Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Not to be confused with the Chelsea Hotel in New York, this Chelsea is operated by the South Beach Group, a small chain that owns seven boutique hotels in Miami Beach, including the Metropole and the Whitelaw. Look no further than the user's manual in the rooms to get a sense of the vibe at these hotels. The cover features a bikini-clad model with a belly button ring; inside I learn that none other than Kevin Federline endorses the South Beach Group. (If it's good enough for K-Fed ...) All of which is to say, this is a place for the young folk.
Yet if you're put off by the idea of the prototypical South Beach crashing pad, with its sceney lounges, dingy rooms, and alcohol-fueled, trying-too-hard-to-be-cool social scene, you shouldn't necessarily cross the Chelsea off your list. Despite the South Beach Group's target audience and most hyped amenity -- free well-drinks every night from 7 to 8 p.m. -- the vibe at the Chelsea is more surfer-dude chill-out than frat-pack keg stand. To wit: the hookahs that line the patio restaurant.
At the nightly happy hour, tattooed employees, along with their friends (and one dog), mingle with the guests over quiet drinks on the patio. Not to say they're discussing Wittgenstein and playing backgammon, but the ear-bleeding dance beats and fluorescent lights ubiquitous throughout South Beach are conspicuously absent outside the Chelsea. (In the lobby, however, it can get loud.) And you need not worry about getting too sloppy before heading out to the clubs -- the happy-hour drinks are plenty watered-down. It's basically a pre-party activity.
Friendly and casual ... but a little too casual. The Chelsea is staffed exclusively by young people who look, and often act, like guests. They'll help you out -- once you get their attention.
When a fellow Oyster reporter visited the Chelsea last fall, she filed this report:
When I entered, the front desk was unattended, while two young ladies dressed in their Friday night best were in deep discussion on the couch opposite the desk. After waiting a couple of minutes, I asked the girls if anyone was around to check me in. One leapt up and said, 'Oh! Sorry! I didn't see you.' Once she did see me, she checked me in and even tried (to no avail) to upgrade me. She then quickly went back to the couch and rejoined the conversation.
I can definitely relate. Much of the staff, especially at the restaurant, kind of just hung out until I flagged them down. Sometimes it was difficult to tell who even was staff, since they dressed so casually and seemed to bring their friends to work (one waitress also brought her dog every day). There are both advantages and drawbacks to that informality. On the upside, the staff was mostly pretty friendly; I ended up having long conversations with the bartender and the owner of the restaurant (it's independently operated, despite being on-site). On the downside, of course, you could end up having a longer meal than you anticipated. If you do choose the Chelsea, you need to be the one to jumpstart the service engine.
For what it's worth, I had more success with the front-desk staff (which also handles concierge services) than my colleague. The men who checked me in and out did so with dispatch, and the guy who manned the desk at night thoroughly answered all my questions about restaurants and clubs.
In the heart of the SoBe action, two blocks from Ocean Drive and the beach.
The Chelsea will appeal to those in town to party. It's on Washington Avenue between Ninth and 10th, within blocks of some of SoBe's largest (though not most exclusive) clubs, including Mansion, Cameo, and B.E.D., which is right across the street.
The area feels a bit less intimate than if you were staying on Collins or Ocean, largely because Washington is a four-lane road divided by a median. Next door is a Bank of America, and across the street is an unattractive strip of small shops and restaurants (including a Fatburger, always a decent option for a cheap burger). Overall, not the most romantic spot in South Beach.
One of the world's sexiest beaches is two blocks away.
It's an eight-minute stroll 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 cavort and relax on a stretch of sand 100 yards wide. South Beach makes it clear why there's a diet named after it.
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.
Towels are included as part of the $10 daily resort fee. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from one of the countless Boucher Bros. stands dotting the beach.
Mobile snack stands are also scattered along the beach, selling soft drinks and chips (note, however, that alcohol is not allowed).
The rooms are small -- the king beds take up most of the space -- and dark as a Bergman film. I'm not sure what the designers were thinking. Dark walls + dark ceiling + dark floors + small windows + impotent lamps = dark room. Pretty basic math (or is that physics?).
On the other hand, if fluorescent lights and tropical Art Deco pastels don't do it for you, the Chelsea might be a nice change of pace. The Japanese-inspired decor features hardwood Pergo floors, tatami-like wallpaper, bamboo sticks, and a low-lying bed.
