Our Man in Miami: A ‘Million Dollar’ Evening in the Magic City

The night began, as many a dynamite Miami night begins, at Wynwood Kitchen and Bar [http://wynwoodkitchenandbar.com/], which, like its nearby sibling Joey’s and its adjacent Walls, is the kind of spot that puts the hot into any evening. This being but an early stop, we opted to back our booze with a swirl of chef Miguel Aguilar’s bar bites. Then it was over to the Arsht for the wham bam boom of Million Dollar Quartet. For some folks, a quick nosh and a crack re-imagining of the night four rock ‘n’ roll legends collided would be an eventful enough evening. Not us though. We’re the type to let our million dollars ride. Good thing, too, because it took us right over the causeway to The Setai, where we had a feast not even money could buy.

Yeah, I know the ol’ bromide: everything has a price, and pricey eateries are no exception. But that’s just numbers on a menu. When head sommelier Dwayne Savoie sends over champagne unbidden and executive chef David Werly comes to the table and proceeds to personally put together a special five-course meal, you enter a realm above and beyond mere numbers. See, that kind of graciousness cannot be bought — and neither can that kind of cool.

Just as there’s no figure large enough to encompass the multitudes conjured in Floyd Mutrux’s and Colin Escott’s magnificent Million Dollar Quartet. You know the story: one December night back in 1956, legendary star-maker Sam Philips somehow coaxed Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to come back into his Sun Records Studio for a little songfest. They sang gospel. They sang blues. They sang country. And they sang rockabilly. The rest, as they’ll always sing, made musical history.

There’s a damn good reason why Million Dollar Quartet is still running in Chicago three years after its debut, and why its 500+ Broadway performances have been followed by an Off-Broadway stint that continues to draw crowds to this day. It’s the very reason why the musical is now also pulling in full houses from Seattle to Miami. Yep, you guessed it: the show rocks. And it rolls enough legacy into 90-some-odd minutes to knock the proverbial socks off anyone who’s ever cared about the way the world sounds — now and then.

Rocking with royalty was a pitch-perfect prelude to the regal meal we were served in The Restaurant at The Setai. Like I said, sommelier Savoie started us off with a toast (of Tattinger’s), which set a stellar stage for chef Werly’s wily dine. The Alsace-raised Werly, who got his first togs at Paris’s Hotel Ritz and London’s Montes (under Alain Ducasse), made his North American bones at Le Cirque in New York (twice), Mexico City and, finally, Vegas, where he picked up his own Michelin Star and Five Diamond Award AAA. I’m still swooning from the sublime sate of it all, so I can’t accurately recall all the delectables that made their way to our table. But I do distinctly remember main coursing through The Restaurant’s fabled Peking Duck, which left me feeling like one of those privileged ex-pats who appear in the novels of Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham.

Mention should also be made of our server Marlon’s impeccable service, which came with no small amount of rightful pride. The cat was delighted to bring forth each and every course, something few staff members in any eatery seem to be able to honestly muster these days. I tell ya, it was almost as if he enjoyed the meal as much as we did.

Of course that’s an absurd and utterly impossible proposition. As much as all of The Setai staff delighted in our dining, no one could conceivably enjoy the experience as much as those doing the experiencing. Really. And while The Book of Cool might counsel a less breathless report, I believe the remarkable should be shouted about from rooftops. In some ways I almost wish we’d arranged to attend The Setai’s upcoming “Midnight in Marrakesh” New Year’s Eve Soirée, which is undoubtedly where the best of the jet set will be ringing in 2012. Then again, my gal pal and I were privy to pretty much the very same wine and dine ourselves, and we didn’t have to contend with any madding crowd either. So, as far as I’m concerned (and I’m sure Linda A will concur), we already got a million dollar hop, skip and a jump on what promises to be one platinum New Year.

Care Through Action @ The Setai Club & SHO Shaun Hergatt

The trouble with supporting charities is feeling so far away from whomever or whatever it is you are helping. When it’s a huge corporation, you’re wondering where exactly your charitable donation is going, and when it’s a small organization, your afraid the group hasn’t got the clout to get the job done. Then there are the droll parties with champagne and special appearances of celebs who aren’t really sure what they’re doing there in the first place. These qualms refreshingly had no place last night in downtown Manhattan as The Setai Club New York & SHO Shaun Hergatt Restaurant partnered with the little juggernaut called Care Through Action.

Led by photojournalist Alissa Everett and the bubbly Diana Kane Britt, the organization works, on a warm, sort of grassroots level, to raise awareness and funds through photography exhibitions for women and children in need around the world. The intrepid activists use photo exhibitions, like last night’s The Woman of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to tell the story of different women and children who have been victimized. But their story doesn’t end with an exhibition to simply raise awareness; donations go to building safe houses, counseling, and surgeries for women in dire need. T through Everett’s telling photos, you can see the progress you’re contributing to. Thus far, their focus has been Africa and specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with active chapters in San Francisco and Dallas; they’re looking to build a New York chapter as well.

