Betsy Hotel Rating: 4.0 Pearls
South Beach, Miami, Florida

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Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

Cons

  • Small rooms for a luxury hotel
  • Tiny bathrooms
  • Relatively small, unheated, and overly shaded pool
  • $14 (plus tax) resort fee added to bill

Bottom Line

After a $40 million overhaul, the Betsy reopened in 2009 with a beautiful rooftop spa and solarium, a renowned restaurant (BLT steak), and bright, charming rooms. The pool's a bit disappointing, and the rooms aren't as large as the Mondrian's, but for tasteful luxury and a rare dose of tranquility on Ocean Drive, this is where it's at.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

In an area known for hard-core parties and chic design, the Betsy stands out as a sanctuary with 19th-century charm.

Plantation-style design
Plantation-style design

Having completed a $40 million renovation -- a complete overhaul, really -- the Betsy reopened in April 2009 to much acclaim. Although built in 1940 by L. Murray Dixon, who is known for his Art Deco buildings, the Betsy stands out on Ocean Drive as the only example of an oxymoronically named architectural style known as Florida Georgian. The hotel has an Art Deco touch or two, but with its plantation-style shuttered windows, colonial columns, and ceiling fans, it looks like it belongs in rural Georgia, not South Beach. For those reasons, and because it's just drop-dead gorgeous, the Betsy is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Three years ago, the Betsy was restored as a luxury boutique hotel, and both those elements -- luxury and boutique -- are apparent, especially after this most recent renovation. With only 63 rooms, the Betsy shares a sense of intimacy with its Art Deco neighbors. But the lobby, designed by a team that's worked on homes for Ralph Lauren and stores for Bulgari, displays the kind of details that place the Betsy a notch above the others. Among the highlights: evocative photography, mini-palm trees, and understated, eclectic furniture.

The best part about the Betsy? It seems comfortable in its own skin. It knows what it is and, just as important, what it is not. That is to say, it knows it's not located in Ocean Drive's mosh pit (some would say armpit), four to six blocks down, or among the chic see-and-be-seen haunts like the Delano. The bar is less a place to meet other people than a quiet spot to unwind after a tough day on the beach. The clientele tends to be quieter and more mature. If any a spot on Ocean Drive could be considered romantic, this is it.

There are a few quirky touches -- the bell staff's "safari" getups, for example, and the photos of rock stars near the bar -- but don't look for fluorescent lights, Euro-trance club beats, or design-driven trendiness. The M.O. at the Betsy is understated luxury. Genuine class.

The Betsy is also eco-friendly. The hotel has installed devices in all rooms which adjusts room temperature to save energy when unoccupied. All rooms also have ceiling fans, light minimizing shutters, high efficiency yet low energy air conditioners and a Smart Cube -- a new mini bar that uses 30% less energy than previous models. Those are just a couple of the hotel's eco-initiatives which are expanding.

 Service

Warm and attentive. The staff isn't over the top in its efforts to please (a la the Ritz or Four Seasons), but you can expect complete competence and tons of smiles.

Porters at the entrance
Porters at the entrance
  • The front desk staff handles concierge duties, and they know their stuff.
  • Bellmen guide guests to their rooms
  • Attentive doormen
  • The on-site restaurant, BLT Steak, is independently owned and operated, but it's worth noting that the service is impeccable there as well.

 Location

In South Beach, across the street from the beach on a relatively quiet stretch of Ocean Drive. The epicenter of SoBe's party scene is just blocks away.

This is the only part of Ocean Drive (north of Fifth Street, anyway) that could be considered tranquil. Fifteenth Street forms the northern boundary of Ocean Drive, and the Betsy sits halfway between 14th and 15th. It's an ideal location for those who don't want to be overwhelmed by the tourist hordes and thumping beats a few blocks to the south yet still want easy access to said madness.

With the exception of its on-site restaurant, BLT, and the Front Porch and A Fish Called Avalon (both a few blocks down), most of the eateries along Ocean Drive are overpriced tourist traps. You're better off walking a few blocks north to the Lincoln Road Mall, an outdoor pedestrian promenade with everything from pharmacies and Starbucks to designer clothing shops and premier cuisine. Even closer is Lincoln Road's little sister, Espanola Way. It's smaller and less popular than Lincoln, and there aren't many stores there, but the restaurants are excellent.

To get your groove on, you can head south four blocks to the veritable mosh pit that is the Clevelander or, for a classier version, north to the Delano. For that matter, you can pretty much head any direction to get your groove on. (Except east. You'll get wet if you do that.)

 Beach

The sexiest beach in the world is right across the street.

Morning workout on the beach
Morning workout on the beach

It's a one-minute stroll across the grass to one of the most famous beaches in the world, where a jumbled horde of bikini babes, jacked dudes, couples on vacation, and families with kids play on a stretch of sand 100 yards wide. The beach is a tad more mellow up by the Betsy, but you're still in the thick of things.

In the mornings, the occasional runner trots along the harder, inland half of the beach. By the afternoon, the joint is packed with sunbathers; at dusk the scene thins out again.

  • Chairs and umbrellas are available for no extra charge, though they get put away at 5 p.m.
  • Mobile snack stands are also scattered along the beach, selling soft drinks and chips (note, however, that alcohol is not allowed).

