Opening: Esmé on Española Way

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Opening: Esmé on Española Way:

After nearly five-year restoration, hotel offers its guests an escape away from time

The new Esmé hotel spans most of the south side of Miami Beach’s Española Way but it’s in the quaint spaces of the “village” inside where the magic happens. Esmé, formerly the Clay Hotel, reopens November 15 after a nearly five-year renovation and restoration by the Infinity Collective investment group. 

Though Infinity has restored, redeveloped and preserved more than 35 historically designated properties in the Miami/Miami Beach area, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington DC, balancing the preservation of the Esmé project with economic viability proved challenging according to Infinity partner David Berg. Elevating the guest experience by installing elevators, a small rooftop pool, increased back of house capabilities to attract good restaurants and the best employees meant sacrificing revenue-producing rooms. The old Clay Hotel had 161 rooms, Esmé has 145. The old alleys behind the attached buildings that make up the Esmé “village” have been converted into paseos, bright walkways that allow guests to move among the hotel’s common areas and pedestrian-level restaurants without having to set foot on Española Way, though that option is just steps away for those who prefer the energy of the street. Outdoor café tables can be found in nooks and crannies along the way.

The end result is a stylish, private guest experience coupled with fun, sophisticated dining options.

Berg said the vibe of the new Esmé is a nod to Española Way’s original developer, N.B.T. Roney. “Española Way really takes you away from the chaos of Miami Beach. When you walk on Española Way, it’s romantic. It’s charming. It’s quaint.” 

James Stuart, Infinity Collective Director of Hospitality, said when Roney set out to create “an artistic cultural district” along the lines of Greenwich Village in New York or the Artist Quarter in Paris, his motto was “In all the world, ain’t no place so quaint,” which, Stuart said, was a key part of the thought process in developing the Esmé brand.

Berg said they decided to incorporate the “artist colony, Spanish village vision” into Esmé and contrast that storyline with the neighboring Casa Matanza hotel where one of Al Capone’s gambling syndicates operated. “Esmé is the big beautiful sister to the naughty little brother across the street,” Berg joked.

“We wanted to play off that history a little bit,” Berg said. “The real goal of what we were trying to do is basically to get lost in time.” The hotel’s tagline became “Time away from time.”

“As you go through the hotel, you can’t really put your finger on any era or time period per se, but yet it evokes a feeling,” Stuart added.

The food and beverage offerings are designed to appeal to hotel guests but also to local residents who, Stuart said, “all have this very sort of nostalgic sense of affection for Española Way.” 

“We wanted to give locals a reason to come back,” he said. The food and beverage establishments will be included in Española Way’s resident discount program.

In addition to preserving and restoring the buildings, Berg said, experiences are what people will remember. “Our goal is to create experiences that stay top of your mind.” That involves a two-pronged approach, he said, upgraded hotel rooms and embracing and diving into the “pedestrian-only, highly trafficked, very energetic street.” To do that, they’ve curated tenants that “work well with the hotel brand that we’re delivering.”

Berg said it’s “a very eclectic, curated mix but it’s also so the restaurants won’t be competing with themselves. Historically here, the Spanish Village was all Italian food and so now we’re bringing in all different types of cuisine from all over the world with very established, well known restaurateurs and chefs that can elevate the experience.” The offerings include The Drexel from the team behind Mandolin in the Design District; Benh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich concept; and Tropezón, an Andalusian-style gin and tapas bar.

“We also think that due to the nature of the style of our hotel and all these retail tenants coming in, there’s going to be a reason to come here, arguably 20 hours out of the day,” Stuart added. “Many of them are going to be serving breakfast and lunch [too] and it really is going to reignite and reinvigorate that village vibe.”

Viewed from the outside, guests will see a full façade restoration that is now white with pink accents versus the previous color scheme of pink with white accents. The front door at 1438 Washington Avenue has also been fully restored. When you step inside the lobby, the old pecky cypress ceiling which was “destroyed” was replaced with the same wood material, Berg said. The travertine floors and Venetian plaster walls were recreated, and an old fireplace and skylight that were uncovered during demolition have been restored as well.

A little further in as you approach a bank of elevators, Berg noted the “flavor of the artist colony” that is evoked in hand painted, hand carved walls.

Tucked away on the second floor is El Salon, inspired by Louise Brooks who Stuart called “the original ‘it’ girl” with personas that ranged “from showgirl to socialite.” The space, which includes a bar where small bites and morning coffee will be served along with late night cocktails, “encapsulates the vibe we’re trying to create at Esmé, sophisticated naughtiness,” Stuart said.

“It is programmed to be moody, quaint, and private,” according to Berg.

El Salon's hallmark is original drink recipes formulated using a mixture of different brands, for example some percentage of Ketel One vodka, Grey Goose, etc. Stuart said El Salon will be the only bar in the world to try the concept while the small plates will “celebrate the Latin diversity of Miami,” Stuart noted.

Hotel rooms “elegantly embrace the quirkiness” of the different room shapes and sizes” of the historic structure, Stuart said. “Really no two rooms are exactly alike.”

Berg hopes room rates will be “average high $200s, approaching $300.” The hotel is operated by Infinity Hospitality.

While enjoying the hotel and all its amenities, guests will not see where so much time and investment went. With historic properties you never know what you’ll find until you start demolition. Infinity reframed the property, installed structure supports, elevators, new windows, and upgraded the electrical and plumbing before they ever got to the finishes.

“To make something really special, it’s taken the better part of 4.5 to 5 years,” Berg said. “It’s substantial to be closed for that long. It takes a tremendous amount of time and patience to invest in these [historic properties].” Then, there are the carrying costs while the restaurant tenants are built out.

If the City wants to ensure preservation of its historic assets, Berg said there will have to be mechanisms to ensure their economic viability. Those include incentivizing development with FAR (Floor Area Ratio) bonuses while keeping development within the context of a neighborhood and the intent of the original architect; FAR deductions for areas that are repurposed for ADA compliance including installation of elevators, FPL vaults, and egresses that are necessary to bring buildings up to new fire codes; tax incentives; and expedited permitting, he suggested.

To learn more about the project, check out The Art of Architecture presented by the Miami Design Preservation League on November 15 at 6:00 pm at The Marseilles Hotel, 1741 Collins Avenue. Infinity Collective Founder, Steven Kassin, will join Berg. The event is free but seating is limited. Register here.

Renderings courtesy Esmé
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