Some places don’t seem quite real even when you’re physically there – I think this every time I emerge onto Venice’s Grand Canal, or see Manhattan rising up like a great ship as the cab cruises over Brooklyn Bridge. Miami Beach struck me this way, too. Every sense told me I’d arrived – the samba music booming from Ocean Drive’s bars, heat swamping my limbs like cling film, the creamy coconut taste of a Pina Colada – but still it had a film set, Disneyland feel.
Ice-cream coloured edifices and palm trees stood against a sky the shade of a bottle of Curaçao. Impossibly tanned people were blading, cycling and kite surfing. Marvelling at all its brightness and bluster, I suppose this made me the British equivalent of an American tourist cooing at Oxford colleges or Cotswold villages. For a London dweller like myself, the brightness, bigness and bluster were as exotic as a souk. Miami flashed a dazzling smile at me, and I melted.
Strange to think, then, that not much more than a hundred year ago this was farmland – a coconut plantation run by John S. Collins, after whom the wide artery-like boulevard that runs the length of Miami Beach is named. It was the quintessential American dream of entrepreneur Charles Fisher to establish a successful city on the peninsula in 1913, and despite that period of seediness and decline immortalised in Miami Vice, today the Art Deco buildings look as gleaming and fresh as in their original heyday, when the likes of L. Murray Dixon, Albert Anis and Henry Hohauser were defining the area’s aesthetic. There’s The McAlpin, with its pink and turquoise accents, the iconic neon of The Colony, the curving white corners of The Carlyle, and The Marlin in all its patterned pastel glory.
The same goes for Albert Anis’ 1939 masterpiece, The Traymore. Two years ago it re-opened as the Metropolitan by COMO (the group’s other hotels range from Perth to London via Bhutan and the Maldives), yet its late 1930s features are still resplendent, especially the lobby’s soaring fluted columns and rose-coloured marble floors.
Thanks to its location a little further up the beach (where ‘South’ becomes ‘Mid’) the Metropolitan is something of a retreat from the hedonism of SoBe. Running with the sanctuary theme, Italian designer Paola Navone has decorated its guest rooms in soothing peppermint and pale grey shades. The rooftop is home not to a bar, but a hydrotherapy pool and steam room. A yoga mat is stashed in every wardrobe for weekend beach yoga sessions, and the menu’s ‘Shambala’ options make healthy eating easier – for breakfast they include homemade granola, mango and blueberries, or scrambled tofu with sweet peppers, corn and avocado. There’s also a glut of locally caught, sustainable seafood to tuck into, from Florida Snapper with white bean ragu, to garlic Key West shrimp, plus a perennially tasty market fish of the day option, simply grilled with lemon, marjoram and capers.
Not that it’s all too virtuous, though: the hotel’s Jazz-age-inspired Gin Club bar stocks over 30 artisanal varieties of mother’s ruin. And if you do overindulge, the white poolside cabanas do nicely as somewhere to sleep off a hangover.
Metropolitan by COMO, Miami Beach is located at 2445 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33140 www.comohotels.com/metropolitanmiamibeach.