A retro Ritz-Carlton opens in Miami's South Beach


MIAMI BEACH -- When the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach opened its doors last New Year's Eve, the lobby of the restored landmark building looked almost exactly as it had when it opened as the DiLido Hotel 50 years earlier to the day.

The black terrazzo floors, the grand staircase, the curved wall of polished cherry wood were all there, preserved from the original 1953 hotel whose domed wall sconces cast their last glow in 1996.

It took $200 million, the supervision of the Art Deco Society of Miami and the guidelines of the Historic Preservation District to bring about a complete restoration of the interior of the building at fashionable 1 Lincoln Road in the city's art deco district.

Although the society did allow the addition of three floors to the top of the building, the Ritz retains the glory of the old DiLido, which was designed by architect Morris Lapidus in the Art Moderne/Miami Modern (MiMo) style.

The lobby retains many of its vintage features, but beyond that, the hotel is fully at home in the present day -- the colorful neon and tropical world of Miami Beach's hip South Beach district.

"We are right smack in the middle of the entertainment hub, dead center," said the hotel's manager, Liam Doyle. "We are steps away from the shopping on Lincoln Road, and we are right on the beach. It's like living in Manhattan and having a beach."

With 11 stories and 375 guest rooms, including 41 suites, the new Ritz-Carlton offers a variety of dining, nightclub and entertainment options.

"The design is protected, but we have beautified it and modernized it to what a Ritz-Carlton should be on South Beach," said Doyle. "It's not a traditional Ritz-Carlton, it's right on the cutting edge. Our older hotels were traditional luxury, but in our new properties, we create a sense of place, very much in keeping with our customers' expectations."

The new property incorporates a number of unusual touches.

Around the outdoor infinity pool, which looks out on the beach and the ocean, two "tanning butlers" roam the pool deck with holsters full of various suntan lotions from morning until late afternoon, on Thursdays through Saturdays, ready to apply whatever tanning preparations guests require.

Then, at 6 p.m., also on Thursdays through Saturdays, five water ballerinas clad in headdresses and capes parade through the lobby to the pool, drop their outer garments and perform a synchronized swimming demonstration.

The hotel houses two restaurants, with another scheduled for completion next fall.

The DiLido Beach Club, a Saint-Tropez-style restaurant and lounge, is the only dining venue in the area that is actually on the beach. It's open to both guests and the public.

The 140-seat restaurant offers what its chef calls sun cuisine, a blend of culinary styles from Morocco, Malta, southern Spain and the Canary Islands.

For those who want to stick their forks more deeply into the local culture, the 160-seat Americana restaurant serves "restyled American" cuisine, standard national dishes with a twist.

The third restaurant, now under construction, is an as-yet-unnamed David Bouley restaurant. Bouley is the owner of Bouley, in New York's Tribeca district.

The hotel accommodates nightclubbers at the Lapidus Lounge, which offers a DJ Thursday through Saturday nights.

And One LR, or One Lincoln Road -- the site of the original DiLido Hotel front desk, where celebrities once made their grand entrance -- is part of the center promenade and a spot to enjoy lounge service late into the evening.

The upper floors of the hotel house an oceanview nightclub, called South Beach Club Level, with presents live jazz.

Another noteworthy attraction of the Ritz is a $3 million art collection, which is on permanent loan from the Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts gallery in Miami.

The collection includes four original pieces by Joan Miro and a 160-by-121-foot mural inspired by Miro in the lower lobby.

The collection also includes a Juan Lecona mixed-media piece; terra-cotta and stone sculptures by Xawery Wolsky; and an 18-by-95-foot mural by Xavier Calero.

The on-site spa is the first La Maison de Beaute Carita Spa outside of Paris. It's a 16,000-square-foot facility with an Italian mosaic-tiled shallow pool, Venetian stucco walls and compressed bamboo floors.

The spa offers 10 kinds of massage therapies, including beach body, deep tissue, herbal Thai, sand stone, motherhood and four hands.

Room rates start at $349 per person, double occupancy, for a standard room and range to $5,500 for the top-level Ritz-Carlton Suite.

For summer, the hotel is offering a South Beach Bed & Vespa Getaway package.

The package includes accommodations, overnight valet parking and breakfast for two at Americana. It also includes use of a fire-engine-red Vespa motor scooter and 20% off on spa services. The plan is priced from $279 per person, per night, double occupancy.

For more information or reservations, call (800) 241-3333 or visit the Web at www.ritzcarlton.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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