The thing to do on a movie set is to get into character. That’s how I found myself conjuring my inner starlet as I strolled Miami Beach’s new Faena Hotel early this year. I walked the red carpet in the lobby and stepped behind the gold-leafed columns to admire the murals, where lions sit next to flamingos and white winged horses fly over red coral beds. Then I meandered outside, drawn by the softly lit skeleton of a nearly 10-foot-tall mammoth, his gilded bones shimmering against the evening sky. The owners paid $15 million for the beast, created by English artist Damien Hirst using 10,000-year-old bones.
Dazzled by her surroundings, my starlet swirled around and resolved to be naughty. She walked into the Living Room and requested a Cloud Mountain Old Fashioned, the lounge’s signature drink that uses local sour oranges. It was good.
At the hotel-cum-stage set, such role-playing is fine. Awash in sumptuous fabrics and luxurious furnishings and dotted with fine art, the Faena Hotel is high-end, but it’s also fun. Don’t miss the playful subtext.
The property opened in mid-December, hatched by developer-wizard Alan Faena and his business partner Len Blavatnik. “We create a stage, an immersive environment,” says Faena, who invited film director-producer Baz Luhrmann and costume designer Catherine Martin to collaborate on the design. “We use people from the cinema because they are used to working from a script, telling a story,” Faena says.
That tale is of Miami Beach’s 1950s heyday. The property rises from the shell of the Saxony Hotel, a former Mid-Beach beauty where Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin performed in the ’50s and ’60s. Back then, “babes” with pointy bras and pinched waists sashayed around the lobbies, and showgirls backed up headliners at the Copa City and other nightclubs.
“In the 1950s, Mid-Beach was the sun and fun capital of the world,” says Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. “The Rat Pack performed here. It was a swanky area. Then it became an area that was underserved.”
Faena and cast worked hard to evoke Miami Beach’s movie world glamour. Faena isn’t re-creating the ’50s so much as conjuring that era’s allure through notable art, noteworthy service (butlers patrol each floor) and design inspired by the ’40s, ’50s and art deco era. Faena’s palette: passion red as well as sea blue and turquoise, the color that brightens the trim of scores of art deco buildings.
Attempting to feel somewhat glamorous, my character reclined on a tiger-print couch in the Living Room, where guests sip drinks and munch on small plates. The Living Room is the front of the double parlor; the back room is the Veranda, the dining area. Draperies drizzled with rows of gold palm trees frame both rooms. I imagined Betty Grable, who graced film premieres in 1950s Miami, sliding her pinup-pretty legs into the cheetah-print banquette.
That night the Veranda previewed a menu from Los Fuegos, the hotel’s “open-fire kitchen” that specializes in grilled and roasted meats. The outdoor restaurant, now open and overseen by Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, spills over into the Veranda’s space for lunch and dinner. The bone-in rib-eye arrived on a warm iron plate. Another dining space in the hotel is Pao by Paul Qui, which serves fare that mixes Philippine, Spanish, Japanese and French cuisines with an emphasis on seafood. It’s in a domed space dominated by “Golden Myth,” a unicorn sculpture also by Hirst.
The Faena Hotel’s guest rooms are fun, too, especially for people like me who remember visiting great-aunts and grandmothers whose living rooms featured similar but not nearly as nice furnishings. The suite’s china cabinet (who has china cabinets these days?) and the fringed velvet couch cue my nostalgia. Sinking into the plush red couch, I can almost hear my grandmother telling me to sit up straight on her green velvet sofa and to stop kicking in the fringes.
The closet doors in the guest rooms have waterfall veneers, night tables feature faux red coral lamps, and the carpets are art deco-inspired swirls of red, blue and turquoise. Theater-size gold tassels hold back the draperies as if proclaiming the start of a play.
The Faena Hotel anchors the Faena District Miami Beach, a still-being-constructed mini-verse in Mid-Beach, an area from around 29th to 62nd streets. The district stretches along Collins Avenue from 32nd through 35th streets, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Creek Canal. The project represents $1 billion in development.
The Faena House condominiums are sold out; one unit was purchased for a record $60 million. Casa Claridge’s, a redesigned Mediterranean-style boutique hotel, is open, and has housed the Faena District’s design teams. Upcoming Faena District additions include more condos; Faena Forum, a 50,000-square-foot arts center designed by Rem Koolhaas for performances and exhibitions that is slated to open in the fall; and Faena Bazaar, a shopping area with a changing group of vendors, also set to open in the fall.
At the hotel, the Faena Theater, which accommodates 150 at cabaret-style tables (plus some seats without tables), hosts special performances by international and national singers, dancers and musicians. The theater debuted April 17 with a one-night performance by two Grammy-winning Brazilian musicians, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Among the other shows in the Spring Concert Series: singer and musician Grace Potter appears April 27, soul-rock band Vintage Trouble and rapper-singer Lizzo perform April 29, and R&B artist Miguel stars May 27.
“I like to create something special — districts that bring together art, music, dancing, singing. We elevate, we show people the value of architecture, a flavor of life that is our flavor,” says Faena, who, along with Blavatnik, transformed Buenos Aires’ Puerto Madero, an area of run-down docklands, into a cultural and entertainment center complete with a hotel.
When Faena first contemplated his Mid-Beach project, people told him not to do it. “Mid-Miami was considered not a bad place, but nothing interesting was happening here. In Buenos Aires, I developed an abandoned street. We brought the best minds together on how to develop a utopian place. There and in Miami, I am creating something that will last into the future.”
The renaissance of Mid-Beach, notes Mayor Levine, started with the Thompson and the Edition, properties popular with millennials and 30-somethings. Those hotels take a different tack from that of the Faena Hotel. The Thompson incorporates streamlined, retro mid-century modern furnishings, and the Edition’s guest rooms feature light-oak-paneled walls, white tile floors and simple, sleek furnishings for a clean, unfussy look.
With an emphasis on art and period glamour and with rooms priced from $745, the Faena Hotel is probably targeting those a bit older, more sophisticated and with deeper pockets than millennials. My aging Sunset Boulevard star hisses, “Good. Something for grown-ups.”
Says Levine: “Faena is a game changer for Miami Beach. Faena Forum will be a gateway for the arts. The Faena project is the mother ship. It will turn the area into a hip, cool, luxurious, creative corridor.”
As my husband and I leave the Faena Hotel, I have one more part to play: I grab him, and we tango toward our car.