Leave Ocean Drive to find peace in South Beach

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MIAMI BEACH -- Ocean Drive was once the be-all and end-all of South Beach chic, but as the mass-market continues to encroach on the strip, some are now heading to the quieter far reaches of the neighborhood.

More and more tour buses are bearing down on the tiny art moderne boutique hotels opposite the beach at Lummus Park as well as the almost completely gentrified and occupied adjacent streets.

So hipsters -- along with hotel developers, nightclub owners and restaurateurs -- are relocating to still-undeveloped and quieter blocks north of popular, palm-lined Lincoln Road.

Current and prospective residents, meanwhile, look south of Fifth Street, where a sprouting forest of gleaming condominium skyscrapers has earned the area the new moniker Miami Manhattan.

Ocean Drive is over, said one executive with a new hotel along the newly in stretch of Collins Avenue north of Lincoln Road. That road is now home to the citys most popular designer properties, such as the Delano -- granddaddy of area design hotels -- the Shore Club, the Albion, the Raleigh and the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, which is housed in the historic DiLido Hotel designed by Morris Lapidus.

The tsunami of revitalization on this once-derelict, southern tip of Miami Beach, which first crashed on the citys shores back in the late 1980s along Ocean Drive, is  lapping at the last undeveloped corners of the neighborhood.

But as the hoi polloi hasnt caught on yet, travelers clued into the trend can enjoy all the glitter of South Beach far from the maddening crowd.

For example, the area around Collins Park -- generally considered the northern boundary of South Beach, between 21st and 22nd streets -- is now a hotbed of hotel, club and restaurant activity.

Hot nightspots include the chic Mynt Lounge, the rougher-and-tougher Rok Bar -- owned by rock drummer Tommy Lee -- the Sky Bar at the Shore Club Resort and Japanese eatery Nobu.

On tap for summer 2005: a local outlet of Asian restaurant chain Mr. Chow, and, of course, the familiar dining and shopping pleasures of Lincoln Road are a short walk away.

New, higher-tier accommodations include the boutique-style Abbey Hotel (see Room Key); the cheap-chic Townhouse, a Design Hotels property; and the towering, unmistakable Setai, a mixed-use, 40-story condominium and hotel to soft-open on the beachfront at 21st Street this December.

The neighborhood is ideal for the culturally attuned and the business traveler, as its home to the Bass Museum of Art, Miami City Ballet, Jackie Gleason Theater and Miami Beachs convention center.

But it wasnt too long ago that this district, now the citys cultural campus, still resembled the drug- and crime-ridden South Beach immortalized in the film Scarface.

Karen Brown, director of sales and marketing at the 50-room Abbey, said many of the surrounding buildings were used as crack houses until recently.

When our owners, Keith Space and Martin Scaserra, bought this hotel seven years ago, this area was still what Id call funky, she said. They were among the first to come to this area -- at a time when even the Bass needed upgrading -- and tackle one of these old hotels with a design approach.

A $3 million gutting and overhaul transformed the three-story property from a crumbling home for the aged, painted in pealing pinks, blues and golds, into a Miami-worthy, postmodern hostelry in white fabrics and dark woods.

The restored Abbey, originally built in 1940 in a nautical style, is popular with gay and lesbian travelers, overseas visitors and business travelers working in the arts, music and fashion.

Aware of the wave of area development theyre partly responsible for starting, Space and Scaserra are keeping pace with a program of property improvements at the Abbey.

This year, studio rooms are getting upgrades of furniture, bathrobes and refrigerators. In addition, the owners are remodeling the hotels front porch, which faces Collins Park, into a lounge-type space.

Its going to be what Id call cozy, as were trying to avoid the too-trendy, easily dated style thats all too prevalent in South Beach, said Brown.

Another South Beach trend the Abbeys still managing to buck is ever-increasing noise. Despite the recent spurt in development, the blocks north of Lincoln Road remain oases of nocturnal calm, compared to the all-night honking and honky-tonk between Sixth and 14th streets.

How long hoteliers will retain tranquility as a major selling point remains to be seen, what with massive new residental and hotel properties like the Setai slated for opening.

But even GMH Hotels, developer and manager of that 75-room, 50-suite hotel, is touting its property -- situated in the Dempsey Vanderbilt, a restored 1936 art deco hotel adjacent to the residential skyscraper at Collins Avenue and 20th Street -- as tranquil.

The Asian-themed resort will open in two phases, with the suites, spa facility and one swimming pool to open by Dec. 31 and the remainder of rooms and facilities to debut in April.

One-, two- and three-bedroom suites will be situated with condos in the new tower -- one of the tallest buildings in Miami Beach -- while standard rooms will be in the Dempsey Vanderbilt.

Connecting the hotels Asian theme with South Beach, the restored hotel lobby will feature bricks from Shanghai, a city also noted for a strong art deco heritage.

In other South Beach news, the Mexico-based Brisas Hotels and Resorts has taken over management of the refurbished Dorset Miami Beach hotel, its first venture outside Mexico. The 52-room boutique hotel was renamed the Las Brisas South Beach.

Hotels now open or opening in the up-and-coming north section of South Beach include:

  • Albion Hotel: 1650 James Ave. at Lincoln Road. Luxury, 96 rooms. (305) 913-1000; www.rubellhotels.com.
  • Delano Hotel: 1685 Collins Ave. at 16th Street. Luxury, 208 rooms. (800) 606-6090, (305) 672-2000; www.ianschragerhotels.com.
  • Greenview Hotel: 1617 Washington Ave. at Lincoln Road. Moderate, 43 rooms. (305) 513-6588; www.rubellhotels.com.
  • Las Brisas South Beach -- the Dorset: 1720 Collins Ave. at 17th Street. 52 rooms. (305) 938-6000; www.dorsetmiamibeach.com.
  • Raleigh Hotel: 1775 Collins Ave. at 18th Street. Luxury, 111 rooms. (305) 534-6300; www.ra leighhotel.com.
  • The Setai: 2001 Collins Ave. at 20th Street. Luxury, 75 rooms, 50 suites, penthouse. (305) 520-6000; www.setai.com.
  • The Shore Club: 1901 Collins Ave. at 19th Street. Luxury, 325 rooms, 70 suites, seven bungalows, three executive suites,  one penthouse. (305) 695-3100; www.shoreclub.com.
  • Townhouse: 150 20th St. at Collins Avenue. Moderate, 70 rooms, including two penthouses. (877) 534-3800; www.townhousehotel.com
  • To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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