I’m at the pool of The Standard on Belle Isle in Miami Beach.
The snow at back home in New York is a distant, chilly memory. Still, there are signs I haven’t totally left behind reality. As I lounge by the pool underneath the property’s towering palm trees that have appeared in countless Instagram posts (including mine), and try to refrain from listening to Will Smith’s modern classic “Welcome to Miami” ad nauseum, I occasionally glance up to see passerbys in nothing but bathing suits and face masks, along with those tandem face mask tan lines. Indeed, it’s a sign of our current era.
I’m on this reporting trip to see how the typically raucous city is handling, well, everything that’s been thrown its way. Like any other vacation enclave, this region and Florida in general was deeply impacted by the effects of the pandemic. As winter turns to the late spring of 2021 however, vaccines are the nation’s hottest commodity and infection rates are down from previous highs. Here in Miami, everything is not only open, but the properties I visited seem to have a respectable handle on safety. Here at The Standard, they know all too well about the impact the virus has had. (Sadly, their original location in Hollywood, California was forced to close its doors earlier this year.) Despite their Miami Beach enclave closing their doors for six full months, the property is on its way to a renewed heyday.
Later this year, they’re introducing a brand new, classic cocktail bar and a Scandinavian influenced café. The updates come courtesy the property’s original designers, Shawn Hausman Design. According to Bianca Dusic, the Standard’s VP of Food and Beverage: “The original design sought out to create a timeless appeal, so this time around, we didn’t set out to radically alter or redesign the spaces but to enhance what is already there.” When it comes to warding away the virus while at the same time welcoming visitors, the property was uniquely positioned.
While mask-wearing is strictly enforced everywhere, the vast majority of The Standard lies outdoors, whether the pool where I’m lounging, its array of chill spots located in a maze of picture-perfect vegetation, or the open-air hallways guests traverse to hotel’s rooms. There’s also an outdoor restaurant, The Lido Bayside Grill. Named after the previous hotel before The Standard took over this spot in 2006, the spacious outdoor deck serves breakfast, lunch and, among twinkling lights, dinner. From the menu, there were definitie highlights: a massive Impossible Melt on an everything bun or a plate of cauliflower with a tahini I could have eaten by the bowlful. Its cocktail menu also harkens to the hotel’s simple yet breezy past. Try not to relax while gazing at the sea and sipping on a Lido Lemonade (vodka, pink lemonade, mint). Meanwhile, a cliche snowbird like me also couldn’t resist an Endless Summer (vodka, pamplemousse, Campari, watermelon juice).
While The Standard Miami is modern-day chic, The FontaineBleau Miami Beach exudes classic elegance. Open since 1954 and the site of legendary shows courtesy Frank Sinatra and film shoots courtesy the likes of Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard!), the property’s classic vibes can make one feel like they’re on the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which could be because they filmed here on location as well). “We like to say that the Fountainbleau is Miami’s history and culture,” explained Josh Herman, the hotel’s Vice President of Marketing and PR. “We try to pay homage to our past and also stay on the cutting edge of what a modern traveler wants in a vacation. But yes, its history is incredibly important to us.” Driving up to its entryway (obligatory fountain on glistening display), while you might be arriving in a measly Uber, try not to get too envious as many clientele are rolling up in style with a cadre of luxury cars.
Many rooms have an expansive view of the mighty Atlantic and a network of pools lie below of all different shapes and sizes. Despite the eye-opening, tan-inducing sights, it’s the hotel’s lobby bar that is sure to capture the heart of any cocktail aficionado. It’s called Bleau Bar or as Herman refers to it as, “The most famous bar in the most famous hotel in Miami.” Located just off its impressive lobby (think: chandeliers and reflecting marble floors you can almost take a selfie on), unlike other hotels, the lobby bar isn’t just an afterthought but a main attraction.
“It’s one of those iconic centerpieces that everyone should really see when they come to the hotel or Miami in general,” says Hermna. “It’s a main gathering place, or the hub of the wheel. When talking about our history, Bleau Bar is unmatched. There’s even a picture we have of when Sinatra was at the bar ordering a Jack Daniels. It’s that kind of authenticity you can’t recreate.
As the Florida sun continued to beat down and tan lines from my face masks began to appear (I’ll wear them in pride), my last stop was a quick jaunt up South Beach to The Confidante Miami Beach. Smaller in shear size than the Fountainbleu and offering different vibes than The Standard, the property (originally built in the 1940s) offers a place to let loose. Case in point: while waiting for my room, I slurped down a Pina Colada by its pools flanked with more of those ubiquitous palm trees. “The Confidante brings a special flair to Miami,” says Amy Johnson, the hotel’s general manager. “Guests are transported back to instantly be reminded of the glamorous retro-era from our Mid-Century decor to our culinary offerings inspired by the 1940s.”
A major highlight of the property is its vicinity to the beach, with its own reserved sandy section and an army of lounge chairs for the taking. Even better are the hotel’s kind staff who waltz around the sand happily fulfilling drink and food orders.
Meanwhile, its recently launched restaurant Ambersweet pays painstaking attention to every detail. Along with an incredible menu of grub (think: perfectly cooked diver scallops and octopus), its cocktail menu is one of the most impressive in the city. The brainchild of the passionate Pascal Pinault, a veteran of the popular Miami seafood spot A Fish Called Avalon. He’s also no stranger to Michelin Star eateries, counting Daniel Boulud as a colleague. Here at Ambersweet, everything from the house made sweet vermouth in its Negroni to the lemon-infused vodka is lovingly crafted in-house. According to Johnson, a major highlight is the eponymous Ambersweet Margarita. “It’s crafted with the best spirits possible (including Patron Gran Burdeos Tequila and Grand Marnier 1880) and is served inside an oversized Ice Sphere.”
The next day, the sun is blasting as I’m ready for the airport, no doubt bleary-eyed from that final taste of a delicious smoked mezcal Pascal served up. I check out of my room and take a quick jaunt to the beach. It’s time to say goodbye to this Florida sun and head back to my New York winter… But not before I take off my mask for one more selfie.