By Jon Warech
Photography By Billy Rood | February 19, 2015 | Lifestyle
A new trend in the hospitality industry has Miami going back to the future.
The Regent Cocktail Club - Post-Prohibition influences give the hottest bar in town its throwback vibe. Old Miami photos from the personal collection of the owners, the Galbut family, line the lobby walls in the Gale hotel, reminding guests that even though the next generation of Galbuts, Keith Menin and Jared Galbut, run the show now, the family is as old-school Miami Beach as it gets. That, plus the re-created porches of the hotel and Model T parked out front, sets the tone for the post-Prohibition-inspired Regent Cocktail Club, where bartenders wearing vests pour a mean old-fashioned and cocktails like the Hemingway Daiquiri and Brandy Alexander (brandy, cream, nutmeg) in glassware straight out of The Great Gatsby. Situated in prime South Beach real estate, off 17th Street and Collins Avenue, The Regent Cocktail Club is worlds away from the nightlife that surrounds it, with its jazz nights and antique bottles on display. “We do research about the drinks popular at that time, studying some cocktail books released after 1930, like The Savoy Cocktail Book,” says acclaimed mixologist and managing partner Julio Cabrera. “The ambience and the cocktails create something very ‘New York’ in the heart of South Beach. People needed this in Miami.” 1690 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-0199
Back in March 2013, news broke that two triplex penthouses being built in the Residences at The Miami Beach Edition sold for a record $34 million. That’s a combined eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, and 16,162 square feet of living space with undoubtedly every amenity under the sun. But take one step inside The Miami Beach Edition, which opened its doors during Art Basel, and you’ll see that this kind of living isn’t just the wave of the future in Miami—it’s also an homage to the city’s past.
By design, Ian Schrager’s latest Miami venture is both the start of something new and a return to glory for the structure, as careful steps were taken to restore and renovate the historic Seville Hotel, built in 1955 during the height of the Miami Beach hotel boom, in order to make it the modern Miami Beach Edition of today.
On the outside, a restored 18-foot-diameter clock and an “S”-shaped concrete canopy at the entrance remain as a reminder of an era known as “The Billion Dollar Sandbar.” Beyond the doors, there’s a careful mix of old and new, including Tropicale, the gardens inspired by the Tropicana nightclub of 1950s Havana; Basement nightclub, which was designed with a nod to Schrager’s ribald late-’70s hot spot Studio 54; the Matador Room, defined as a place “one might expect to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers waltzing through” and retaining the dramatic oval shape of the original ’50s dining room; and Basement Skate, a 2,000-square-foot ice-skating rink that is reminiscent of the old Fontainebleau rink.
1930s House - The coolest gathering spot in Miami Beach harkens back to old Havana. An actual house that was built in the 1930s and originally located across the street, 1930s House was physically moved to the Thompson Miami Beach property and restored. The Mediterranean-inspired indoor-outdoor space is the perfect place to gather with friends and sit by the limestone fireplace or at the hacienda-style bar with early-20th-century Havana-style furnishings. Snack on food from Michelle Bernstein or sip on a Misbeehavin’, made with Bulleit rye, lemon juice, honey syrup, egg whites, and orange bitters, or an anejo old fashioned with Don Julio anejo, agave-chipotle syrup, and pimento and mole bitters. Karim Masri and Nicola Siervo of KNR Hospitality Group control the crowd, so Miami’s who’s who calls 1930s House home, and according to area Managing Director Brett Orlando, it’s a scene that has become the talk of the town. “It’s a concept that our guests have fallen in love with,” he says. “The history and the ambience set it apart—there’s just nothing else quite like it in Miami Beach.” 4041 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 786-605-4041
While groups such as the Miami Design Preservation League have long kept historic and important landmarks from being demolished, a more informal cultural trend is happening as well: What’s old is new again. And while it’s helping to break sales records at The Miami Beach Edition, the concept of turning back time is popping up all over town. With nearly every mention of an evolving Miami with groundbreakings for state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar residential towers, hotels, and fine dining, there is usually some tie to Miami’s rich history.
The movement harkens back to the entertainment and nightlife this city was built on, what some might consider better days. To that end, there’s a pop-up bar called Better Days in Brickell, which features oversize lounge booths made from reassembled furniture, and feels more like a set from That ’70s Show than a bar in 2015 Miami. “It’s a back-to-basics bar coupled with eclectic throwback sensibilities,” says creator Challo Schott. “It offers a witty and nostalgic American blue-collar aesthetic and a revolving menu of craft cocktails and beers.”
