The St. Regis Bal Harbour 9703 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour, Fla.; 305-993-3300; stregisbalharbour.com. 243 guest rooms from $850 (U.S.). No eco-rating.
The name St. Regis has been ringing out for over a century, since the first hotel by that name was opened in New York in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV. Miami wasn't on the itinerary of America's elite then, but it is now. St. Regis arrived earlier this year. The super luxe hotel/residence occupies a large chunk of the finest beachfront in Bal Harbour – a small, wealthy enclave (technically a separate village) near the northern tip of the Miami Beach archipelago. Across the street is perhaps America's most exclusive mall, the Shops of Bal Harbour, which is largely filled with boutiques for the world's top fashion labels. It's well sited for a picky clientele. And rest assured, they have the details covered. When I arrived with my wife and son in late February, it was running like a place that had been open for years.
Design firm Yabu Pushelberg has made the hotel a wonderland of glamorous style that is almost, but not quite, over the top. Once in the lobby, you're through the rabbit hole – a series of diamond-shape anterooms, each with walls covered in crystalline mirrors, and floors lined with black-and-white marble. It's like walking into a giant crystal necklace on a Champagne buzz. The Gilded Age hostess Caroline Astor, who loved things that glittered, would be pleased. Mrs. Astor might, however, be confused by some of the other details: a jewelled deer sculpture by Japanese artist Koehi Nawa near the reception desk, or the graffiti-ish mural, by local Santiago Rubino, that graces the classy bar. After the elevator takes you to your floor, thanks to a wave of your room key, you step out into a hallway that is absurdly wide – evidence of the hotel's unusual floor plan. The hotel is a triangular tower with rooms and balconies that zigzag along the edges to maximize views of the ocean for both hotel guests and owners at two adjacent condo buildings – where, by the way, an apartment will cost you at least $2-million (U.S.)
The accommodations are as luxe as the lobby, though (happily) more subdued. The room had a large foyer, a massive walk-in closet (big enough to hide all of your things – wonderful for messy travellers like us). And our bathroom was divided in two, with the WC on one side of the hall from the bath. Both parts were panelled in vast expanses of travertine marble. The rooms are extraordinarily well designed, right down to the last detail. Even the lighting, which has multiple sources in each room to make you feel beautiful. (I counted seven fixtures in the bathroom, a mix of incandescent and LEDs.) One problem: It's controlled through a room automation system that's absurdly complex. No such trouble with the beds: the mattresses and linens were truly fabulous. The staggered balconies are seamless and the views – even from our middle-of-the-tower, middle-height room – were impressive. The catch is that once you step outside, you have no privacy from any close neighbours.
The 14,000-square-foot Remede spa, below the lobby at beach level, includes saunas, Vichy rain showers and full-salon services. The fitness centre is next door, or guests can head to the town's free Friday morning Pilates class on the beach. If you're with your family, you and they will appreciate the kids club ($80 a day). Explore with the hotel's complimentary car service, which will drop you off anywhere within a six-mile (9.5 kilometre) radius, about as far as the Design District and South Beach.
The flagship restaurant, a grand room overlooking the ocean, is J&G Grill, part of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's empire. The menu has a surf-and-turf flavour, but with plenty of the chef's trademark French-Asian mélange.
Very often in a high-end hotel – especially in its first months after opening – elaborate hospitality feels like an uncomfortable ritual. Not so here. Our every interaction with staff was easy, yet left us getting precisely what we wanted. When I checked in, I sat in a plush chair and was offered a glass of Champagne, the German couple checking in next to me were introduced to a staffer who spoke German. Clearly the hotel's owners, the massive hospitality company Starwood, have created a strong culture of service.
As a high-end beach hotel in an urban setting, the St. Regis is ideal. The design is extremely sophisticated, the food expertly made, the hospitality refined – and yet every aspect of the experience is unpretentious enough to make sense in South Florida.