Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Built in 2005 by the same group that owns the Bentley Hotel, its sister property five blocks up Ocean Drive, the Bentley Beach Club was bought by Hilton in 2007 but is still operated by the original developer. That means guests experience all the advantages -- and disadvantages -- of a unique South Beach boutique hotel while accruing (or booking with) Hilton HHonors points. With only 92 guest rooms, the all-suites Bentley feels nothing like a "traditional" Hilton. Indeed, if not for the sign out front, you might not even realize the place was owned by a parent conglomerate.
Yet it is significantly larger than most of the Art Deco hotels in SoBe. The building itself, essentially a 10-story condo, has none of the charm of its historical neighbors to the north. When you walk into the stately lobby, with its marble floors and earthy art, you feel as though you could just as easily have entered a luxury retreat in Arizona as a beachside hotel in Miami.
That's not to say the Bentley has completely ignored its surroundings. Once you step into the lovely backyard pool area, for instance, it's fairly obvious you're in South Beach: palm trees grace the view, and the beach, though not visible, sits just 10 yards behind. Well-heeled couples in khakis and sundresses laze about.
I was there in early May -- not exactly peak season -- and business was slow. The dearth of guests made it difficult to pin down the hotel's personality. With its combination of audible club beats from next door, wealthy locals patronizing the nearby restaurants, and a quiet, tasteful vibe, the Bentley seems to represent an odd jumble of sensibilities.
The mixed service is cordial and competent, but nothing above and beyond. There is a concierge, though, which is rare in South Beach.
Just as with the vibe, the service at the Bentley is difficult to pin down. On the one hand, there was my waiter at breakfast, who was excellent, and one of the bellmen, who cracked jokes and offered me any and all forms of aid every time I passed. Doormen opened the door of the lobby for me, but always without a smile or greeting. Check-in and check-out were both fast and efficient.
On the lackluster end of the spectrum, the concierge and front-desk clerks were competent and knowledgeable but seemed like they really didn't want to be there.
On Ocean Drive, adjacent to the beach, right in the heart of SoFi, a quieter subsection of South Beach known more for hosting wealthy residents and exclusive restaurants than tourist-swamped chug fests.
SoFi is short for "south of Fifth," the area at the southern tip of SoBe (which is itself, of course, short for South Beach). (Someday, you have to think, Miami Beach will just be called MiBe.) A derelict neighborhood until several high-profile restaurants helped gentrified the area in the mid-'90s, SoFi is now the most desirable part of SoBe to live in, with several exclusive high-rise condo complexes lining the coast.
That means that you can expect a very different vibe than you'd experience five to ten blocks north, in South Beach's mosh pit. By day, SoFi is fairly sleepy. The beach is much quieter than it is half a mile up; traffic is minimal. The only site worth checking out is South Pointe Park, at the southern tip of the cape. Flanked by high-end restaurants and luxury condos on one side and a yacht harbor on the other, the park is a great place to picnic, rollerblade, toss a Frisbee, or just watch other people do all that. I took a lovely jog there on the path lining the harbor.
At night, the miniskirts go on, the Audis come out, and SoFi transforms into a veritable hot spot. Some of the hottest bars, clubs, and eateries are now in SoFi, but they're more spread out than they are in the heart of South Beach, so it's tougher to just wander around and pick one. It helps to do some planning ahead of time.
Among the bars and clubs to consider: Nikki Beach, a club that also conducts daytime events, and Ted's Hideaway, an unpretentious locals bar. There's also a Starbucks next door to the Marriott for all you venti-nonfat-iced-mochaccino addicts.
Still technically South Beach, but much quieter and less crowded than the stretch that begins five blocks to the north.
The beach down in SoFi is just as broad as it is further north, and the sand is just as soft. The difference is that the thing that makes SoBe one of the most famous beaches in the world -- the horde of bikini babes, jacked dudes, topless Europeans, and families with kids, all jumbled together -- is absent down by the Bentley. Then again, all you have to do join that horde is stroll north half a mile or so. Sun and glistening abs; no fuss.
Beach towels, chairs and umbrellas are all complimentary (at least insofar as a $17 daily resort fee is "complimentary").
Mobile snack stands are also scattered along the beach, selling soft drinks and chips (note, however, that alcohol is not allowed).
Suites only. They're clean and spacious (if not huge), and the bathrooms are magnificent. Some of the retro touches are grand and classy, but the worn rug and beat-up furniture are a little too retro.
You can forget about pastels and sleek furniture at the Bentley -- the feel is more old-school midtown Manhattan than South Beach. Instead of bamboo, the floors are marble. Rather than white lacquer or Ikea "modern," the furniture looks like it was found at an antique shop.
And those beds. If not quite fit for a king, they at least have the look, with enormous headboards comprised of red cushion and gold-leafed wood. And I'm sure kings have slept less comfortably: the oh-so-soft linens, down duvets, and Restonic "Sup-R-Posture Orthopedic Royale" pillow-top mattress made for one of the best nights of sleep on my trip.