Look around and you’ll find spots for nearly every decade of the past century. Railroad Blues is set in the Roaring Twenties; The Regent Cocktail Club honors the post-Prohibition era; the Blues Bar at the National Hotel jazzes up the ’40s and ’50s; and Rec Room is the nightclub version of the ’70s-themed basement where one might have misbehaved as a teen, surrounded by wood-paneled walls and shelves packed with old records and random pieces of nostalgia. There’s also Ball & Chain, a modern re-creation of the Little Havana club as it was first designed in 1935, and 1930s House at The Thompson Miami Beach, which is, well, an actual house from the 1930s.
Ball & Chain Calle - Ocho’s most vibrant spot for jazz also slings period-perfect cocktails. In 1957, Count Basie sued Ball & Chain for lack of payment, and the owner shut down the joint. Now a poster of the jazz star adorns the wall, paying homage to old days at the Calle Ocho club, which originally opened in 1935 and reopened last year with much of the historic Little Havana ambience intact. The Dade County pine ceiling and walls remain from 1935, and owners Zack Bush, Ben Bush, and Bill Fuller brought in handmade Cuban tiles for the floors. Cuban-inspired food such as fried queso with guayaba sauce and congri fritters, and drinks infused with coffee, tobacco, pineapples, and even pastelitos complement the look and feel of the venue. But it’s the music that keeps this place bumping. There’s live jazz every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 6 pm, and an out-of-control La Pachanga Party complete with feather-clad dancers and 10-piece salsa bands every Saturday night. “We felt as though we had a responsibility to the people of the neighborhood to reject the trend of tearing down old gems in the name of shiny, new concepts,” says Fuller. “If an original patron came to see us, the experience would bring back wonderful memories of the past and hopefully create some great new ones as well.” 1513 SW Eighth St., Miami, 305-643-7820
Prohibition in Midtown Miami, like 1930s House, tells you exactly what kind of vibe it aims for, but in case you missed that day in history class, a sign at the entrance of the bar announces the “good old days are back.” While guests love the char-grilled octopus, truffle pasta, and seared scallops on the modern menu, owner Shawn Shanazi, says that rather than being defined by its cuisine, he wants guests “to feel transported to the magical era of the ’20s and ’30s, which was all about celebrating nightlife in the most stylish manner.”
So why is this new trend popping up all over? Most say it’s an opportunity to stand out and bring something unique to Miami. With EDM and bottle service dominating the nightclub scene, the shift in atmosphere invites a new nightlife experience—usually charged with live (not digital) music, patrons hobnobbing around a bar instead of isolated with a bottle, and the opportunity to schmooze in a more intimate setting. But when it comes down to it, Russ Bruce, owner of Railroad Blues, answers the “why” question best: “It’s so much more captivating,” he says.
Restaurants are also getting in on the action. From Uncle Toms Barbecue in Coral Gables, with its refurbished sign and signature special dating back to its opening in 1948, to Tamarina in Brickell, whose design choices feature both a massive 1950s satellite chandelier made in Italy and a large black and white photo of Raquel Welch from the ’60s, tastefully dated décor is the appetizer to a variety of delicious meals.
Blues Bar - A sexy joint for blues and booze, this Miami Beach enclave reincarnates the National Hotel circa 1940. Last year, the National Hotel completed an extensive $12 million renovation, restoring the venue to the original style designed by renowned Art Deco architect Roy France in 1939. Inside, Blues Bar maintains the hotel’s historic integrity by creating a 1930s/’40s blues and jazz vibe that would have made both Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters proud. A nightly piano player and live jazz on Sundays set a scene that was only heightened by the Miami Nice Jazz Festival, which occupied Blues Bar in November. Count on vintage-themed drinks like the National Hemingway white rum cocktail, at nearly vintage prices during the weekday happy hour, which bring in a low-key crowd, according to hotel general manager Yaser Mohamad. “The Blues Bar guests seem to appreciate the hotel’s historic feel. We reintroduced a beautifully restored icon on Miami Beach.” There’s a lot to appreciate at the National Hotel, like following up a night of sipping cocktails and grooving to jazz with a dip in the hotel’s 205-foot-long infinity pool. 1677 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-532-2311
Even in spots not sporting nostalgic design, guests can usually drink their way back in time. Lilt Lounge at the Epic Hotel offers cocktails like the 1919 Firenze and Death in the Afternoon (adapted from a drink invented by Ernest Hemingway in 1935), while showcasing top local musical talent singing everything from standards to jazz. Blackbird Ordinary hosts a once-a-month themed party called No Ordinary Sunday that focuses on specific eras in American history. A recent gathering there, titled A Repeal Party!, celebrated the 81st anniversary of the end of Prohibition. And at the Rose Bar inside the Delano South Beach, the staff concocts moonshine cocktails every Wednesday as part of the bar’s Roaring Twenties-themed evening. According to Andrew Pittard, food and beverage director, the themed night helped “to glamorize a speakeasy vibe set in the intimate space.”
