When my daughter was two, my husband and I planned a much needed get away to Miami Beach. We love its walkable streets, the good restaurants, even better bars, fashionable historic hotels and white sand beaches. We visited as often as we could.
But the angry scowl on my daughter’s face made me wince. Until she opened her mouth.
“Why you wanna go to Your-Ami?” she demanded to know.
After I stopped laughing, I realized she was right. Of all the people who might own Miami, and of all the cities that might own me, Miami and I have a special relationship. It really is ‘My Ami.’
So when the invitation came to attend the Miami International Auto Show in November, I had one reaction: Oh, yeaaaaaah.
Our itinerary had Kim, my business partner, and I, staying in the iconic and historic Sagamore Hotel on Collins Avenue, just three blocks from the Miami Beach Convention Center, which for 10 days is filled with a dreamy, steamy array of cars.
The Sagamore is a mid-sized hotel along the Collins Avenue strip of iconic South Beach hotels, each known for its historic character and legendary late night parties: The SLS, the Raleigh, the Shore Club, the Setai, the Loews, and the one that started it all, the Delano, among them.
An American Riviera
From the street, Collins Avenue has the feel of a Mediterranean resort town: tall narrow white washed buildings with the promise and lure of a blue ocean beyond. The Sagamore, like most, has a breezy front terrace, sort of an outdoor lobby where guests can wait for a taxi or sit and watch the world walk by. Inside, polished terrazzo floors, white walls and high ceilings create a lobby gallery that showcases modern art including a neon swing and mushrooms that appear to be growing out of the wall above the hotel’s registration desk. Lobbies like this are iconic in Miami Beach: they are an adult playground built for the child in all of us.
The Sagamore’s lobby, like many of its neighbors, stretches from the street to the beach, filled with white marble gathering, eating and drinking spaces. Beyond, an outdoor dining terrace leads to a garden of manicured hedges, palm trees and cabanas. A stone path leads guests to the hotel’s pool area, where a bar and a few restaurant tables flank one side, and deck chairs provide sunning space around the pool (including a sandy “beach” area with several rows of chairs).
Beyond the pool is the beach, separated with a privacy hedge, and a gate at the corner of the property allows guests access to the beach. Hotels are separated from the wide sand beach by a walkway that stretches from one end to the other, and on the beach most hotels provides beach chairs, towels and beverage services for their guests.
A Suite Surprise
We learned long ago that the reason to visit Miami Beach is for all the town offers and for a good hotel’s lobby, restaurants and pool; rooms can be tiny and often, a bit worn out. So maybe the nicest surprise of the weekend was the news that I was assigned a suite. I felt like a special guest.
I got to my room and realized that my suite looked out on a palm filled side alley, not a glimpse of the ocean in sight. I called the front desk to ask if a water view room was available. With apologies, I was told, “another suite is not available.”
“You can move me to a regular room,” I offered. “I don’t need a suite.”
“All our rooms are suites,” the desk attendant said. My ego deflated a bit; I wasn’t that special after all. But I settled into my room and began to unpack, quickly realizing that this room was bigger and nicer than my last apartment. Had I brought my family, there would have been plenty of room for us all. And, when I bring them back to Miami Beach, we’ll probably stay at the Sagamore.
Chic, Modern and Historical, All At Once
As soon as we could we headed down to the pool. There we had no trouble getting a seat. The pool’s attendant was keeping an eye on all the guests, making up chairs for us, making sure the waitress found us to deliver drinks and even entertaining a six-year-old who needed a playmate.
Later we walked on the beach and toured through a few hotel lobbies—this was Kim’s first visit to to South Beach and I wanted to show her ‘My Ami.’ I love that Miami’s historic architecture is protected and preserved. Hotels can change some things when they renovate, but they can’t tear out the terrazzo floors, the original details or change the names. As a result, many hotels have two names, like the SLS Ritz Plaza or the Ritz Carlton DiLido, and some kept the original name, like the Delano and the Raleigh.
We started our tour on the beach, where the water was still like bathwater, warm and welcoming, and the sand was soft enough so that you sink in as you walk, giving you a pretty good workout. We walked up the beach and then back along the wooden boardwalk that becomes a paved walkway, offering a comfortable place to stroll and a charming way to get from one hotel to another.
We stopped to look at pool at the Ritz Carlton, one of the chain’s only (maybe only?) modern spaces, filled with blocky geometric shapes and marine-inspired colors. We walked through the garden of the Setai, a modern newly-built hotel and condo with three pools and a bar area that is currently under renovation. Then we stopped into the Delano, the originator of the hotel-as-nightclub-vacation and inspiration of thousands of hotels around the world.