The other highlight is the bathroom. In addition to the marble floors and countertops, the bathroom (unlike the bedroom) has the equipment to match the grandeur: terry-cloth robes, super-soft towels, a bidet, a spacious shower with good water pressure, and an enormous bathtub. It's almost as romantic as the beach. (But not quite.)
There are two basic types of rooms: standard rooms (also called Luxury studios), which are 350 to 400 square feet, and one- and two-bedroom suites, which are twice that size. (There are also several wheelchair-accessible rooms that comply with current ADA regulations.)
Even the Luxury studio, which is what I had, is considered a suite, since it includes a kitchenette, complete with microwave, toaster, dishwasher, coffee machine and coffee, utensils and dishes. This guest, however, disagreed: "Having a foyer in the hotel room with a long counter containing a microwave and sink does not, in my opinion, qualify to be called a suite." Maybe not, but the kitchenette in my suite (or "suite," if you prefer) would be a great way to save a few bucks on food, given the dearth of cheap dining options in SoFi -- except that there aren't any grocery stores nearby anyway.
Besides the kitchens/kitchenettes, the rooms are pretty low-frills. But the real disappointment is the TV. Given the quality of the bed and bathroom, and the fact that you can watch about 100 channels, I would expect the TVs themselves to be of commensurate caliber. Instead, you get dated Sony Trinitrons.
Other red marks: loud air-conditioning units and thin walls. I could hear everything my neighbors were saying one night.
Tip: If you're a light sleeper -- or just generally appreciate peace and quiet -- request a room on the northern side of the hotel. Otherwise expect to be bothered by noise from next-door's Nikki Beach Club.
The infinity-style pool is large, at least by South Beach standards, and features an attractive curved design. The highlight of the pool area, though, is the large selection of comfy lounge chairs and cabanas and their attendant amenities: tiki torches, free sunscreen, even trashy beach reading. The area was entirely devoid of other guests when I was there, which was great for quiet napping, if not Oyster-reporting. During busier times of year (and better economies), with the background music and drink service, I can see the backyard transforming into a happening scene.
Another great place to lounge around is the terrace on the fourth floor. The Jacuzzi is there, as is a neighboring splash pool and the oxymoronically named Smoking Oasis. With no background music and excellent views of SoFi, especially at sunset, the terrace is a nice, tranquil alternative to the pool.
Use of the pool, terrace, and gym is free for all guests. Unfortunately, if you want anything else, including Wi-Fi and beach chairs, you must pay a $17/day "value package fee." Most Miami hotels include a similar charge (most call it an activity fee), but it usually ranges from $7 to $14; the Bentley's is the most expensive I encountered. On the upside, the fee also gives you access to beach lounging equipment (including umbrellas), DVDs for your room, and bicycles (subject to availability).
If you insist on taking the family to South Beach -- not exactly the most family-friendly vacation destination -- you could do much worse than the Bentley. The vibe is mature, and there aren't any kids' menus or child-friendly activities. And in fact I didn't see any families during my stay. But SoFi is much more subdued than the crazy areas five or 10 blocks south, and at least the kids can have fun at the pool, the beach, or nearby South Pointe Park.
Some of the suites have pull-out sofa beds; cribs are also available at no extra charge. If you do take the kids, be sure to get a one- or two-bedroom suite -- the standard Luxury Studios aren't big enough to add cribs or cots.
Cleanliness, strictly speaking, isn't much of an issue. The one red mark (or, more accurately, brown mark): the floors in the rooms. Unfortunately, marble floors only stay dust-free for a day or two; after that, you better be vigilant with that mop. My room could have used another wipe-down or two, as you can see here.
Other than that, just some issues with wear and tear. The carpet in my room, for instance, was more "time-to-toss-out" ratty than "atmospherically antique." And the cushions on the poolside lounge chairs and cabanas were badly faded by the sun and flattened by the cumulative poundage of sunbathers.
Two excellent on-site restaurants cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you want to go off-campus, prepare to either spend big or walk.
The hotel has a Prime Italian Steakhouse and a hotel by James Beard Award-Winning chef Douglas Rodriguez, De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean. Prime Italian serves up lunch and dinner while De Rodriguez Cuba covers all three meals.
If you are motivated to walk a little, SoFi boasts some of the finest dining in Miami Beach. Prime 112 (Prime Italian's older, more famous sibling) is right across the street. Down at South Pointe, Smith & Wollensky and a nearby Brazilian steak house were both hopping on the Friday night I was there. And of course, there's Joe's Stone Crab, a SoBe institution. But you are herewith forewarned: All of the above will cost you a pretty penny. I dropped 33 bones on crab cakes and a beer at Joe's. And that was for takeout.
For a wedding in South Beach, the Hilton Bentley is a fine choice -- excellent food, style, and a less crowded beachfront -- but it can be costly.
Comparable to its next-door neighbor the South Beach Marriott in both price and quality, the Bentley places stately decor (marble floors, fringed drapes) within beachside condo-style suites -- a curious combo. The amenities are nice, but if you're looking for quiet luxury in South Beach, take that $300+ a night and head 15 to 20 blocks northward.