LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- Known for their waterfront dining rooms and Rose-induced tanning scene, St. Tropez beach clubs like Club 55 and La Voile Rouge revel in summertime excess.
These lavish leisure spots lure a moneyed American, Middle Eastern and European clientele that don't blink an eye at $1,500 lunches and $2,000 bottles of Champagne -- all before noon. But given that America is home to some of the world's best beaches, from Main Street Beach in East Hampton to Zuma Beach in Malibu, why in the world don't we have anything quite as fun in the United States?
With strict real estate laws that limit commercial access to prime strips of waterfront, and a far-more conservative relationship with alcohol consumption near public beaches, America has a hard time competing with its European peers in seaside extravagance. But that doesn't mean no one is trying. Here are a few hotspots new and old attempting to bridge the beach-club gap.
The birthplace of the Beach Boys and Malibu Barbie, Southern California has long been the epicenter of surfer society. But visitors looking for colorful umbrellas and frilly drinks have few options: just a handful of waterfront sit-down eateries and hotels like the Casa del Mar and Malibu Beach Inn. Recently, however, the owner of L.A.'s SLS Hotel and exclusive Hyde Lounge signed an agreement to revamp one of the city's most iconic waterfront properties,
Montauk's Navy Beach is Long Island's answer to St. Tropez beach chic.
The beloved tourist institution has been sending customers home with fried fish dinners in swan-shaped tinfoil doggy bags for years. With a one-of-a-kind waterfront location at the tributary of Sunset Boulevard, Gladstone's will be transformed into a dazzling new venue -- likely the closest thing L.A. will have to a St. Tropez-style beach club. A massive outdoor terrace overlooks the Pacific with a great tanning beach, despite the mostly frigid Pacific water. And the interior of rounded booths and diner-style decor is also slated to get a facelift, with the help of SBE's favorite designer, Philippe Starck.
On the opposite coast at the tip of Long Island, Montauk's
is located on a 200-foot strip of white-sand beach offering a renovated restaurant and beach bar in time for the summer 2010 season. The restaurant neighbors two Naval piers formerly occupied by the U.S. military and now open for New York oligarchs to moor their 150-foot Azimuts. Inside, Gilligan's Island meets Ralph Lauren in a chichi nautical dining room. Navy blue lacquered tabletops complement white paneled walls under a rustic beam ceiling with vintage wooden windows that overlook the tumbling waves. Walls are strewn with the melancholy remnants of '50s beach culture, with Esther Williams snapshots, swim goggles and Naval artwork.
Leading the menu at Navy Beach is executive chef Paul LaBue, who arrives after stints at East Hampton's Nick & Toni's and The Beacon in Sag Harbor. A summertime lunch, dinner and weekend brunch serves up green olive ceviche, buttermilk fried chicken and a classic Navy burger with onion-bacon marmalade. The adjoining beach bar offers a summer music series at sunset. There's also a drop-and-dine program, where little ones can eat lunch and make crafts while mommy enjoys her chardonnay and crab cakes.
While it's not new, La Piagga in Miami Beach is the embodiment of a St. Tropez-style beach club, down to the wooden double-doors that lead to a shady cobblestone path -- just like La Voile Rouge. The likeness is actually intentional. Robert Pascal, best known for his famous St. Tropez beach club La Voile Rouge," created La Piagga. This Miami version is a play on the French and Italian words
, meaning "beach" -- something La Piagga doesn't actually have at its bayside location at the southeastern tip of South Beach.
La Piagga makes up for its lack of beach frontage with an Hermes orange scheme of draped cabanas and umbrellas that envelop an outdoor dining room. Just next to the dining room is the free-form pool, a popular hangout for visiting Europeans who aren't shy about their skimpy swimsuits. The weekend brunch menu is an ode to Pampelonne beach club cuisine with four types of carpaccios -- including a phenomenal octopus with lemon and arugula, French roasted chicken, langoustine skewers and petit grilled steaks that keep the body in swimsuit form.
Perhaps the most famous of all American beach clubs, Miami's Nikki Beach chain is partnering with the Tropicana Resort to create a hotel-based beach club in land-locked Sin City. The concept aims to lure Vegas jetsetters away from popular ultra-pool parties at the Hard Rock and The Palms. With room for 10,000 sun worshippers to preen, snack and sip bubbly in the cool confines of a white beach club -- with ubiquitous rustic wood canopies straight out of a Bain de Soleil commercial -- the all-new Nikki Beach Las Vegas will arrive in time for summer 2011.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.