Staying there: Setai Miami Beach

Why is The Setai Miami Beach so special? This is the hotel that is obviously packed out not only for Art Basel Miami but for other special events: for Super Bowl 2020, this coming Sunday, 2 February, it has sold its Penthouse for five nights, for $50,000 a night….

GM Alex Furrer can cope with anything. When the hotel opened in 2005 there was applause for the way the courtyard at the rear of the original 1930s block, on Collins, was basically one big decorative pool, bigger than a tennis court, inset with four very-tall lif palms, and, jutting into the water, four sitting areas. The trouble was that the moment it rained there could be temporary chaos getting those sitting there into the dry. The solution was to commission a $1.8million German pull-across awning that opens and closes electronically in four minutes.

The whole area, including the periphery of the pool, thus became much more useful, and significantly more profitable, especially for events. There are weddings through to fashion shows there. Every Friday an Asian Night Bazaar here complements Jaya restaurant’s pan-Asian menu with a Cirque de Soleil type series of acts above the water-feature area. There are fire-eaters, and aerial acrobats, and of course music.  Many of the same locals return every Saturday for Setai Unplugged, with four-course dinners paired with The Macallan. And some come back Sunday, for the 3.5-hour jazz brunch, eat your fill, with unlimited Louis Roederer, for $95++

There is simply not enough seating to satisfy general demand, weekends or weekdays, so once again Furrer and his owners, the Nagache family, are using initiative.  This summer, some of the decorative water area will be dried out, and filled in, to give more retail space and a total of 40 more restaurant seats, and, as before, return on investment is guaranteed. This summer, too, BLINK refreshes interiors, and Enea Garden Design works on grounds.

The Setai Miami Beach is actually two separate, but adjacent, blocks. The 1930s building, on Collins, is a 77-room conversion of the Dempsey Vanderbilt. To its east, bordering Miami Beach’s famous sea-set boardwalk, is a 2005-vintage, 41-floor block with 160 condos, of which roughly a third are in the letting pool.  Staying in an Ocean Suite in the new block comes with round-trip airport or port transport, valet parking for one car plus use of a town car, complimentary breakfast and non-alcoholic minibar – plus introductory membership to Leaders Club.  The new block has its own entrance, off 20th Street.

Last visit, I stayed in 122 sq m Ocean Suite #2204. Its living room, with two all-glass walls, is complemented by a full kitchen, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one with a tub. I also had a sizeable terrace with two chairs and a table.  Floors throughout are teak framed with black granite.  Walls and ceilings are pale sand: colourings throughout are muted and sombre (the living room’s three-person sofa is grey, chair upholstery is mole, its small carpet is dull mulberry with sand swirls).  Windows have electronically controlled black-out blinds and day screens, which can also be controlled by hand.

The living room’s only art is a metre-tall greys-painting of the back of a woman’s neck, one of 137 unique pieces throughout the hotel, all by Shanghai-based Christian de Laubadere. I have Assouline books on Chanel, Miami Beach and Paris, and new copies of Asprey magazine and Travel+Leisure.  On the circular dining table, which has four chairs with wrap-round wood arms, there is a large fruit display, with René Ozorio china, Inox cutlery and Master’s Reserve glassware.  A Samsung big-screen thoughtfully hangs from a corner structural pillar to avoid blocking off the beach view. A pair of large umbrellas stand in a tall bamboo holder.

The Gaggenau kitchen has double sinks set into black granite. There is an induction hob with full set of pans and chopping knives, plus cutlery and china.  I have a Breville kettle and a simple Nespresso machine, with Dammann tea bags. There are 375ml bottles of Chivas Regal and other spirits. Clear signs in the large Sub-Zero refrigerator are a reminder that non-alcohol is included, but pay for alcohol.

One bedroom is slightly smaller than the other: both have fantastic king-size beds, with Dux mattresses and Frette sheets wrapped over 6cm-high top pads – they have beige cotton throws, American Dawn from Portugal. Beds have fibre optic reading lights. Both bedrooms have, on one wall, another female rear-of-neck. One bedroom has wall-set closet space, the other has a walk-in closet, with safe, one folding luggage rack, and a stylish, and highly-. woven-straw beach bag. Both bathrooms have Acqua di Parma toiletries and masses of Frette linens.

After an outstanding night’s sleep, I headed to the gym, open 24/7 via the room key. It has latest Technogym bits plus two Pelotons. I ‘cycle’ with a superhuman instructor called Rachel.  I real-time sweated while she, yelling and urging as she pedalled, acquired not a single bead on her perfect, though unfortunately tattooed body, and her waist-length hair, tied neatly forward over one shoulder, remained as Barbie-looking as the long minutes progressed. After showering, I go back to the ‘original hotel’ for breakfast.  I have to walk under five square-topped stone arches along a walkway, about 30 metres, to ‘the courtyard’.

I met a friend for Jaya’s superb buffet breakfast. Dedon tables with glass tops are set with circular bound-wicker mats, and small cacti.  I was immediately brought a wicker-exterior pot of really good coffee, and a big bottle of Hildon water.  The buffet was outstanding for its range of ‘real’ breads, made in-house, and Alain Milliat preserves and 30g wraps of Beurre Echiré. Unmarked home-made yoghurt pots warranted 10/10, as did the guacamole presentation, surrounded by 10 condiments. A chef managed two omelette pans at once. Lots of the multitude of buffet displays are deliberately low, for the many kids always staying here.

Part of my morning was walking the boardwalk outside.  Later, to get to lunch at Ocean Grill, the casual outdoor restaurant that only opens during the cool months – November through to May – I walked past the two-floor fitness block, which has the spa above (the new spa director has come from Acqualina, the new product is Valmont). Beyond are, in military order, a parallel trio of 30m lap pools, the first 75°F, the next 85° and the last 90°. At one end of the pools are, in all, eight double-size towel-covered loungers, each bordered on three sides by 3m-tall hedges, for extra privacy: families, including kids of all ages, base their lounging selves here day-long.

Ocean Grill, a wooden construction on stilts,  is a delight. You sit at high, or usual-height, tables, looking over the pools or, the other way, over a 1.75 metre-high wood fence to see the bobbing heads of joggers and cyclists doing-the-boardwalk outside.  By 12.30 every table was taken, many by owners of the Residences (one regular lunch guest owns five Residences, one to live in, one to paint in, and three to rent via the hotel’s letting pool).  From Scott Brown’s menu I had two halves of a whole artichoke, followed by a delicious whole burrata, a few local tomatoes and a side of addictive just-cooked fries. I was served by one of the 40 Bali university students who come here every year, hotel-provided accommodation provided, on J1 visas: the hotel also has Europeans on similar visas, all of which helps provide a truly international workforce.

I had just got back upstairs when Daniel, one of the concierges, called.  Your airport Mercedes, part of the Ocean Suite package, is ready when you are. What time would you like your baggage collected? These are the kind of details that consumers remember, and why they list this place as Travel+Leisure #1 Miami Beach resort – rooms business is 50% domestic, with average stay 3.75 nights.

Luxury today is convenience, says GM Alex Furrer.  Luxury today, he says firmly, is not glitter.





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