canvas deckchairs that Mrs Smith and I earmark for at least a few hours of morning and late-afternoon snoozing. See, if we were actually in South Beach, snoozing wouldn’t be an option: we’d have to be out rollerblading in tight neon shorts, dragging along a poodle on a skateboard. However, the Standard is where Miami’s party people hole up when they want to relax (and take a break from rollerblading with poodles).
Although we do manage to spend considerable time snoozing, as planned, on our patio, the other, more public areas of the Standard are far too inviting to pass over, so we find reasons to hang out in these, too. I rendezvous with Mrs Smith out in the lobby, where low-slung sectional furniture and retro Sixties design keep the feeling relaxed and informal; we catch up with old Miami friends at dinner outside in the Lido Restaurant's courtyard, where we sit in comfy cushioned chairs at circular tables under giant seagrape and palm-trees as the day melts into sunset; and, the next day, after an excellent lunch, I even fall asleep in one of the hammock chairs that hang outside in the gardens. The main draw here, though, is the spa; it has a quite mind-boggling array of facilities and treatments. Even in a city renowned for its focus on the body beautiful, the Standard takes its wellbeing credentials more seriously than most. Everyone we meet seems to have an opinion on what we should try out first: ‘Go to the Mud Lounge!’ they say. ‘Do the Roman Waterfall Hot Tub; have a dip in the Sound Pool; make time for the hammam!’ Mrs Smith does make time for the latter, while I go to the gym. Twice. It’s that good.
One of our favourite Miami moments comes while grabbing some R&R out on the lounge chairs near the infinity pool. We are roused mid-afternoon by the drone of a high-speed launch approaching rapidly alongside the jetty nearby; I pull back my cap sufficiently to see a distant figure aiming a telephoto lens – from several hundred feet away – towards the pool area. ‘Oh God, ees it paparazzi?’ gasps the woman on the chair next to ours, pushing a huge pair of ultra-dark Serengetis up her nose. I wag my finger silently in denial, and point briefly in the direction of another guest at the other end of the pool, who has decided to go topless. Our neighbour sighs in relief as the speedboat roars off, its occupants presumably also satisfied.
People-watching, it seems, is not really the done thing here. Sure, there’s a diverse range of visitors, from pregnant women and couples coming for a holistic getaway experience to entertainment and business bigwigs eager to try out the latest Miami hideaway with a buzz about it – the Standard has all that, but without the attitude you encounter elsewhere along the main drags. The mood is relaxed and intimate; staff are friendly, down to earth, and know their city like the back of their hands. You want the best Cuban or Brazilian fare in town? They’ll tell you the name, give you directions and recommend the best dishes on the menu.
While the food at the Standard’s decked outdoor restaurant is both health-conscious and enticing, for variety, we take the 20-minute stroll across the connecting bridges into South Beach to test out some of the recommendations: Wish restaurant on Collins (for contemporary American cuisine with a Vietnamese accent), and Touch on Lincoln Road (for outstanding seafood). A little on-foot Miami exploration is certainly a stimulating way to burn off any post-prandial heaviness: on our way back to the Standard, we pass a sign out in the water next to our bridge that reads: ‘Please slow your outboard engines, manatees resident in this bay area.’
In a city that moves to the fast pulse of Latin America yet still has that laid-back mañana attitude, the Standard is the perfect mix. Invigorating and relaxing, but without the brash bling of SoBe, this is a destination worth seeking out. Provided you can find it, of course.
This cheap-chic boutique spa hotel was reviewed by Hal Peat.