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Miami Hotels: The Posh Keep Getting Posher

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 9, 2008

So what'll it be? The place with the six infinity-edge swimming pools or the one with the bathroom chandelier that doubles as a shower head? The resort where beach butlers roam the premises with champagne carts or the hotel where no guest -- even on the most scorching of days -- will ever be far from a chilled facial towel?

You've gotta hand it to Miami. What other city would double down on conspicuous consumption in these perilous times?

To be fair, Miami's glittering new (and newly renovated) properties have been in the works for some time; all were planned long before the economic crunch. But even as the city's hotels deal with unprecedented low occupancy, all hail to the newcomers: either anachronistic monuments to excess or perversely reassuring, depending on your point of view.

On Miami Beach

· The Fontainebleau Miami Beach. When it opened in 1954, this Morris Lapidus-designed behemoth was something of an oddity, its gently curving main building branded "avant-garde," and not in a nice way. But it didn't take Miami long to embrace the Fontainebleau. For a time, everyone from Rat Pack sun seekers to James Bond (he played gin rummy poolside in 1964's "Goldfinger") flocked to the place. But in the '90s, when the action shifted to South Beach, the Fontainebleau became something of a rundown relic.

"If you create a stage and it is grand, everyone who enters will play their part," Lapidus once wrote, never imagining that "everyone" would include Victoria's Secret models, who will rechristen the resort with a fashion show Saturday, the day after the Fontainebleau officially reopens. 4441 Collins Ave., http://www.fontainebleau.com, 800-573-6351. Rooms start at $309 a night.

What's Old Miami: two new towers (1,504 rooms total), 11 restaurants and lounges, a free-form pool and a redesign of the lobby's signature "stairway to nowhere."

What's New Miami: oversize tubs with jets; a 40,000-square-foot spa where guests can get rained on, misted or steamed; a restaurant by Alfred Portale (of New York's Gotham Bar and Grill).

SPF rating (Spectacle, Poshness, Fabulosity): 20

· Eden Roc. Just next door to the Fontainebleau stands another Lapidus-designed property, this one from 1956. It, too, became an icon of '50s elegance (credit its multiple appearances on TV's "I Love Lucy"), and it, too, was allowed to fade for a time. But the Eden Roc is back with a vengeance, thanks to a $180 million renovation of its original building and the construction of an adjacent 21-story tower of rooms. (The tower opens later this month; the main building reopened in October.) 4525 Collins Ave., http://www.boldnewedenroc.com, 800-319-5354. Rooms start at $199 a night.

What's Old Miami: 632 rooms (349 renovated, 283 in the new tower), 50,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, a restaurant just 12 feet from the ocean.

What's New Miami: 5,000-square-foot rooftop terrace, six infinity-edge swimming pools, a high-tech spa boasting a cool-then-warm lagoon waterfall.

SPF rating: 18

· The Betsy. Small in size and modest in intent, this hotel nevertheless occupies a prominent spot on Ocean Drive in South Beach, still the epicenter of Miami night life. Currently in the midst of a renovation, the Betsy is scheduled to reopen in December. The designers have kept the hotel's signature plantation shutters and added environmentally friendly updates. The 63 rooms offer a tip of the hat to both the past (poster beds) and the future (bath mirrors embedded with small TV screens). 1440 Ocean Dr., http://www.thebetsyhotel.com, 866-531-8950. Room rates are not yet set; check the hotel's Web site for updates.

What's Old Miami: guest rooms with walnut flooring, ceiling fans and white lacquer furniture; a rooftop solarium.

What's New Miami: a "menu" of pillow options, beach butlers delivering chilled face towels, energy-saving devices such as digital gauges that adjust room temperatures automatically when you're not in the room.

SPF rating: 10

· Canyon Ranch Miami Beach. Miami might seem an unlikely spot for this Arizona-based chain to open a property, especially as Canyon Ranch prides itself on offering a health retreat experience for its guests: a "life-enhancing environment," according to the brochure. A reimagining of the 1950s-era Carillon hotel, Canyon Ranch, which officially opens in late November, aims to tweak Miami's image of decadence even as it sits just a stone's throw from bacchanalian SoBe. 6801 Collins Ave., http://www.canyonranch.com, 800-742-9000. Rooms start in the $600s per night.

What's Old Miami: 150 rooms, each with a designer kitchen; four pools; a palm grove (created for yoga classes and meditation).

What's New Miami: scaling a two-story indoor climbing wall after an intense consultation with a Canyon Ranch nutritionist, daily "wellness presentations," biodynamic wine.

SPF rating: 12

On Biscayne Bay

· Mondrian South Beach. Marcel Wanders designed this $200 million, 335-room hotel and condo complex that overlooks Biscayne Bay. Wanders has repeatedly described the property as Sleeping Beauty's castle as seen by the characters at the end of the story. (You know, with the chandeliers in the shower, etc.) Wanders's aesthetic tends toward the dramatic ("Always give them more than expected," he once told students, at which point he took off all his clothes and, for some reason, began throwing candy to them), and the rooms offer fanciful combinations of gray, gold and black. The Mondrian is scheduled to open Nov. 18. 1100 West Ave., http://www.mondrian-miami.com, 800-697-1791. Through January, the hotel is offering an introductory rate of $195 a night for studio rooms.

What's Old Miami: a pool with lush landscaping dotted with hammocks; milk-and-honey treatments in the spa.

What's New Miami: "secret kissing gardens" just off the pool area, rooms with Dutch Delft tile depicting Florida motifs, those shower chandeliers.

SPF rating: 35

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