By Jonathan Borge
Miami hoteliers seem to always wax nostalgic on the heyday of our city's hotel boom. Sure, it must have been glamorous to lounge in a cabana next to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Marilyn Monroe with a dry martini in hand during the '50s. But with newly minted restaurants, lounges, suites, pool decks, and lobbies popping up across town (think the SLS Hotel South Beach and the upcoming Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel), the hospitality scene is perhaps on the rise again.
Last Thursday, The James Royal Palm Hotel unveiled its new signage and held a swank VIP opening ceremony to celebrate its 393-room, $42 million renovation. For a property that was originally built in 1939 and was bereft of life for decades, the James is worth visiting, and its owners have plenty to boast about. No, this isn't the most glamorous or opulent hotel on Collins and you won't come here for a no-holds-barred pool bash. Instead, there are three main draws: the Lawn, the James Club, and Florida Cookery.
The Lawn sits in the hotel's main driveway and is, like its name suggests, a narrow patch of grass and tile designed to be a front porch hang out. It's towered by the James' original white facade, but there's a romantic late-night vibe created by the fountains and wall-sized bushes that enclose it. The oversized lawn chairs have a whimsical, flowing design and after a few drinks you'll feel like Alice in your own South Beach "Wonderland."
Then, past the front steps and into the terrazzo floor lobby -- the original tile was preserved -- you'll enter what feels like a tight, accommodating living room that sets a 1970s-type design pattern seen across the whole property. The patterned furniture, circular windows, oval shapes and graphics, and bright, mod colors are what give the James a retro feel, but at its core the hotel still maintains an understated elegance. Behind the coffee bar and concierge sits the James Club, a late-night game and cocktail lounge with high ceilings, a wide, long corridor and sexy dim lighting. The club, like the rest of the hotel, has plenty of locally-created art work -- which was chosen by Lauren Rottet who led the interior redesign -- and will be home to fashionable day and night events.
Finally, up the wood-lined, half spiral staircase is Florida Cookery, the James' dining gem. The restaurant keeps the same design aesthetic and has its own outdoor pool deck, but the food is what's of note here. Chef Kris Wessel's regional menu items are each inspired by "Florida Cookery," a cookbook his grandmother used in the ‘40s, and include locally sourced meats, vegetables, and sauces. A standout choice? The oxtail, oyster, and alligator empanadas with lemon cayenne rouille sauce.