Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 5, 2009

Miami South Beach Art Deco Hotel Deals, Steals & Rip-Offs

Miami's South Beach Art Deco District by night

MIAMI BEACH, Florida

The Art Deco district on Miami Beach is one of those things, like an aging chanteuse, best seen in the warm, pastel glow of a tropical evening. In the light of day, the wrinkles, liver spots and sagging boobs are easier to see.

Art Deco District by day

Recently, I visited both ends of the district, both in terms of quality, as well as location.

The Fountainebleau, occupying 22 prime oceanfront acres at the northern end of the district, is the grande dame on Miami Beach. Built on the site of tire magnate Harvey Firestone’s former mansion, the architecturally significant hotel opened in 1954 and was recently remodeled at a cost of about $1 billion. Sharp-eyed movie buffs may remember the pre-renovation Fountainebleau being a featured location in “Goldfinger” (1964). It has traditionally been a hang-out for Hollywood stars, musicians, singers, dancers and comedians – not to mention a gangster or two.

The Fountainbleau, poolside

The Fountainebleau these days has 1,500+ rooms, in a price range of $350 to $1,600 a night. The ocean view rooms at the Fountainbleau tend of occupy the high end of that spectrum.

Near the southern end of the district, there is the Beach Paradise Hotel. It’s a relic of the 1930s, when most of the Streamline Moderne-style buildings were constructed here. It was remodeled a few years ago, and although it is unassuming from curbside in the 600 block of Ocean Drive (as well as in its lobby), its two dozen or so rooms are clean and comfortable – and they start at $99 a night (see Kayak). That too much? Try dickering with the night clerk; better deals may be available, if rooms are (they usually are, I’m told). And this is right on Miami Beach – across the street from it, anyway – with an ocean view.

The Fountainebleau is a five-star property, to be sure, while the Beach Paradise is lucky to get three.

But, hey, the Beach Paradise is hardly at the bottom end of the three-star price range in the Art Deco district today. On a recent December night, that honor went to the Catalina Hotel, with a web-only rate (on Travelocity) of just $33. (A Kayak search the day this column was published showed 45 hotels – two- to four-star properties – offering one-night rates of $20-$100 within a two-mile radius of the funky Art Deco Welcome Center.)

Art Deco Welcome Center

There is no shortage either of one-star and no-star flophouses and hostels in the vaunted Art Deco district. In fact, one of the really shocking things is how many vacant and boarded-up hotels there are along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue – the district’s heart. There are literally dozens.

And that is one of the conundrums about South Beach today. Why pay $500 a night, or $1,500 a night  at signature properties (actually the nightly rates at even the most fabulous resorts are being dragged down a bit by the spotty neighborhoods they lately find themselves in) such as the Fountainebleau, the Ritz-Carlton, Loews, the Delano or Setai – if the property next door or across the street is going for under $50? Or, worse, has plywood over its windows?

The view from the Fountainbleau, which looks down - in more ways than one - on South Beach and the Miami skyline.

If you don’t mind the cultural divide, how will you play the socio-economic schisms? Book a bargain, and enjoy the view of your upscale neighbors? Or pay full rack rate, and keep the blinders on to what’s going on next door?

A 1955 Buick at The Avalon

Many of the tony Ocean Drive eateries and hostelries have glittering, restored automobiles from the 1950s parked out in front of them for effect; they certainly evoke the area’s heydays. But parked right next door, in some cases, are the dingy, unrestorable automobiles of the 1970s; they are evocative too – of the dreary era before the efforts began to bring the Art Deco district back. The whole place seems to have peaked a few years ago; with the onset of the recent recession it’s sad to see it beginning again to slide.

One hopes that South Beach’s Art Deco district can again come back; at its best – on, say, a weekend night – it is fun, feisty, festive and frivolous. The people-watching is tough to top. But right now, it has become surprisingly affordable – and an almost irresistible destination – for the savvy bargain-hunter.

Jerry Garrett

December 5, 2009


Responses

  1. […] due to a recent renovation that has adopted colors and styles of Miami’s rococo Art Deco District. […]

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  3. […] Miami South Beach Art Deco Hotel Deals, Steals & Rip-Offs | Garrett … […]


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