A Slice of Heaven
The Delano is like being in Alice In Wonderland—lavish oversized furniture, intricate and whimsical furniture and fixtures, an intimate but royal-feeling bar, intriguing art, all in a lobby flowing with 30 foot tall curtains and enormous round pillars. Its restaurant—when it was built included Madonna as an investor and muse—fills the rear of the lobby and the terrace. Beyond, a checkerboard lawn is accented with a chess set that has game pieces the size of two year olds, whimsical seating, manicured trees and cabanas. At the end of the property the pool, with its zero depth shallow end (under the water you can hear music playing), deck chairs and a cabana bar are a modern and elegant space and offer excellent people watching.
That night Mazda sponsored a party at the Raleigh Hotel, just a few doors down from the Sagamore. The Raleigh, also an original and iconic hotel, was another early adaptor in the neighborhood, known for it’s large pool and clubby feeling wood-grained Art Deco decor.
Another Slice of Heaven: The Best Pizza, Maybe Ever
But after the party, where we’d been more focused on meeting people than eating or drinking, Kim and I returned to the Sagamore a bit hungry. It was late, after 11PM, and the lobby was quiet. At the terrace bar the restaurant was just about to close down, but when I asked about food, the manager called the kitchen staff back to take care of us. He brought us a very nice glass of pinot noir and menus. The pizza menu looked good, and seated at the bar, we were looking right at the still-fired-up pizza oven. Could they make us a pizza? The cook obliged and began to toss and stretch the dough, dusted it with cornmeal, filled it with toppings and slid it into the oven as we sat chatting. A few minutes later a small slice of heaven emerged, shrimp and jalepenos on my half, truffled mushrooms on Kim’s half. It was the best pizza I’ve had in a very long time.
Lincoln Road: Worth the Walk, Even With Tired Feet
The next day we spent a full eight hours walking the Miami Auto Show floor, but for the few hours between the last press conference and the first party, we decided to walk along Lincoln Road, a wide boulevard between 16th and 17th streets that has been closed off to traffic. Restaurants overflow into the wide pedestrian space, and palm trees, art installations and vendors create a vibrant, exciting feeling. Favorite retailers, like Lucky Jeans, line the street alongside South Beach originals like shoe store Tuccia Di Capri. We shopped a bit before meandering back to the Sagamore to get dressed for the after party.
Party, South Beach Style
Our last official event of the Miami Auto Show was held at the SLS Hotel. The hotel’s interior takes on the full artistic vision of the brand, maybe best known for its Los Angeles location, where books and drawings line the walls, oversized modern chandeliers light the space and every nook is filled with curious and whimsical objects. The hotel’s restaurant is run by Jose Andres, known for his innovative and intellectual approach to food (delicious, too). The party was at “Hyde Beach” the SLS’s bar and party space next to the pool. It has the feeling of a wealthy family’s beach house taken over by the kids: books line the walls and surfboards hang from the ceilings. That evening (as, I would guess, is the case most nights) brain numbing music pulsated from the rooms many, many speakers; partiers inside danced, those who wanted to talk gathered among the ficus trees, settees and cabanas outside.
The next day was our last, a half day, really. Tired from being out late at the after party (and it started early, at 1030PM!) we slept in, relaxed by the pool and then asked the hotel’s concierge for a recommendation of an authentic Cuban restaurant. The concierge recommended a place I’d walked by probably about a thousand times but had never been in, Puerto Sagua. We didn’t have long, only an hour, and the restaurant was a 15 minute walk. So the concierge offered that when our driver arrived she would have the bellman load the luggage into our car, send the driver to meet us, and call us when he was on the way. Wow. That’s what a concierge should do, and yet it so rarely happens. I was delighted.
Puerto Sagua, an old-school Cuban diner that probably hasn’t changed anything but the prices since the 1940s, stands out in a town of chic and whimsy. Its plastic covered menu offers hamburgers and omelettes (Cuban style, of course) and Cuban dishes like black bean soup, roast chicken and the classic Cuban sandwich. Kim tried the chicken and rice, I had the sandwich, and we tried the plantain chips, served with a garlicky Cuban dressing to dip them in.
Soon it was time to head to the airport; the concierge called, the car arrived, and we said goodbye to Miami, My Ami, for I hope what will be only a little while.
Disclosure: We were guests of the Miami Auto Show, including hotel, travel and some meals. We were not compensated by the Sagamore, whose staff did not know we were writers, or that we would be reviewing the hotel. The experiences and opinions here are my own, genuine, authentic and objective.