Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
In an area known for hard-core parties and chic design, the Betsy stands out as a sanctuary with 19th-century charm.
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 shuttered windows, colonial columns, and , 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.. The hotel has an Art Deco touch or two, but with its plantation-style
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, , 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.
This is the only part of(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.)
The sexiest beach in the world is right across the street.
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.
Bright, immaculate, and spacious (by Art Deco District standards). Modern touches blend seamlessly with Southern colonial flourishes.
A pleasant but unspectacular pool, a rooftop solarium and spa, a fitness center, and property-wide Wi-Fi.
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 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.
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.
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.
Home to a famous chef's new venture, 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.
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.there is equally pricey but delicious. My
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.