There’s an adage in travel, invoked whenever one is choosing less-than-stellar accommodations, holding that it doesn’t matter where you stay, you’re not planning to spend any time in your hotel anyway. Oftentimes this approach works, especially if the weather cooperates. But the rule doesn’t hold in Miami Beach, where very often the hotel is the holiday, or at least dictates it in important ways.
Since it opened in 2009, the W Hotel in South Beach has been banking on that fact, with its exquisitely hip pool, party-ready rooms and it-place bars and restaurants. The scene it has cultivated is part of an ever-more grandiose one along Collins Avenue. The W replaced a Holiday Inn, if that tells you anything about which direction South Beach has been headed in recent years.
(That’s not to say that a stay in South Beach can’t be enjoyable at a cheaper place—I’ve done it a couple of times, and experienced something that felt truer to the history of the place, charmingly close to some disappearing seedy underbelly, and in its way more aesthetically interesting. I’m trying to avoid using the word authentic, even though it has been on the tip of my fingers since I started this paragraph.)
But for a certain kind of South Beach holiday, only the beachfront will do, only a gorgeous pool with cocktails delivered to lounge chairs all day long, only a DJ playing to bikini-clad denizens at 1pm, only work by famous contemporary artists in the lobby. The W delivers on all fronts, and then charges handsomely for all it provides.
The charging handsomely is, in fact, the major flaw of this hotel. After shelling out at least $500 per night for a room during the high season, you arrive to find a bottle of Smartwater on the bathroom counter for $10—“Drink Up,” the label on it reads, which does not feel like hospitality; on the coffee table, a collection of comically overpriced liquor beckons you to go ahead and get your South Beach on, rendering the surface useless for any other standard coffee table functions; on the beach in front of the hotel, lounge chairs come free of charge, but if you want an umbrella, it’ll cost you $25 for the day.
Even still, what a spectacular room it is. The space foregoes the easy ambiance of color—this is all blacks, whites and greys, in a way that feels simultaneously understated and elaborate. The least expensive rooms, into which category ours fell, are generous junior suites. In the living area, that coffee table is flanked by a sectional sofa. Beyond it, a large balcony overlooks, in some cases, the ocean, in others (like ours), the parking lot next door and the ocean (I think it would be worth asking for a room as close to the ocean as possible at check in). An interesting seashell light fixture cascades from the ceiling, separating the living area from the king bed, which true to parent company Starwood’s reputation, could very well get a lifelong insomniac to oversleep.
Two televisions serve the two spaces. And if $10 Smartwaters aren’t your thing, and WTF if they are, the hotel does provide two small complimentary bottles of Dasani daily. I also appreciated the wet bar in the hallway, with its extra sink.
The bathroom is slick as can be, with a fantastic large stone shower (no bathtub). Hello water pressure. The frosted glass separating the shower from the main room may be a drawback for some—it is verging on see-through, presenting some potential awkwardness for guests sharing the room with anyone but a significant other. Even so, fantastically huge towels envelop you when you emerge. From my apartment in New York City, I dream of double sinks, so stumbling upon them here upped my satisfaction factor significantly.
Back downstairs, all the common areas of the hotel are dimly lit to a point that negates the sunshine you are here to absorb. The better to make all guests appear attractive, perhaps? In place of the bold colors and a penchant for silliness that one might expect to find in Miami Beach, here were hushed tones and sharp corners. This is the new South Beach aesthetic, which seems hellbent on rejecting what came before it. It’s all beautiful, including the original artwork by the likes of Basquiat and Warhol, but it doesn’t make any intimation that you’re at the beach.
I never ate at Mr. Chow, just off the lobby. I did spend an evening in the bar, where a lounge singer performed her heart out. It was crowded even on Thanksgiving night. The cocktail I ordered was well made but too sweet for my general taste. I also ate at the Dutch, also off the lobby. It’s a New York import—and it’s great, but like so much of this hotel, doesn’t take any cues from the city around it.