Saturday, February 14, 2009

Viceroy Hotel Miami Opening Review (2/14/2009)

I cracked open my half-read copy of Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table, on my flight back from Miami, having just completed a two-night stay at the Viceroy Hotel in Miami. The New York Times Bestseller provides a peak into the hospitality industry and wisdom Mr. Meyer has gained over the years running some of New York’s finest restaurants.

One of these pearls of wisdom is creating a context that doesn’t exist, but should. With that in mind, Mr. Meyer might ask, “Who ever wrote the rule that a “design-hotel” with whimsical modern flourishes could offer refined luxury?” This seems to be the context on offer at the Viceroy Hotel in Miami. And, for the most part, it works remarkably well.


The Viceroy Miami is part of a large residential condominium complex called ICON at Brickell, in Miami’s downtown area. Two residential towers, and a third hotel tower sit just past the bridge on Miami’s Brickell Avenue. The location would suit business travelers, but would also serve those on holiday who don’t want to deal with the South Beach scene, its loud music, and “spring-break” party atmosphere. Miami’s other off-SOBe luxury property, the Mandarin Oriental is kitty-corner to the Viceroy.


The Viceroy Miami is a hotel where design is built into its DNA. Let’s start with Mr. Phillipe Starck, the ubiquitous über-designer responsible for some of the best (any Starck object on display at the MoMA) and worst (the shameless “la flamme” atop Tokyo’s Asahi Beer Hall that reminds me more of something my dog could make) designs in recent memory. Mr. Starck designed the ICON’s two residential towers and the 28,000 square foot spa. The hotel tower is principally designed by another über-designer, Ms. Kelly Wearstler. Ms. Wearstler is an acclaimed designer in her own right, and star of Bravo’s Top Design television show. Let me be the first one to say that this hotel will be photographed and then published in the design magazines, and that they will rave about Ms. Wearstler's work. It is stunning.

The Starck-Wearstler combination is an intriguing one because the two designers’ styles are so completely opposed. Yet the combination works remarkably well. Starck’s grandly over-the-top public spaces (the outdoor living room) and his 28,000 square foot spa with its simply amazing “floating library” are show stoppers. However, at the end of the day, I would completely prefer to ensconce myself in one of Ms. Wearstler’s elegantly-refined one-bedroom Monarch suites than any over-the-top Starck fantasy room.

Yet, in certain places there are signs of design-over-function. Most notably, the dangerously-placed bronze wall art in the hotel elevators. These beautiful works of art do not function at all in this space. The piece has what seems like hundreds of sharp prickly wires that poke out and could easily snag a lady’s elegant gown or coat for instance, and perhaps even cause bodily harm if one were to lean back on it or get poked in the eye!


Anke, the front-of-house manager called me the day before check in to confirm that the hotel would indeed be opening on time (unlike other launch disasters such as the Palazzo in Las Vegas), and expressed her appreciation of my business and asked if there was anything I needed. I told her I had been staying on South Beach the past two nights and would like to check in as early as possible the next day. Anke suggested I check in early, and visit the spa until my room was ready (a suggestion that led me to spend the next two days in the spa!). She very graciously sent the hotel’s driver, Juan, to pick me up and transfer me the next day at 11AM.

Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by Mr. Gateau (formerly of Acqualina, Mansion on Turtle Creek, Las Venetas Al Paraiso and the Setai), the hotel’s GM. “Welcome to the Viceroy, you are our first guest to check in!” he said with enthusiasm. Anke, was there at the door to welcome me as well. Patrick, the spa manager walked me through the property and gave me a tour of the public spaces as we headed to the spa. I will post a separate review of the spa at a later date.


Here is a video compilation of video clips as I walked through the property.


I placed two requests to the concierge. One was for an electronics store (my digital camera had run out of batteries) and the other for a last-minute dining reservation at Mandarin Oriental’s Azul restaurant (it was completely booked for the evening when I had called earlier). The concierge handled both of these requests with aplomb. I was referred to a Target in the nearby midtown shopping center and given the concierge’s card and telephone number in case I got lost. The dining reservation at Azul was more impressive since I had been told multiple times that it was completely booked for Friday evening service. The concierge told me this as well and booked me at café Sambal at the same hotel. However, upon arrival at the restaurant we were given a table at Azul, and we were quickly taken to our window-table overlooking the Miami River. Azul is not to missed, it is a must for any visiting foodie. The Viceroy needs their own Azul: an inspired restaurant that embraces locally-sourced produce with an innovative twist.


The Viceroy has three dining locations, a fine-dining restaurant (Signature), a casual café (Café Icon), and a club/lounge on the fiftieth floor (Club 50). I tried all three establishments during my visit.