Miami: Top 10 South Beach Hotel Pools

imageSure, you could pay to stay and play, but why limit yourself to just one aquatic experience?

1. Delano – Getting past security may be harder than scoring a table at Casa Tua on a Saturday night, but it’s well worth it. If waving to a pretend friend on the other side of the velvet rope fails, head to the bar; chances are, spenders will be welcomed. Plan your wardrobe around lounging; no one comes here for dipping. 2. The Shore Club – More modern than tropical, getting into this pool is fairly simple. No special trickery required. Put away your camera; shooting celebrities will get you kicked out. 3. The Setai – Access to this sought-after pool is doable from the outdoor restaurant by the boardwalk. Favorite among the Parisians and hip-hop moguls, Setai is “ze bomb.”

4. Mondrian Miami – Either the management is desperate or lost or both, but getting in is as easy as spotting fake boobage. Mondrian faces the bay, so be ready for jetskiers and their tranquil ways. 5. Flamingo – Technically not a hotel, but with the well-documented shenanigans, who know who pays for what at this notorious residential building. Pool area hosts frequent weekend parties rivaling the beach clubs. 6. The Raleigh – Pool is more Etro than Dolce, more Aston Martin than Lamborghini. As with its sister hotel The Standard, $20 gets you in front and center. Even if local bus is your mode of transportation. 7. Gansevoort South – Thing is, the pool is 18 stories off the ground. That plus lax security makes Gansevoort perfection for those brutal, sunny days. Vertigo victims, check out ground level’s infinity-edge oceanview pool, courtesy of beach club guru Stephane Dupoux. 8. Fontainebleau Miami Beach Vegas does Miami. What happens here stays here, only because by the time you reach the distant front gates you’ll have forgotten all about what went down. Don’t worry about the security, as they will never find you. 9. The Standard – It takes close to an eternity to get your car back from the valet; still, this kid-free pool environment wins hands down. Standard is cool without trying, but chillin’ here will set you back $20. Cool is hot but it ain’t free. http://bbook.com/guides/details/the-palms 10. Sanctuary South Beach – For more intimate experience, this tiny boutique hotel has a soaking tub on the rooftop that few know about. No security to manhandle you, so you can play king of this castle. Chances are no one is watching.

Industry Insiders: Steve Haffner, Kayak King

Steve Haffner, the man behind the curtain at Kayak.com, reveals his jet-setting ways, mid-meeting bar games, and the destinations you should add to your globetrotting roster.

Where can we find you outside the office? I travel a lot, and I love the restaurant scene. La Esquina in New York is a great Mexican restaurant in the basement of a nondescript building. I like Rick Bayliss’ place in Chicago, the Frontera Grill. I love the bar scene at the Sanderson Hotel in London. It’s a good mix of Europeans, Russians, and the occasional expat.

Who do you admire in your industry? There are those larger than life types: David Neelman, who started jetBlue — he’s a serial airline launcher who has made money every time. He just launched Azul in Brazil last week, and he’s amazing. Another is Jeff Boyd of Priceline, who has been there for eight or nine years. He took a nice little company and made it outperform everybody in the industry. Now it’s worth $3.5 billion.

What is something that people might not know about you? One of the things is that I’m addicted to is bar games. We’ve got a pool table in the office, and we’re putting a basketball court in our new, larger office space. We break up our meetings and go play. If you do it enough at work, you find that when you play with your friends that you’re quite good at it. For instance, if you play somebody for the bar bill, you beat them.

Favorite destinations? My favorite destination is the Eden Roc hotel in Antibes, a magical place, enchanting. They used to take cash only, but now take credit cards. I love the Hotel Costes in Paris and the bar — it’s managed to stay on top for awhile now. The pool underneath it is great, but you can never turn the light on in the rooms. My favorite hotel in New York is the Bowery; it’s hipper than the Mercer, even though the neighborhood is worse, and the bar scene is fabulous. I had my 40th birthday at Setai in South Beach, and threw the actual birthday party at the Delano. Ian Schraeger’s ability to keep the quality up is amazing. Also, the Shore Club next door to the Setai is much more “go-go” than the Setai is.

Notice any trends in the travel realm that we should know about? I love that bars and hotels are focusing on service and making the experience different. There are now niche brands, boutique hotels and bars. You can get great deals at luxury hotels without sacrificing service. We’re going to the Ocean Club this year — the prices make it a good deal.

What are you doing tonight? Tonight is going to be a boring evening. Last night I was in Boston, and tomorrow we’re having a party at our house. Tonight, after we put the kids to bed, I’m taking the wife out to Paci in Westport. A French friend had his 40th birthday there with his boyfriend, and the host is from Naples, and he takes care of us.