And glamour seems to be one of the keys—people crave a slower, more elegant experience than the beats-per-minute that has dominated the last decade of nightlife. In a hotel such as the Delano, it makes perfect sense. Along those lines, the recently revamped Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach completed a $90 million revitalization and redesign, but the famous diving board, built and designed by Art Deco architect Igor Polevitsky in 1940 and updated in the 1950s by Morris Lapidus, remains. The pool staff, too, is retro-ed out, with females donning burgundy cigarette-style short dresses reminiscent of classic ’50s pinup girls and males sporting matching classic white clam digger pants, trim bathing trunks, and red-striped shirts with matching track jackets. The objective, according to uniform designer Carol Ramsey, is to “bring back an elegance and glamour.”
All across Miami Beach’s Art Deco District, the elegance remains intact, much like many of the original hotel signs, thanks to the Miami Design Preservation League. That’s why you’ll see a restored Ritz Plaza sign atop the very sleek SBE-owned SLS South Beach, which after an $85 million renovation in 2012 is part Hollywood—with a penthouse designed by Lenny Kravitz—and part old-school Miami Beach, with the original 1939 structure built by architect L. Murray Dixon still in place. “Philippe Starck wanted to create a ‘dream world’ by blending the old with the new,” says Thomas Meding, area vice president at SBE, of the hotel’s designer. “Guests experience an eclectic and worldly mix of style that is in keeping with the Art Deco-themed architecture.” Of course, mandated or not, given the trend, it’s all working out quite nicely.
RailRoad Blues - Relive all the music, cocktails, and in-the-know entryways that made Prohibition speakeasies impossible to resist. Leading the way in the up-and-coming Arts and Entertainment District, Railroad Blues is a speakeasy concept that transports you to the Roaring Twenties as soon as you enter through the faux newsstand hiding the door. Replica Prohibition-era décor, like vintage suitcases, antique mirrors, and tufted leather banquettes, surround the small main stage that features live musical talent six nights a week. There’s also a beverage program that features a rotation of classic cocktails with unique twists and local craft beers on tap for a hint of Miami in this throwback scene. Owner Russ Bruce, who recently launched adjacent Steam Miami, went old school with Railroad Blues because it was time to bring “cool” back. “The Prohibition era was chock full of scintillating excitement and prosperity in art, culture, and hush-hush social gatherings–it screamed of smoky venues and hidden speakeasies for boozing and socializing,” he says. “Railroad Blues revives that concept.” 28 NE 14th St., Miami, 305-392-0687
The concept of “what’s old is new” isn’t going anywhere, either. Hotelier Jason Pomeranc’s newest Sixty Hotels property, Nautilus South Beach, is a 2015 project that continues the trend by pumping modern luxury with touches of the original 1950s style of the building (and the famed “stairway to nowhere” in the lobby) created originally by architect Morris Lapidus. “Morris Lapidus’s innovative architectural style became synonymous with Miami throughout the 1950s,” says Pomeranc. “His aesthetic direction provided us with the design foundation. We’ve injected our interpretation of midcentury jetset style into a casual and elegant space inspired by global beach culture, creating a vibe that resonates with today’s traveler, which we feel preserves the inherent charm of this landmark.”
It’s not just hotels, bars, and restaurants anymore. Miami is at a point now where entire neighborhoods are going old school, as the MiMo District is, building by building, preserving and restoring the 1950s “Miami Modern” ambience that originally jumpstarted that stretch of Biscayne Boulevard. The iconic Coppertone sign might be what first catches the eye, but the pride and joy of the neighborhood is The Vagabond Hotel, a former motel that opened last year after a multimillion-dollar renovation to make the old spot new again. It’s throwback with a modern twist both inside and out, with architectural details like terrazzo floors, Miami Dade pine, pool mosaics, and neon signs that stuck to city policies in place to preserve the area.
Developer Avra Jain, who is also renovating the South Pacific Motel and Knoxon Motel, says The Vagabond’s restoration is a stroll down memory lane for many people who come by. “Every week, visitors come and share stories of their stay,” she says. “It was the family staycation every year, and this is where they learned to swim. This was their first home in Miami when they got off the boat from Cuba. This was where they may have honeymooned, celebrated birthdays, shared special times with family, and made new friends. It wasn’t just about restoring a magnificent property, it was about preserving special memories.”
And as is the case with every restored venue in the Magic City, there are new memories being made every day.
Styling by Kristina Kitchen; Makeup and hair by Taryll Atkins; Model: Rebecca Dias @ Wilhelmina