The other day I found myself in Miami (as one does) for the grand opening of the St. Regis Bal Harbour. Bal Harbour, for those of you who don’t know, is an area north of South Beach on the Miami coast known mostly for its luxury shopping center, The Shops at Bal Harbour. The Shops average $2,306 per square foot, which is how the success of malls is measured, while the national average hovers around $385.
The Shops at Bal Harbour were built over old Army barracks back in 1965. Eleven years earlier, in the space the St. Regis now occupies, the Americana Hotel opened. A Rat Pack hangout designed by Morris Lappidus, the grandpapi of Miami design, the Americana Hotel was the crown jewel of what was then the American Riviera. By the time that was imploded in 2007, it had already, one might argue, lost its vivacious spark. If you’re into implosion porn, check out the video of it all tumbling down.
Anyway, as I was saying: I found myself in Miami at the grand opening. The 243-room hotel was designed by Yabu Pushelberg, the New York design firm. I always thought it was one guy with a very interesting ethnic background. (I didn’t know Japanese Jews existed though I recently found out on the internet that all Japanese people might be Jewish!) In fact, it’s two very nice gentlemen, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg. The lobby is like Versailles-meets-Sammy Davis Jr.’s rec room. It’s not gaudy in a traditional Miami sense, but it definitely has guts—bright, shiny guts. The marble floors are marbled with a black marble with white bursts called Godflower and it is quarried specifically for St. Regis. The mirrors, which line the wall in beveled boxes, are hand antiqued. There’s a restaurant, J & G Grill, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, plus another tapas joint called Atlantico. There are two pools, one for family folk and one for adults and, best of all, you can sit on the beach — to which the property has usufructuary rights — and be served things like salads with sushi-grade tuna and also, wonderfully, alcohol. Someone even takes the time every morning to carve a little logo of the St. Regis in the sand. There are massive jugs of sunscreen which I didn’t but do highly recommend using.
The rooms are great suites of solitude. Mine overlooked the ocean, was larger than my entire house, and had a washer and dryer. This last bit was, for me, the primus inter pares. I was in Miami for the weekend, with only two pairs of pants, a pair of shorts, and three shirts. I did at least eight loads of laundry. Just because I could.
The deal with these grand openings—and with St. Regis in particular—is that they have brand ambassadors down there to mingle with the press and other more local celebrities. The St. Regis, for instance, has a relationship with Jason Wu and Nacho Figueras, the polo player, who are Brand Connoisseurs. This whole media-celebrity interaction is sometimes awkward. For instance, Nacho Figueras is a very cool, laid-back guy. We talked about tattoos. His wife, Delfina, is also super friendly and has a tattoo of a dolphin on her ankle. Jason Wu, on the other hand, also seems quite nice, but what do he and I really have to discuss? He spent most of his time—at a Midnight Supper and, later, at the Opening Gala—chattering with the model Arizona Muse, his partner Gustavo Rangel (the Pierre Bergé to his YSL), and to the socialite Olivia Chantecaille. This, of course, is natural since a) there’s none of the uncertainty, so chilling in social intercourse, as to whether they are conversing with him due to his fame since they too are famous and b) they exist in overlapping spheres. I, instead, spent my time talking to Olivia’s husband, a guy named Ren who, nicely, stands every time he shakes someone’s hand, and Frits Van Paasschen, the CEO and President of Starwood. First of all, his last name sounds like Van Passion, which is great. Second of all, read his bio. He’s extremely interesting to talk to, not really famous, and we exist in overlapping spheres.
The climax of the event was the Grand Opening party, a lavish poolside affair. There were many people there. In fact, the entire demimonde of Bal Harbour showed up. They are, as a demographic, sparklier than their New York counterparts and also of more indeterminate age. They do, however, like heavy hors d’oeuvres as much as their Northerly cohort. In this they were not disappointed. Lobster on a bamboo skewer! Steak cut thinkly! Caviar in little beady mounds! There was a woman making sushi standing in a fountain, wearing galoshes. The entertainment was a really tremendous band called Jonathan Batiste and His Stay Human band, a group associated with Jazz From Lincoln Center with hints of a Second Line brass band though they were equally at home covering Lady Gaga as they were Charlie Mingus.
The climax of the climax—le grand petit mort, if you will—was a celebratory sabering of legion champagne bottles. These were held by a long line of gray-clad butlers who would not have looked out of place in a Kazuo Ishiguro novel. (I had a butler. Her name was Marina and she brought me as much detergent as I wanted.) As soon as the bubbles arced across the air, an impressive fireworks display began over the ocean. They were nice bookends to the implosion five years ago that cleared the way for the St. Regis.
I hung around for a few minutes after the fireworks, long enough to see Diane Kruger talking to Jason Wu in the VIP section. (Naturally.) I was briefly entranced by some sparkly dresses. I talked to the band. I ate some more seafood croquettes. Then I headed through the marbled lobby, passed the mirrored walls, up the keyless elevator and into my room. I took off my pants, shed my shirt, and did a load of laundry.