SLS South Beach
1701 Collins, Miami Beach, Florida; slshotels.com/southbeach; 140 rooms from $350.
This season's magnet for the likes of JLo, LeBron and their acolytes is SLS South Beach. The oceanfront hot spot is the dream child of supernovae trio French designer Philippe Starck, Spanish chef Jose Andres and musician Lenny Kravitz.
This hotel du moment is in a perfect spot to win the hearts (and Zumba-enhanced bodies) of South Beach habitués. Built within the architecture of the 1939 art deco Ritz Towers, SLS sits between Collins Avenue and the beach and next to FDR, the area's hottest club. Guests can easily float from hotel to club to beach and back to SLS, the firmament of A-listers and wish-they-weres.
Starck's irreverence for conventions of time and space is legendary. The front "desk" is a long oak slab under an old kayak transformed into a lighting fixture. Vintage photos of families enjoying 1950's cottage country adorn the walls. But just when we think we are at summer camp on Lake Ontario, we spot a large mounted fibreglass bull's head, a mural of Singapore and a screen projecting webcam views of the beach and very 21st century, barely clad sunbathers. Beyond the reception area, the space morphs into the open kitchens of SLS's restaurants, Bazaar and Katsuya. Guests such as Pierre Schaedelin of New York city via Monte Carlo love the democratic mingling of guests and kitchen crew. "It's comfy, like walking into someone's house."
The small white room has mirrored sliding doors that conceal the bathroom's pink glass-walled shower, pink mirror and Starck's mystifying flat sink (where does the water go?). Uh-oh, no desk only a tiny table just big enough for a moment's pause to tweet. This is not a hotel for people who need to work. A bedside iPad offers icons for dining, clubbing and surfing the Web for where to surf in the ocean. The hotel says the rooms are inspired by "old French aristocracy" who obviously didn't need much in the way of workspace or electrical outlets. On the other hand, ceiling mirrors over beds were must-haves for Versailles regulars.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
Chef David Thomas puts it this way. "We're three restaurants and, oh yes, we have some rooms too." Some people make pilgrimages just to dine in Jose Andres's temple of molecular gastronomy. It's food theatre in a homey setting that includes a dangling squid-shaped chandelier that looks like marzipan but is actually made of a zillion seashells. Those too timid to try the tomatoes impregnated with cherry vinegar that "explode in your mouth" or the foie gras peanut butter and jam sandwich, can have traditional tapas including the addictive potato dish patatas bravas. Or you can duck across the hall to Katsuya for six pages of sushi options. Room service has few vegetarian options and a bowl of gazpacho and a side of bread racked up a $25 bill.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
You won't meet anyone wearing Gap shorts and you won't meet anyone if you're in Gap shorts. SLS is for those who crave ultra-modern design and frothy novelty. I was relegated to eavesdropping on dishy conversations in French, Spanish and English. A handful of sexy Israeli high-tech moguls, groups of what seemed to be Venezuelan and Russian oil oligarch offspring and, of course, the ubiquitous models decorate the pool terrace
Two pools surrounded by sand, beach grass, silver button trees and a three-metre tall rubber ducky. The hotel's terrace lounge, Hyde Beach – with its chill electronica soundtrack, bistro tables and ornate mirrors – reminds you this isn't just retro summer camp. "It's like the South of France," says Boston-based Sotheby realtor, Daria McLean, nursing an espresso in the sight line of a GQ photo shoot.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
I'm with guest Rolf Drummer of Zurich (who is "in yachts"): "Can't stay long. There's almost nowhere to hang your clothes."
The writer was a guest of the hotel.