 Rooms

Bright, immaculate, and spacious (by Art Deco District standards). Modern touches blend seamlessly with Southern colonial flourishes.

Flat-screen TV embedded in the bathroom mirror
Flat-screen TV embedded in the bathroom mirror

Although the Betsy's rooms aren't as large as the Mondrian's or the Sagamore's, they have everything else going for them -- they're comfortable, beautiful, bright, and well appointed.

  • Smaller standard rooms than at other luxury hotels
  • Comfortable beds: Simmons HealthSmart Beautyrest World Class Felicity II 1X Super Pillow Top Plush mattress (try saying that five times fast); Frette linens
  • The 32-inch LG flat-screen TV has more than 80 channels of basic cable, plus dozens more music channels. (Just go to Channel 97 and scroll from there.)
  • iHome iPod dock
  • Minibar and snack basket
  • Terry-cloth bathrobes
  • Fast, reliable Wi-Fi
  • Small bathroom for a hotel in this price category. But at least you get a flat-screen TV embedded in the mirror, which makes cleaning your ears more fun than you ever thought possible.
  • Malin+Goetz bath products include peppermint shampoo, cilantro conditioner, and bergamot body wash.
  • Minor annoyances: The stopper in my bathroom sink didn't work; and the glass wall encasing the shower didn't extend far enough to prevent water from soaking the floor.

 Features

A pleasant but unspectacular pool, a rooftop solarium and spa, a fitness center, and property-wide Wi-Fi.

Guests lounging poolside
Guests lounging poolside

To their credit, the Betsy's developers did all they could with the pool. It's as big as it could possibly be, given the space, and the potted orchids and glass-encased candles are lovely accompaniments. Unfortunately, the lay of the land just doesn't allow for more than a small rectangle of water surrounded by buildings on all four sides. It's big enough to swim some short laps in, which is more than you can say for most hotel pools along Ocean Drive. And because of those buildings, the area is shady in the morning and late afternoon.

  • Wi-Fi that's fast, reliable, and "free" -- "free" in quotes because a mandatory $14 (tax not included) "resort fee" for such amenities is tacked onto your bill at the end of your stay.
  • A spa set in a rooftop wellness garden, where guests can opt to have treatments in private outdoor cabanas or in indoor suites
  • A rooftop deck with lounge chairs and staff on hand to provide newspapers, light snacks, and drinks
  • Fitness center has cardio machines with indivudal TVs and a separate area for yoga

 Family

Nothing kid-friendly here -- no activities, no cribs, no kids' menu at the restaurant -- but nothing particularly kid-hostile either.

The Travel Channel gives South Beach 1 out of 5 on child-friendliness, but there are certainly plenty of families around. I didn't see any at the Betsy, however, probably because the vibe is more "romantic getaway" than "take the kids along." And unless you spring for a suite, there's no space in the rooms for cribs or rollaways.

 Cleanliness

Reopened in April 2009 and looking sharp

Dirt and grime magically steer clear of the Betsy's premises -- I didn't notice a single blemish. Even the hardwood floors in my room didn't leave dust on my bare feet -- the ultimate mark, as it were, of cleanliness.

 Food

Home to a famous chef's new venture, BLT Steak.

Dinner at BLT Steak
Dinner at BLT Steak

The restaurant at the Betsy is called BLT Steak. For those of you as unrefined as I was before my stay at the Betsy, you should know that in this case BLT stands not for bacon, lettuce, and tomato but rather for Bistro Laurent Tourondel -- as in the renowned French chef who was named the 2007 Restaurateur of the Year by Bon Appétit magazine. With this branch of BLT, Tourondel has finally tossed his own bon name into the venerable South Beach culinary scene.

So how is it? Well done, as it were. My filet was a little bloodier than I had requested but still tender and delicious. The highlights, for me, were the unique starters. In lieu of bread, I got complimentary popovers with chicken pâte. Strange but tasty, and I liked the little copy of the popover recipe attached to it with a ribbon -- a fun touch. By night's end, with a plate of green beans and a glass of wine thrown in, the damage came to $71 with tax and tip -- steep but not outrageous.

Breakfast there is equally pricey but delicious. My waffles with bananas and berries, plus fresh-squeezed OJ and coffee, came to $26. For a better value, check out the Front Porch Cafe just down the block.

 Bottom Line

After a $40 million overhaul, the Betsy reopened in 2009 with a beautiful rooftop spa and solarium, a renowned restaurant (BLT steak), and bright, charming rooms. The pool's a bit disappointing, and the rooms aren't as large as the Mondrian's, but for tasteful luxury and a rare dose of tranquility on Ocean Drive, this is where it's at.

Things You Should Know About Betsy Hotel

Address

  • 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami, FL, 33139, US

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Betsy Hotel Miami Beach

Room Types

  • Betsy Classic
  • Betsy Classic Ocean View
  • Betsy Classic Pool View
  • Betsy Grand Suite
  • Betsy Master Suite
  • Betsy Master Suite Pool View
  • Betsy Royal Suite

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 63
Pool: Yes
Fitness Center: Yes
Spa: Yes
Internet Access: Yes
Pets Allowed: Yes
Cribs: Yes
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Hotel Information

Location: South Beach, Miami
Address: 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami, FL, 33139, US
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