I freaking love Miami. Full of the most upbeat people, crazy bright and bonkers fashion, silky white beaches. I stayed the weekend recently for a work trip, and whether I went jogging on the beach, shopping on Lincoln or out for dinner, everyone I encountered was in the best mood ever. Even the barista at Starbucks sang my order to me. For real! But why wouldn't you? To make a mark in the hospitality industry here, though, is tricky: you're up against a widespread competition in every sector from bars and restaurants, to hotels. So with my failsafe travel guide, MrandMrsSmith.com, I picked a brand new property on South Beach, The James Royal Palm, which is just a short walk from my two favorite places in the city: Soho House and Casa Tua. I've stayed at the hotel's sister property in New York, and was really impressed with the service, the attention to detail, and the rustic but modern interior design.
Walking into the Miami lobby was a similar, if a more tropical, version. Built in 1939 and later used as army barracks during World War II, the building still carries an Art Deco vibe. A juice and espresso bar welcomes guests in the lobby, while footage of professional surfers plays on a loop in the lounge. The bellman and front desk were beyond attentive, immediately switching my room when I found out it wasn't facing the water. Walking through to the poolside restaurant, Florida Cookery, the atmosphere here is eclectic, and cool: The James features a curated art collection, "An Ocean Apart," by Lauren Rottet of Rottet Studio, which includes pieces created specifically for the property; and an artist in residence program. Lounging by the pool is as decadent as it gets: Ipods, Kindles, books and boardgames are available to borrow free of charge, and complimentary James Beach boxes are handed out to guests, including fresh fruit, bottled water and hand wipes. Those little touches are what singles this place out -- plus the menu -- which is perfect sunbathing fodder. The conch chowder and fritter dipper is delicious, and happens to be the restaurants original 1948 recipe. The sticky guanabana glazed ribs are served with green papaya slaw, and worth temporarily ditching the diet for. Across the boardwalk is the beach, offering guests the same great service in bright orange cabanas.
The rooms are compact, but purpose-built and therefore very convenient. And for those who like modern décor with a retro mid-century edge, this is the spot for you. Giant overhead lamps, lacquer white floors and a corner table that reminded me of a 1950's wooden surfboard, are cool, constant reminders you're at the beach.
The James manages to straddle diverse travel categories: when I stayed there, a business conference was taking place, but I also saw a plethora of couples on romantic getaways, and a bunch of young groups painting the town red for spring break. The only notable absence were children, but as the room service menu jokingly notes above it's kids' section, "What? You brought your kids to South Beach??" This town is like a theme park for adults, and the James is a brilliant place to start the ride.