I've seen it all," says Matthew Green, an assistant manager at the Delano hotel on Miami's South Beach. "Oprah, Madonna, Calvin Klein, you name it." You might expect the accompanying "seen-it-all" attitude. Actually, the staffers are quite friendly--and why not? They get to work in one of the most innovatively designed and talked-about hotels around.
Delano is the shiniest jewel in the crown of Ian Schrager, who made his name by running Studio 54 in the late 1970s. His hotel empire--which includes Paramount and Royalton in New York and the recently completed Mondrian in Los Angeles--has distinguished itself by leaving no opportunity for coolness to chance.
Much has been written about the hotel's eccentrically minimalist look, courtesy of French designer Philippe Starck. Schrager and Starck totally renovated the hotel in 1995, except for the original 1947 exterior, which by law had to be preserved.
Delano stands proudly in its historic spot on South Beach, although the neighboring area is still somewhat seedy. Schrager and Starck found a way around this by planting enormous evergreen hedges to form a barrier between the street and the front porch.
As for the rooms, they are white. Very white. Starck claims the colors run from "white to pearl gray," but it takes a few minutes to see those gradations. Once adjusted, the effect is quite soothing. You may feel guilty putting your feet on the glaringly white ottoman, since making a smudge is inevitable, but that's part of the fun: It's as if they are daring you not to notice.
A fresh, light green apple, resting on a metal pedestal near the door, provides the only hint of color. (A plaque underneath says, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away.") Similarly idiosyncratic touches, including a small, stylized metal angel on the wall, keep the design's cool from becoming cold.
Since no one staying in this stylish environment would want to look out of shape, the hotel has a gym run by New York fitness guru David Barton and a luxurious rooftop spa called Agua appointed in--guess what?--white-on-white.
Delano has 238 rooms spread over 16 stories, and all are expensive. The rates range from $295 to $2,000 (for the penthouse, where Madonna stays) in season. Ocean views will run you at least $350. For putting the finishes touches on your IPO or your screenplay, try one of the $700 bungalows, which are separate two-story apartments that flank the "water salon," Starck's extra-shallow swimming pool that sports furniture in the pool and broadcasts classical music underwater.
Instead of adhering to the white-and-pastel look of many a tropical resort, the high-ceilinged lobby is elegantly paneled in rich, dark wood. Like the rest of the hotel, the lobby features some Alice in Wonderland touches: a towering and out-of-scale banquette, a fur-covered divan, a surrealist chair by Salvador Dalì. Massive columns and a series of billowing white curtains (a motif repeated throughout) set off successive areas, extending through the building past the hotel's main restaurant, the Blue Door, and out to the back patio, forming the apse to this secular church of chic. It is in this space, anchored by the Rose Bar and a pool table, that cigar lovers can worship anytime they please. "Actually, cigars became so popular, I had to adjust our smoke detectors," says managing director David Miskit.
"From 7 to 9 at night, everybody's there, smoking cigars, drinking Cognac and making plans for the night," adds Green. "It's all part of the 'lobby culture' that Ian Schrager is known for." Groups of chairs and couches placed along the way allow for private conversations or drive-by schmoozing. Cigars are available at the gift shop.
Once back in your room, you'll notice there's a huge mirror standing at a slight angle against one wall. Leave your camera at home on this trip, because you won't need it. Just gaze in the mirror--you'll never forget how good you look at Delano.
Ted Loos is the features editor of Wine Spectator, a sister publication of Cigar Aficionado.
1685 Collins Avenue
Phone: (305) 672-2000; fax (305) 532-0099
Rates: $295 to $2,000 a night