Of the many things Miami is synonymous with—excess, partying, glitz, sex, and sea—cute is not one that comes to mind. Cute, or its sibling charming, requires restraint. But on Miami’s South Beach on a street whose Old World buildings were the epicenter of the Roaring Twenties and later the backdrop of Miami Vice is a new hotel, the Esmé, that is the embodiment of cute and charming.
It is the latest selection for Beast Travel’s series on exciting new hotels, Room Key.
At the height of the Roaring Twenties, a pair of real estate developers turned a slice of Miami Beach into a Spanish city plaza. To step into Española Way with its arched stucco facades was to be transported somewhere other than the "new" city of Miami Beach. But over the years it became a den of iniquity where gangsters like Al Capone did business, and then it fell into disrepair. Decades of work restoring it and turning it into a pedestrian-only spot have returned it to its creators’ intentions.
At the center of this is the Esmé, a collection of eight buildings that house 145 guest rooms, which opened last fall, and five restaurants and bars.
Española Way’s original developers envisioned this neighborhood as an artsy, bohemian village, and so the hotel's owners have tried to honor that in various ways, including little alleys paved with travertine and decorated with colorful tiles that connect the complex.
The hotel’s entrance is in the white stucco Spanish Revival building facing Washington Ave. with salmon-colored painted quoins and trim and green-and-white striped awnings. The balance of traditional revival styles with trendy elements woven in make the magic of this place, and it’s a harmony that begins when you walk in. You’re welcomed by a warm burgundy carpet, a dark wood-paneled ceiling, diamond-paned windows, and a checker patterned fireplace set within green marble.
In Miami Beach hotel rooms, you typically have fare limited to Art Deco or sleek modern. The rooms here are a stark contrast, decorated by Jessica Schuster Design with a variety and flair that makes you wonder at how it never is too much. In the main complex called Esmé Village, the rooms are playful pinks and juniper-green and seem oriented toward a younger visitor. Across the plaza in the Casa Mantanza one encounters rooms and suites with a warmness one would expect to find at a boutique hotel in Tuscany rather than the heart of one of America’s party cities. They are bathed in rich colors like wine-red, or burned yellow that mix with mahogany furniture and gold hardware. The suites reach a particularly elevated aesthetic, fully embracing the Spanish obsession of the village's developers with elaborately decorated tiles and tapestries.
It's Miami Beach, so you'll be wondering at this point just where the hotel is in relation to sun and sand–just a five minute walk and the hotel has its own section with towels and chairs provided and most importantly beverages. If you are more of a pool person you can go up to the roof and sit in one of the cabanas by the pool–there are only a handful and they're first come first serve, so go early–to have a bite from the all-day menu while enjoying the sun. Come back at night on Friday and Saturday as it is transformed into a dancefloor under the stars. One note, however, is that between the plaza and the rooftop terraces, the Esmé and its environs are a bit of a scene on weekends and so not necessarily for those early to bed, early to rise.
Like any good village, Esmé has its fair share of dining and drinking options. Bar Pintxo, the hotel’s own modern interpretation of a Basque pintxo bar, serves small bites, beer, fizzy wine, and of course Basque cider. For a cocktail, El Salòn is the place to go. Don't worry if you can't recognize any of the alcohol behind the bar, they only carry their own exclusive blends of spirits under their own label. At Casa Matanza, you will find the latest from the founder of Mandolin, one of Miami's most popular restaurants. Dubbed The Drexel, its menu is simple with pastas and wood-oven pizzas but keeps pace with Mandolin’s legendary reputation.