THE BETSY SOUTH BEACH
Guests looking to splurge can stay at The Betsy South Beach (1440 Ocean Drive, Tel: 305-531-6100. www.thebetsyhotel.com), a AAA-Four Diamond hotel originally built in 1942 by famed L. Murray Dixon (the architect responsible for art deco classics like The Raleigh and The Tides). Located in South Beach, The Betsy is the most luxurious hotel on iconic Ocean Drive, offering a high degree of comfort with exceptional service. In January 2017, just in time for its 75th anniversary celebration, the hotel unveiled a groundbreaking, multi-million renovation and expansion that included the takeover of Carlton Hotel on Collins Avenue next door. The two buildings are connected by a visually crafted egg art installation. The expansion doubled the room inventory (now 128 rooms), and guests can choose between the original Colonial Wing with lobby, LT Steak & Seafood, and ground pool oasis, or yhe new Art Deco Wing with modern rooms with balconies. The new wing features a gorgeous library, conservatory, fitness center, and rooftop pool that, amazingly, is a bridge that connects the two buildings.
THE PALACE BAR
As Miami continues to flourish, change can be bittersweet, notably with The Palace Bar (1052 Ocean Drive, Tel: 305-531-7234. www.palacesouthbeach.com). The legendary, gay bar institution on Ocean Drive (famous for drag shows) shuttered for the summer after 29 long years (a developer bought the building for $15.2 million, implementing a new direction). But the show’s not over for The Palace, whose slogan is “Every queen needs a palace.” To the joy of thousands of fans, The Palace Bar reopened in November, just two blocks from its original location in a bigger, badder and gayer space! While many may miss the former stomping ground, the all-new Palace Bar has a large outdoor terrace, a roomier dance floor, and walls that open up (for that trademark, South Beach ocean breeze), offering a more significant sense of place— and, of course, all the same wild antics, drag shows and fun-filled, late-night action.
Upland Miami (49 Collins Avenue, Tel: 305-602-9998. www.uplandmiami.com), a spinoff of celebrity chef Stephen Starr’s Upland in NYC, is ambitious with truly good vibes. Helmed by Justin Smillie, Upland is the most “hipster” in this area, with design features that prove a lot of thought was given to the aesthetics. Entire walls are lined with illuminated jars of preserved lemons or artichoke. The menu comprises rustic and seasonal Californian-inspired fare, but I found Mexican influences in the brunch menu, which featured chilaquiles with baked tortillas, skirt steak, and cotija. The waiter recommended the little gem salad with avocado, cucumber, ricotta salada and walnut vinaigrette. They came out Asian style, so I ate them with my hands the way you would with lettuce-wrapped bulgogi, and it hit all the right spots.
Lobster Bar (404 Washington Avenue, Tel: 305-377-2675. www.buckheadrestaurants.com) has big shoes to fill considering it took over China Grill, an institution for almost two decades. Thankfully, it’s on the right track. Open since April, Lobster Bar is a glam space with tiled ceilings, vested waitstaff, and an understated, art deco feel, somewhat refined but not stuffy. It’s a magnet to affluent locals who appreciate fine dining, and they certainly get dressed to the nines here. Executive chef Arturo Paz formerly helmed Cleo, which is one of my favorite Miami restaurants, so my expectations were high. He didn’t disappoint. There’s a number of upmarket dishes, like wild ahi tuna tartar that serves as a bed for dollops of rich caviar, and A-5 Miyazaki 100 percent Wagyu Kobe beef filet mignon (the only place in Miami to serve this), though lobster obviously dominates the menu, sourced from international purveyors, all arriving fresh and, for the most part, alive. I opted for lobster pasta, where fresh gitara pasta was mixed with tomato lobster sauce, served with lobster chunks. The plate was garnished with an actual lobster head and tail that truly gave an aura of sophistication.