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By Dirk DeSouza | December 1, 2010 | Lifestyle
Beach House lounge
The Sovereign Hotel recently buzzed with legions of sweaty but seriously precise craftsmen working away in hard hats. The hotel, an extraordinary Art Deco landmark built in 1941 just prior to Pearl Harbor, possessed a regal flair, with a soaring lobby, commanding view of the beach and drop-dead vintage tiles throughout. Still, for its latest incarnation—as the Soho Beach House—that clearly wasn’t enough.
So the structure has lovingly undergone a thorough bones-and-pipes gutting, before being cobbled back together with gorgeous fixtures, furnishings and a discreet plaque near the front door. This door you must first be invited, and then pay, to step through. A few thousand dollars, thank you very much. Pay? Club memberships are free in South Beach, right?
Back in the day, La Voile Rouge, at The Savoy Hotel on Fourth and Ocean, tried a members-only model based on its St-Tropez success, yet face-planted as an abject disaster. After his death, Gianni Versace’s former grand-palazzo playground Casa Casuarina, expertly designed by Versace and the late Wallace Tutt, tried members-only but it, too, failed.
The Club at Casa Tua, a ficus-guarded gem, has a members-only approach that’s working (and the building’s size is wellsuited to a small guest base), but sports only a handful of suites, a tiny, intimate lounge and a gorgeous restaurant not for the faint of wallet.
So why is Soho House different? Why does founder/owner Nick Jones believe it will succeed? “I like to eat, I like to drink and I like to nap. “We want to bring the glamour of the 1940s back to Miami Beach, but it’s glamour in flip-flops,” he says, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt in a dank, drab and very un-chic conference room at a nearby hotel, flanked by an army of eager, attractive publicists.
A Quick Tour of the Soho Beach House
He knows Miami can be difficult and ornery, what with the occasional overwhelming stench of pathological false entitlement. Snooze. Whatever. Onward. Upward. Build it and they will come. If business titans in Manhattan and movie stars in Los Angeles pay to play, then the Miami Beach domino shall fall too, right?
Truth be known, Soho Beach House is very cool. And gorgeous. And impeccably designed, with homey, custom-made furnishings arranged in various carefully curated vignettes. Nothing in Miami even remotely resembles it. It’s a 50-room beachfront hotel, sure, but feepaying members appreciate that it features a two-story Cowshed spa (clad in reclaimed barn wood) with five treatment rooms and a steam room, gym, pool, four play/work lounges, screening room, two restaurants (one overlooking the ocean), three bars (including a beachside tiki hut), magnificent rooftop plunge pool and bar, and members-only beach, all wired with blazing-fast Internet hot spots. The chef, Sergio Sigala, formerly of Casa Tua, prepares simple but delectable Northern Italian fare. Another cool thing about the food: You can eat anywhere. In the lobby, the spa, the lounges, by the pool.
That irritating $150-a-month gym membership you have? Burn it. Those perpetually pesky $50 pool/beach-chaise fees got you down? Might want to reconsider. Got the entrepreneurial spirit, but you’re all lonely, languishing in a shared $500-per-month office space? Break your lease. Your reliably unreliable babysitter has you at the breaking point? Fire her. Because Soho Beach House aspires to be your spa, gym, office, kitchen, pool, beach, meeting place, daycare service and networking platform: a work/play/relax/eat/drink/promote space for like-minded people whom the club screens to make sure the riffraff doesn’t get in.
Like-minded, I say? You have to be connected to the arts, or fashion, or be otherwise creative, or certainly have a solid network of friends. “We Google people because some say, ‘Oh, I’m a creative director at an ad agency,’ but they’re actually an attorney,” says Laurent Fraticelli, Soho Beach House’s general manager, who carries an air of cool style and disarming pleasantness.
“It’s really all about members helping members, members contributing to the programming of events,” says Guy Chetwynd, a very civilized English fellow who helps to build and run Soho Houses around the globe. What does that mean, exactly? It means there’s a book club and lessons on how to start an art collection, conducted in conjunction with members. It means when Dustin Hoffman hosts a film screening at Soho House West Hollywood, he sticks around to answer questions about the film, the business, acting and the like.
Got a fashion label you’re looking to promote? Stage a members-only runway show; maybe someone in the crowd is an expert marketer, a distributor or a consultant, or knows a girl who knows a girl who knows a buyer at Neiman Marcus. “It’s really their club, not ours. It’s a community spirit,” Chetwynd says.
So given the freewheeling, breezy vibe, is there anything a member can do to be asked to leave? Yes. There are two cardinal sins at Soho Beach House: You can’t use your cell phone (except in two designated hallways and on the balcony outside the eighth-floor club room). And you can’t take photos. Period. “Our members appreciate their privacy,” Jones says. Is this the magical elixir Miami needs? It just might be.
Photographs by Gary James; CLAUDIA URIBE (COWSHED SPA)