Uruguay: The Next International Hotspot

imageJose Ignacio, sleepy Uruguay village turned under-the-radar destination, is the next sun-kissed tropical mecca. Filled with models, bankers, hot Europeans, Argentine beauties, and celebs on the run from the paparazzi, Jose Ignacio has all the trappings of the destination de jour. Despite the ban on discotheques and the strictly enforced 2 a.m. curfews, the beach town buzzes with relaxed socialites sunning late in the afternoons and dancing in Chivas Regal be-tented beachfront soirees. Guests liken Jose to the Hamptons in the 1960s: small, exclusive, and away from the large crowds in nearby Punta del Este. Go now, because when the new Setai resort opens in 2010, the secret will be out, the mobs will surge in, and you’ll get no coolness points for visiting before the rush.

Top 10 Most Expensive Hotel Suites in the World

imageThe Wealth Bulletin compiled a top ten list for the priciest suites in the world, Luxist chimed in, and here are the final tallies:

10. Brook Penthouse, Claridges, London: $10,000 per night. 9. The Imperial Suite, Park Hyatt-Vendome, Paris: $15,500 per night. 8. The Royal Suite, Four Seasons George V, Paris: $16,000 per night. 7. The Ritz-Carlton Suite, The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow: $16,500 per night. 6. Royal Armleder Suite, Le Richemond, Geneva: $17,500 per night.

5. Royal Suite, Burj Al Arab, Dubai: $18,000 per night. 4. The Presidential Suite, Hotel Cala di Volpe, Costa Smeralda, Italy: $21,000 per night. 3. The Setai Penthouse, Miami Beach, Florida: $30,000 per night. 2. Royal Penthouse Suite, President Wilson Hotel, Geneva: $33,000 per night. 1. Ty Warner Penthouse, Four Seasons, New York: $34,000 per night

30 Dirty Weekends, One Book

imageMr and Mrs Smith, the boutique hotel connoisseurs, are launching their latest luxe review in time for the holiday gifting season. Bound in gloss and oozing sex appeal, this coffee-table-cum-designer-hotel-porn is the perfect stocking stuffer for the traveler in your life. The 360-page tome covers 30 destination hotels detailed in the Smith style, wherein a couple is sent anonymously to a Smith-approved hotel to write a cheeky he-said-she-said review of the joint. The Global Shortlist is the sixth book in the series, joining Smith 52: The Game Plan, European Cities, European Coast and Country, and UK/Ireland Volumes I and II.

Highlights of the book include the Bowery Hotel in New York (“With it’s patinated bronze Waterworks features, the bath tub is more like a small pool”), the Viceroy Santa Monica (“The Viceroy combines classic old-Hollywood style with modern chic and sophistication”), and the Setai Miami (“After a soak, we hit the sack, although ‘sack’ seems a disrespectful term for our bed”). Look for incredibly detailed information like “best of” recommendations in terms of room selection and seating options in the hotel restaurants. The credit-card sized Membership card grants access to website perks like package deals and discounts, and the card’s included with purchase of the book.

Condé Nast Travels to NYPL for Reader’s Choice Awards

Economy shmoshonomy. People like to travel, and they like to do it in style. A bit of luxury in the face of the marginalized American dollar is still essential, as far as we can surmise from the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. These savvy consumers voted on 11 categories, including best hotel, airline, and city to visit. They also revealed the top 100 best of everything, according to the Gridskipper. The highest hotel honors went to Six Senses Hideaway in Samui, Thailand, and The Chedi in Muscat, Oman. New Zealand, the Maldives, and India were chosen as the best destinations=. If your budget keeps you stateside, New York City gets a shout-out as a favored destination at number 16, as does the The Bellagio in Las Vegas, New York’s Carlyle, and The Setai in Miami.

The only traveling I’ve been monetarily inspired to do was the steep pilgrimage to the top of the New York Public Library’s steps to help all those readers celebrate their choices last night. The elegant atmosphere made me forget my financial woes, as I sipped Grey Goose and nibbled Asian delicacies. The Lord from Gossip Girl (okay, actor Patrick Heusinger), Ugly Betty’s Eric Mabius, Jane Krawkowski, Andrew McCarthy, and Mario Cantone topped my own list. But the real winners of the evening were the delightful Olympic silver-medalist fencers Tim Morehouse and Jason Rogers, who were happy to give out pointers on their sport, sans sword of course. When asked about their traveling preferences, Morehouse divulged that carrying around the medal has been key in getting free flight and hotel upgrades — a traveling tip not too many of us will be able to take advantage of.

Miami: Top 5 South Beach Spots with the Sexiest Scenery

imageAll the pretty people …

1. Mynt Ultra Lounge The body beautiful principle rules. Designer labels, too. Suck in your stomach. 2. Skybar Lofty ‘tude brings in JT and Jay-Z. Outdoors: couches and bars for bold names. Inside: famous Red Room for tweaked-out celeb spotting. 3. The Delano Trendy beyond measure, billowy curtains and models. Candlelit tables and … that pool. Secluded bungalows we want to invade.

4. The Setai No neon lights here. Earthy Zen vibe, with the scantily clad glowing from incredible onsite spa treatments. 5. B.E.D. Conceptually, a place to eat, but more of a high-concept show. Seating atop large lounging beds for SoBe’s favorite sport: exhibitionism.