Good Times Only

How Miami Is Roaring Back To Life Post-Pandemic

More than a year after the pandemic began, a slew of upscale hotel and F&B openings in Miami Beach reminds us why a city famed for its art-deco architecture is the American Riviera.

How Miami Is Roaring Back To Life Post-Pandemic
Opened by music icon Pharrell Williams and nightlife entrepreneur David Grutman, the seven-storey The Goodtime Hotel takes up an entire city block. Conceived as its centrepiece, Strawberry Moon is a gathering spot that serves Mediterranean classics and cocktails.Image: The Goodtime Hotel, Miami Beach

As the sun dipped behind the Miami skyline one Friday, Kim Kardashian stalked around the mirror-like pool at the art deco–inspired The Goodtime Hotel on Miami Beach, posing for pictures before congratulating co-owner Pharrell Williams on its opening. 

Despite the balmy heat of the evening, she looked impossibly chic draped in a green Dior ostrich-skin minidress, her smooth black hair impervious to the ambient humidity. Pharrell, wearing a silky black loose-fitting shawl-neck blazer, was similarly at ease as he and his business partner, Miami hospitality icon David Grutman, greeted models, celebrities and other guests on the breezy 24,000 sq ft pool deck and lounge, which fronts the hotel’s pink-and-green hued indoor-outdoor restaurant Strawberry Moon, a vision by interior designer Ken Fulk that falls somewhere in between a Wes Anderson movie set and mid-century Acapulco or Havana.

Strawberry Moon interior barImage: Alice Gao

The cocktail party was a double-header: a way to launch the hotel — the first by Grutman, who runs successful Miami nightspots Liv and Story and several restaurants under his company Groot Hospitality — ahead of its official opening the following day, and to kick off David Beckham’s Inter Miami football season. The Beckhams were also there, Victoria looking striking in patent leather trousers while David mingled with guests sipping on Haig whisky, between the pink and white pinstriped umbrellas.

The star-studded soiree was probably less rowdy than it might have been: attendee numbers were kept 50 percent below capacity and guests were required to wear face coverings. But if you’re going to open a hotel anywhere during the pandemic — especially a hotel like The Goodtime, where the programming will be anchored by weekend pool parties hosted by a rotating cast of top performers — you can do it in Miami: that’s because the city is famous throughout the Americas as a multicultural party hub; as well, Florida’s Covid-restriction-resistant governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly declared America’s Sunshine State open for business.

The Goodtime Hotel wasn’t the only opening of the season. 

The new 52-room Kayak Miami Beach launched in a landmark 1934 art-deco building overlooking Collins Canal, just steps from the beach.Image: Kayak Miami Beach

A few days prior, the new 52-room Kayak Miami Beach — the travel booking site’s first branded hotel, run in partnership with boutique outfit Life House Hotels — had launched in a landmark 1934 Art Deco building overlooking Collins Canal, just steps from the beach. Local residents and influencers crossed jewel-toned vintage rugs to the outdoor patio at Layla, the hotel’s Middle Eastern bar and restaurant, gathering for cocktails followed by a seated dinner. Guests nibbled on roast lamb and chicken kebabs while stealing furtive glances at other tables to see if they recognised anyone, trying to gauge whether it would be okay to strike up a conversation with strangers.

It felt like a party, without feeling like a party. 

Kayak Miami Beach living room and entry barImage: Kayak Miami Beach

Six blocks away in the city’s art-deco cultural district, that vibe was even more keenly felt by the hordes of spring breakers who had flown in from all over the country and been met with an 8pm to 6am curfew. With nowhere to get food or hang out, they ran amok on the streets, drinking and smoking weed, jumping on cars and smashing windscreens and windows.

Generally, though, it felt safe being out and about in Miami Beach as the city — much more so than other spots in Florida — has been reasonably judicious with lockdowns and face-covering mandates. On August 31 last year, restaurants were able to welcome guests for indoor dining at 50 percent capacity after nearly two months of being shuttered; its dining scene has remained busy while the pandemic completely crushed hospitality in many other US cities. A study by restaurant reservations hub OpenTable found that bookings for the last Friday of April, for instance, saw dramatic declines in Los Angeles and New York City — 40 percent and 62 percent respectively, compared to 2019 — whereas Miami Beach saw a 25 percent uptick in bookings.

Mila is a chic bohemian enclave that takes diners on a culinary journey through the shores of the Mediterranean and into Asia.Image: Mila Miami

Sunday’s dinner service at the rooftop “MediterrAsian” concept restaurant Mila — which opened with a seated Moët & Chandon-sponsored dinner in January — was quite the scene. Tables of impeccably dressed patrons shared sushi rolls, wagyu dumplings and flaming whole branzino before taking selfies, faces aglow from the birthday sparklers brought to almost every table. Staff wore face coverings as they served the dishes and drinks and smashed guacamole tableside, as did most guests when they moved around the indoor dining room and outdoor terrace.

The host at Watr on the 1 Hotel South Beach rooftop — a must for sundowner cocktails — recommended I check out Joia Beach Restaurant & Beach Club, another spot that opened in January, where I bumped into Mike Tyson and his entourage.

Among the dining establishments at The Miami Beach Edition is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Matador Room.Image: The Miami Beach Edition

The poolside brunch at Matador Room, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Latin restaurant at The Miami Beach Edition, felt almost normal, aside from the more spaced-apart tables. So too, was the Champagne-fueled jazz brunch at The Setai, where I was ladling curry and spearing meat onto my plate using utensils that had been touched by other diners, but by the third plate, I had adjusted. Other than the fact that we were all wearing face masks and people were more guarded around personal space and interactions, it felt good to be around others, eating and drinking and generally having a good time. 

Like the restaurants, local spas have also made careful adjustments. Dreamy new minimalist Away spa at W South Beach — a hotel that houses the outpost of New York staple Mr Chow and a multi-million-dollar art collection, including 21 original Warhols — is restricting guests to individual and small group bookings to ensure privacy and no-risk relaxation.

W South Beach has rejuvenated its Away spa and suites and refreshed its art collection.Image: W South Beach

At raunchy Tryst — A Lover’s Rendezvous, a new original production presented by hotelier Alan Faena at his namesake five-star property in collaboration with Quixotic, masks were integral to the show’s sensorial provocations. Performers combined burlesque, riveting cirque nouveau and seemingly impossible feats of strength to spell-binding music as they led the audience through a series of stories of explicit encounters from our bewitching host’s past, present and future loves. Spinning through the air, romancing one lover after another, she made a strong case for transforming fishnet face covers into a sexy, everyday style staple for the post-pandemic wardrobe.

As Miami heads into summer and restrictions on gatherings are relaxed, visitor numbers will surely continue to grow. Looking forward to a post-pandemic world, Miami Beach — much like Pharrell’s new hotel — seems well-positioned to lead the world in channelling hedonistic revelry and laidback R&R with relative safety. As the singer-songwriter, artist and entrepreneur asserts, we’re ready for a good time.

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