Signature Restaurant has a beautifully-appointed Wearstler-designed dining room with comfortable seating and flattering lighting for the ladies (most important). However, I wish I could say as much for the cuisine, which I found largely uninspiring despite fantastic service. I had a good, but uninspired steak-frite. Not much locally-sourced produce on the menu, and not much of it was inspired. How much more effort would it take to make truly fantastic french fries for instance, by drizzling some truffle oil and shaving black truffles on top accompanied by a fantastic dipping sauce. Mine came rather plainly salted, with ketchup. The table next to me complained about their crème brule being cold and uninspired. In summary, a passable meal could be had here, but I would not return given Miami’s other fantastic dining alternatives. Mr. Florent Gateau, the GM told me they are in the process of bringing Michael Psilakis and his partner Donatella Arpaia from Anthos and Mia Dona in New York. I think that is a fantastic idea! Let’s hope there will be reason to return to Signature after they take the reigns.

Café Icon is a small casual café located in one of the residential towers next to the outdoor pool (which will be the largest in Florida when it is completed). It provides a wide assortment of drinks. Famished after a day at the spa, I stopped by to order a procuitto sandwich and it was delicious. The chips and house-made guacamole are dangerously good.

I stopped by Club 50 on two occasions, once for lunch and again for a quick walk through to check out the evening club scene. The space is well-suited for a small exclusive club. There is a small pool surrounded by lounge chairs, and ancillary seating inside and outside. A limited menu of sandwiches and cold food (sushi) is served.


The Viceroy has several categories of rooms available, from 440 square foot King and double rooms, to the 784 square foot one bedroom Monarch suite that I reserved. They all have one thing in common: outstanding refined elegance in Kelly Wearstler’s designs. My suite came with two flat-screen televisions, a gorgeous and roomy seating area, dining area, and two bathrooms. The bedroom remained warm and cozy despite the generous proportions.

There are however, some kinks in the room to work out. The most obvious is the temporary receiver boxes and exposed wiring trickling down the walls. Poor Kelly would probably have a seizure if she saw these technical setbacks ruining her carefully-crafted rooms. I expect that they should have a permanent fix soon for these unsightly wires and receiver boxes.

My other quip is the “white noise” machine hidden in the corner of the room. I did toss and turn a bit my first night because this machine (which ostensibly is designed to promote sleep) actually sounds like a loud air conditioning fan or duct. It wasn’t until the second evening that I figured out this noise was from a machine when I was tracing wires back to an outlet hidden behind the bed. Which brings me to my last quip: where are the AC outlets? My one big pet peeve is not having enough AC power outlets for my laptop, digital camera, and accessories. Even non-bloggers travel with some plug-in items, and it is nearly impossible to find AC plugs in the bedroom (I do love blogging before bed!). These minor inconveniences were made up for by the presence of free wireless internet in the rooms. The Viceroy is to be congratulated on recognizing wifi as a true luxury amenity that should be provided on a complementary basis: something many other luxury properties can’t seem to grasp!


Housekeeping at the Viceroy was spotty during my stay. However, I have had far worse service during hotel openings I have attended. The rooms manager Laura warmly greeted me as I hopped on the elevator my first day. I expect she will get things in order shortly. I found two problems with housekeeping during my stay. The garbage canister was quite full and was not emptied during turndown service my first night, nor was it emptied at morning service. Before I left for dinner on my last evening at the Viceroy, I called the front desk to request turndown service and left the “service please” sign on my door knob. After returning from dinner several hours later, I was surprised to find the room had not been turned down. On the positive side of things, the Viceroy provides a lovely bottle of Voss water during turndown service, which is definitely a luxury amenity in my book that is occasionally overlooked by some properties. I do get thirsty at night and this is a thoughtful touch!


In summary, The Viceroy Miami is an outstanding design-hotel that will attract boutique luxury seekers who appreciate grand over-the-top outdoor spaces, world-class spa facilities, and guest suites defined by refined elegance. The hotel has some kinks to work out, the most significant being the lack of a distinctive signature restaurant. Those seeking direct beach access will also be disappointed with the downtown location (but unless you are attracted to loud booming music until 3AM, its off-SOBe location is an advantage in my mind). I plan for a return visit in late May and will post an update at that time.

Spa: See the spa review which requires its own separate post!

About this review: This is an unbiased review from a travel and luxury hotel junkie. I pay for these trips entirely myself and I don’t receive any stipend or financial consideration from any of the properties, restaurants or spas that I visit. In fact, I don’t say that I am a “reviewer” at any point during my stays, and I don’t accept “free travel” deals from anybody, ever.

Why do I write reviews: I enjoy writing these reviews because it gives me a chance to explore new hotels and share my impressions with other luxury-minded travelers. I want good hotels to be successful and to help other hotel junkies avoid bad ones.

Overall Impression: A luxury design-hotel in Miami’s downtown that offers a world-class spa and over-the-top outdoor public spaces. I look forward to returning in several months after the hotel has had a chance to smooth out its operations.
Pros: Impeccably designed, spa is simply amazing, staff are very well trained, free wireless internet in rooms!
Cons: Restaurant (Signature) needs focus and direction, no beach access.
Opening Day Issues: Television not initially working, cludgy temporary fix involves unsightly exposed wires, housekeeping is inconsistent (no turndown service was performed on one night, despite a call down to the front desk and placing the “service please” notice on the door handle, room key stopped working after 12pm on the day of check-out.

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