Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators.
From beginning to end, the service beat our expectations -- which is old mildly damning with faint praise.
For the price, I expected nothing more than someone sliding me a room key beneath a bulletproof-glass window. But a porter was outside to gather my bags the minute the cab stopped, and there were multiple people at the front desk to help me get settled.
I arrived at noon (check-in was, alarmingly, at 4 p.m.), so my room wasn't ready. But they offered to store my bags, showed me where I could change to use the pool and recommended a few nearby lunch options (basically just some cheap delis around the corner).
Each employee has their hometown written beneath their name tag. (No one who lives in South Beach is actually from South Beach; they're more likely from New York.) That way, says our receptionist from Brownsville, Brooklyn, I'll see their name and where they're from, and it'll start up a pleasant little dialogue -- "You're from Brooklyn? I'm from Brooklyn. Let's be friends."
Throughout my stay, everyone I encountered was friendly, helpful and entirely competent. Believe it or not, that's actually saying a lot in Miami.
Fine -- not perfect but not terrifying, and close enough to the action.
Close (enough) to the beach -- I was pleased with the location, especially as I had sufficient space between my bed and the blasting bass fromor (on the other side).
Clean and comfortable, although a bit exposed (remember to close your curtains!).
The bed was great: not too hard, not too soft, and it had plenty of pillows.
The room was clean, and I accepted a few countertop coffee stains in exchange for an. (A message to hoteliers everywhere: A simple coffee maker in the room can endear us to your hotel forever, or at least from about 8 a.m. until noon.)
The chairs and love seats were clean and plenty comfortable, but the molded-wire barstools felt like a catcher's mask. (I assume that, at one time, a cushion was attached.)
My suite was ground-level (as half of them are), so I felt a bit exposed, especially through the bathroom window. Drawing the curtains was the only alternative, but this cut out all the natural light, and the room became a bit too cavelike for my taste.
The 42-inch flat-screen TV was hooked up with extremely specific music channels (Adult Alternative, New Wave Hits From the '80s, etc.), which worked well enough for me (forgiving the absence of a CD player or iPod dock).
So, to put all this in context, and to explain the bizarre, dancelike movements my neighbors spotted from the courtyard -- I was caffeinated, unable to sit comfortably and listening to "Purple Rain".
Since our visit, the hotel underwent soft renovations, and the rooms are now fresher and more stylish.
A splash pool and an excellent Japanese restaurant
The pool was tiny, just a "splash pool," which is a term invented in Miami to describe 4-foot pools that close at 8 p.m. and do little more than magnify a AAA star rating. When I arrived, three people were in the pool, and that was all that could fit (though, to be fair, the old biker dudes with hairy shoulders were about twice the size of most people in South Beach).
The excellent Japanese restaurant, Zen Sai, is open for dinner and offers veranda seating.
There was a pretty good spread for the free Continental breakfast. Or so I heard: When I got there at about 9:30 a.m., only decaf coffee was left.
A quibble here and there, but very clean, especially for the price
Sure, I found a few stains on the lobby couches (most likely the result of the Continental breakfast -- I definitely spotted some jelly drippers), the pool had some dirt and dead-bug action, and the rooms had a few marks on the walls, but the Essex was as clean as or cleaner than some of the most expensive resorts in South Beach. The hotel underwent renovations in 2011 throughout the property, which probably resolved many of the small issues we encountered.
A clean, comfortable, laid-back alternative to the dilapidated Deco price gougers on Ocean Drive, the Essex is an easy walk to museums, shopping, restaurants and all-night brouhaha. A discount price tag, great noise insulation and personable service more than make up for the 400-foot walk to the beach.