A revitalized and refreshed Bath Club, Miami Beach's first private beach club, pays homage to its jazz age past with an inspired new twist.
A 1980 photograph by Slim Aarons captures the world of beach club privilege.
When it opened in 1928, the Bath Club— then the first and only private oceanfront club on Miami Beach—was built by and for people with pedigreed names like Firestone, Fisher, Vanderbilt, Boeing and Cartier. Designed by famed architect Robert A. Taylor in the popular Mediterranean Revival style of the day, it was created as an exclusive winter getaway, where wealthy Northeasterners could gather to socialize, swim and warm their bones— and neither locals, African Americans nor Jews were allowed access. More than 90 years later, a reincarnated version of the club will reopen this month—again to an elite set of members. But this time around, it will embrace a diverse crowd of every color and creed from every walk of life. The idea, says Don Peebles, the new club’s visionary and developer, is to flip the original founders’ premise on its head and transform it into a setting that he calls “exclusively inclusive.”
In its Roaring Twenties heyday, the Bath Club was an emblem of the Jazz Age, with cocktails flowing and fine food served while an eight-piece orchestra filled the air with music against a bougainvillea-draped tropical backdrop. Several decades later, Peebles, a high-profile South Florida developer, was invited to become the club’s first African American member and socialized there until he bought the property in 1999 after responding to a request for a proposal to redevelop the property. “The opportunity to own and develop prime oceanfront land in one of the most coveted areas of Miami Beach was certainly a draw, but as a member of the club, I had a personal connection to the project,” says Peebles. “I felt as though it was my duty to preserve the club’s history, while guiding it into its future. For me, it was a chance to make a statement as to how far Miami and the U.S. had come.”
The courtyard at the newly redesigned Bath Club
And 20 years later, he’s done just that. With a complete interior revamp by female design duo Antrobus+Ramirez, the revitalized heritage property pays homage to its glory days with the best of its original architecture—stuccoed walls, cast-iron chandeliers, terra-cotta roof tiles and floors, and Prohibition-era secret doors—restored and left intact. Yet, now filled with a spirited mix of retro- inspired furnishings and accents, including fringed umbrellas, floral-patterned fabrics and canopies, tented cabana ceilings, plush banquettes, cozy leather chairs, rattan beach loungers and bar carts, it also offers a fresh take on old-school Miami glamour that coolly repositions it for the future. One of the designers’ favorite spaces in the 26,000-plus- square-foot facility is the private dining room. “Originally designed to be the jewelry box of the club, the insular room is the perfect place to create an element of surprise,” says designer Ruby Ramirez.
As in the past, food, drink and unparalleled service are central to the club’s offerings, though today a new menu of light, healthy fare developed by the acclaimed hospitality group Apicii will redefine the club’s array of dining experiences in the canopied outdoor courtyard and adjacent enclosed lounge as well as the indoor and outdoor dining areas near the pool, with butler service available at the multiple poolside cabanas. Many of the sporting and fitness activities, including swimming and tennis on the club’s refurbished clay courts, also derive from a page in the club’s original playbook, yet they’re now coupled with a roster of curated fitness programs delivered by the city’s top instructors, while customized private massages and skin treatments offer up-to-the-minute wellness options at the updated spa. And a wide range of events and programming—from film screenings, local artists’ exhibitions and music performances to cooking and mindfulness classes—will regularly take place in the club’s special events and ballroom spaces.
“What we need in today’s era is a place where bibliophiles, investment bankers, families, artists, DJs— people from all walks of life—can come together and enjoy the exclusivity and elegance that they crave in a space that is iconic in its own way and insulated from the everyday intensity of Miami,” says Peebles.
But make no mistake: While the club will cater to a new breed of elite members, it will remain ultraexclusive. Membership is offered by invitation only and limited to just 200 members and their families. The city’s only private beach club without an attached hotel component, the Bath Club’s superintimate environs along with more than 550 linear feet of oceanfront beach are but a few of the essential ingredients that set it apart from other private clubs on the Beach.
“The Bath Club is more mature, sophisticated and established,” says Peebles. “It was the first social club in the Southeast, so there is a certain level of history and prestige that other membership clubs simply cannot replicate.”
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Photography by: Slim Aarons for Getty Images; courtyard image courtesy of The Bath Club