Speaking of the bed, my mattress was old but sturdy and the pillows were a bit lumpy, but the bedding (which includes a down comforter) was soft. Your greatest obstacle to a good night's rest probably won't be the bed; music blasts from the lobby throughout the day, which could be a rude awakening (literally), hangover or not. Even if you're in SoBe to party, I'd request a room near the back of the building. I had No. 112, and noise wasn't a problem.
The bathrooms are tiny -- 32 square feet, to be exact -- but at least they're stylish, with faux-slate tiles and vessel sinks. The Allegrini amenities One For You bath products include the usual selection. Strangely, there's no cup or glass for brushing your teeth. I rinsed with the champagne glass from the mini-bar. Classy.
The TVs, impressive 42-inch HP flat-screens, have about 80 channels, plus 40 more music stations. Other amenities include 100-percent cotton bathrobes, a well-stocked minibar, and a stereo for those who still listen to CDs and tapes. Also, while the rooms aren't supposed to pick up the lobby's free Wi-Fi signal, I was able to get a decent connection and I had a room near the back of the building.
Finally, my colleague who visited last fall reported a tobacco stench throughout the first floor, including her room, which she attributed to the hookahs. But she also mentioned that the hookah bar was in the lobby at the time, and it has moved outside since then; I didn't notice any odors indoors.
Not the usual selection. No pool or gym, but they do have a free shuttle to and from Miami International club/lounge passes, and of course that nightly happy hour with free drinks.
According to the hotel's website, the Chelsea can score you VIP passes to "all South Beach clubs" -- a bold claim, to be sure. The guy at the front desk wasn't quite able to back up the claim the night I tested him -- it was Cinco de Mayo, he explained -- but he did offer me a pass to Mansion, which is always one of SoBe's hot spots, and he answered all my questions about my various options, even going so far as to ask what type of music I wanted to hear.
In lieu of a gym, the Chelsea offers passes to Crunch Fitness, two blocks away, for $15. You can also hit up the spa at the Chesterfield, one of the Chelsea's sister properties.
Valet parking is $30/night. One guest I met, a young man from West Virginia who was in town for a conference, tried without success to find spots nearby on his own. But that's the case everywhere in Miami Beach. (Incidentally, he said he liked everything else about the Chelsea.)
Guests can also print their boarding passes, book, change or confirm their flight right from the lobby with the Uniguest Airline System.
Although some of the above amenities are labeled as free, there is a $15/day resort fee added to the bill at the end of your stay. But this is common in SoBe.
Not a good place for families. No room for pullouts or cribs, no pool, no kid-centered activities, and the atmosphere -- including nightly happy hours -- isn't child-friendly.
There are rooms available with two double beds, but unless you want your 8-year-old taking hookah lessons from a Joaquin Phoenix clone, you're better off somewhere else (preferably out of South Beach entirely).
Not an issue -- as far as you can tell, anyway. If there is filth, it's too dark inside the rooms to see it.
The on-site restaurant is cheaper than at most hotels and open all day, but the food leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily, there are countless options nearby.
I ate one breakfast and one lunch at the restaurant on the patio, which is independently owned but operated out of the hotel's kitchen. For breakfast, my waffle was soggy but reasonably priced. After OJ, coffee, tax, and tip, though, the bill came to $16 for what was probably the most unsatisfying breakfast of my whole trip. Lunch -- hamburger and fries -- ran me $10.
In short, you're better off heading to Cafe Bonjour, on Ninth between Ocean and Collins, about three blocks away. Despite its name, it's really more like a deli/bodega than a cafe with any atmosphere, but it's a cheap, decent place to grab breakfast or a sandwich. There might be a wait, though.
For a cheap but tasty dinner, check out Pepper's Burrito Grill, three blocks north on Washington. Pizza Rustica, right around the corner, is also popular, but I didn't think my slice was anything special.
South Beach's pricier take on the youth hostel. Note the hookah bar and nightly happy hour with complimentary (watered-down) drinks. But hey, you get your own bathroom. To some, the clean rooms (renovated 2008), prime locale, and fun vibe make the Chelsea a reasonable pick. To others, that small, dark room might feel overpriced.
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