Soho Beach House Makes You Want to Belong

MIAMI (TheStreet) -- Soho Beach House is farther north than the cluster of Raleigh and Delano hotels that have defined the epicenter of Miami Beach in recent years. But the epicenter may be moving.

Soho Beach House, in a former Sovereign Hotel that includes a 16-story waterfront tower, opened in October on schedule and mostly hiccup free, in typical Soho House fashion under founder Nick Jones, who was aided by a 2008 investment of $168 million by Richard Caring. Caring owns an 80% majority in the group that's financed the club's recent expansion in Los Angeles as well as Miami.

Soho Beach House's main pool has loungers running its length and staff circling to serve guests chilled buckets of iced apple slices and other fresh fruit.

Anything British seems a million miles away, though, from the endless winter sunshine and deco palaces lining the Miami Beach waterfront of Collins Avenue. Soho House sits like a well-guarded secret by the massive residential tower of the Fountainbleu, although the secret is given away by a circular driveway crammed with Maseratis and Bentleys.

As the car door swings open there's no "Welcome to Soho House" or "Are you checking in?" Instead, guests are greeted with an efficient "Member or guest?" that alludes to the difficulties of managing a club that's only partially open to the public. Soho Beach House is two-thirds membership club and one-third open-to-the-public hotel, Cowshed Spa and Cecconi's Restaurant, but all are accessed through a single doorway. The single elevator mixes spirited regulars en route to the membership lounge and hotel guests in search of their bed.

Checking in feels a world away from the sterile, sometimes conveyor-belt experience of Miami's larger luxury hotels. Here a single face swipes your card, learns your name and assists with everything from faxing to scoring tickets to a Heat game, even if it's less than a few hours before tipoff.

The central lobby, designed by Martin Brudnizki, is a throwback to the old guard of Miami Beach with its mix of tropical upholstered chairs and sofas, wood-paneled walls and cylindrical crystal chandelier. Bright and airy corridors are a wink toward Kit Kemps, the U.K. hotelier behind London's Soho Hotel, with seagrass carpeting and high-gloss oil paint on chunky doors.

The guests and members, in their Tomas Meier and Lanvin fashions, seem to be the creme of Miami whether it's breakfast time with Cuban coffees in the lobby or 3 a.m. at the club bar.

But those unwilling to spend upward of $650 per night on ocean-facing rooms will find Bayside ($425) and Side ($385) rooms that don't skimp on the details: colorful Cuban tile topped with thick knotted rugs, exposed concrete ceiling and eclectic decor circa Bay of Pigs -- bourgeois pigs with exquisite four-poster king beds, double club-chair seating areas and oversized writing tables with sawhorse legs. Vintage bar cabinets are stocked with full-sized bottles of Belvedere and Patron, 10-piece crystal stemware sets and silver ice buckets.

Open-style bathrooms feature central petrified-wood vanities stockpiled with an assortment of amenities, from complimentary toothbrushes and floss to contraceptives in discreet white wrappers. The towels are almost laughably thick and large and offered in multiples of six or seven in an exaggerated presentation that seems to have every base covered in case of armageddon. The showers have powerful ceiling-mounted fixtures and hold no less than 10 bottles of full-sized Cowshed-branded bath products.

There is a restaurant open only to members and hotel guests, and it is packed most nights. The indoor-outdoor layout features a lounge-style dining room stocked with look-alikes of Giselle Bundchen and Che Guevara (but with more chiseled features, and wearing white shirts opened to their second row of abdominal muscles). People here do a lot more drinking than eating, despite such weekly dinners as Meatball Night that come with a selection of inexpensive vegetable sides (and a free beer), seemingly respecting that members already pay $1,600 to $2,200 a year to belong.

Some say the menu at Cecconi's, in a courtyard off the main lobby, is better for serious foodies. Its menu of truffle pizzas cooked in a woodfire oven, grilled octopus and slow-cooked meats lives up to the accolades, and the outdoor setting -- under strings of lights made from mason jars -- couldn't be more glamorous. After eating, member and hotel guests hit the rooftop plunge pool, which is truly only big enough for plunging, and the surrounding outdoor bar and cabanas, where weekend DJs oversee special events through high season.

Behind Cecconi's is guest-only access to the main pool, a long rectangular stretch of water withs loungers running its length. Staff circle with chilled buckets of iced apple slices and other fresh fruit. A rear path leads out of the hotel complex to a guarded rear gate and the beach, where the Tiki Bar manager introduces himself by name and tends to rows of loungers. The loungers have personal ice chests stocked with drinks and goodies that makes you happy to be part of the club, even if just for a weekend.

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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 InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.

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