Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Built in 1937, the Park Central is known as "The Blue Jewel" of Ocean Drive, at least according to the hotel website. The hotel was overhauled and reopened 50 years later, at the start of SoBe's rebirth, and has faithfully retained its Art Deco roots -- most notably in its fresco-like facade in various shades of blue pastels. The two classic cars parked out front -- an old Packard town car and a 1940s Buick Eight with Humphrey Bogart (or at least, you know, a mannequin that looks like him) at the wheel -- further evoke the era. All in all, a charming display.
It's once you get inside that you realize the Park Central is past its prime -- again. The restaurant, Quinn's, which is right off the lobby, has a semi-celebrity chef and one of the classier atmospheres on Ocean Drive, but was virtually empty two of the three nights I was there. The bar at the Casablanca (the Park Central's other, more downscale, restaurant) features neon-blue lounge lighting, the better to reel in clubbers looking for a few pre-party drinks. And they work -- sort of. The night I drank there, young women in (very) high heels and (very) mini-skirts were drawn to the lights like, well, moths to a flame. But more often than not they just peeked in, saw that the bar was mostly empty, and continued on their way. Since my stay, the Casablanca was renamed the Park Central Cafe but aside from the new management, apparently nothing else has changed.
Functional but indifferent. At the front desk, it was as though they didn't care whether I was there or not.
It was obvious, based on my pre-stay research, that the top complaint about the Park Central is its desultory service. As this traveler put it, "The attitude of the front-desk staff and the housekeepers is one of the worst I've encountered in a while. Surprisingly surly, cold, and indifferent is how I would describe the front-desk staff."
That was my experience as well. Both front-desk staffers I dealt with never cracked a smile. Hey guys, if I wanted attitude, I would have stayed in the cab back in New York. When I discovered that the phone in my room was broken, I took it as a sign of poor maintenance. In retrospect, though, maybe they just didn't want me calling and bothering them.
The bell captain, however, was extremely friendly -- he carried my bags to the curb and flagged down a cab when I checked out. The bartender at the [[/miami/hotels/park-central-hotel/photos/restaurants-bars-park-central-hotel-v121093/ |Casablanca] was a nice guy as well, though he didn't know how to make a white Russian. ("I haven't made one of those in a really long time.") Since my stay, the Casablanca was renamed the Park Central Cafe but aside from the new management, apparently nothing else has changed.
Right on Ocean Drive, in the epicenter of the second sexiest beach in the world. Beach and boardwalk are across the street; restaurants, bars, and clubs all around.
The Park Central's prime location is one of its main draws. This is South Beach at its essence: Across the street, bikini babes play beach volleyball while 'roid-aided muscleheads stroll by and admire both the babes and their own six-packs. Merchants hawk T-shirts, coconuts, and cheap jewelry near the boardwalk.
At night, Ocean Drive is the place to be to take in the classic SoBe experience. The Park Central is in the middle of the action; you need not look far to find a place to get wrecked. A few doors down is Wet Willie's, home of the signature "Call a Cab", fall-out-of-your-seat frozen drink. Check out their hilarious, animated website. Also close by: the 24-hour News Cafe, great for lower-key drinks or a 5 a.m. post-clubbing breakfast.
Note that as a pedestrian on Ocean Drive, you can expect to be aggressively hounded by attractive young hostesses trying to get you to grab a seat at neighboring restaurants such as Sea Cafe and Chef Vincent. If you do you'll pay too much for decidedly mediocre food.
South Beach (officially, Lummus Park Beach) is right out the door and across Ocean Drive. A motley mix of families, bikini babes, tattooed muscleheads, and couples on holiday enjoy the famous stretch of sand 100 yards wide.
If any (or all) of the above turns you off, it's worth noting that South Beach is more than just a sight to see, a proverbial "thing to do before you die." The beach itself is quite beautiful -- soft white sand, warm water, a nice breeze, and cleaner than you might expect it to be, given the traffic.
In the morning, joggers run along the harder, inland half of the beach, where the sand was imported. By the afternoon, the softer stretch closer to the ocean is packed with sunbathers. At dusk the scene thins out again.
Clean, comfortable, and reasonably spacious, with some nice modern amenities (a large flat-screen TV, an iHome iPod docking station). Nothing particularly elegant or charming, but overall a good value.
The Park Central has 115 standard rooms (officially called "classics") and 12 suites. I stayed in a classic; I wasn't able to see a suite, but according to this traveler, "The suites, located in the small building south of the pool, are very nice and roomy. We enjoyed our stay and loved the comfort of the bed."
I too enjoyed the comfort of my bed, though it seemed more like a full-size than the queen that was advertised. The room was spacious enough -- comparable to most of the mid-range Art Deco places in SoBe but smaller than what you would get up in Mid-Beach. If possible, ask for an ocean/Ocean Drive view; mine looked out at a neighboring building. The 40-inch Panasonic flat-screen TV showed basic cable.
The bathroom was cramped -- you had to either prop the door wide open or shut it behind you -- but everything was clean and functional. The "pleasantly scented" "Tar-Off" towelettes were a nice (and, in my experience, unique) touch, though they did make me think twice about walking the beach in the first place.
My phone didn't work, but I didn't want to talk to the guys at the front desk anyway (see Service above).
For a mostly classy place, the Park Central's pool is a disappointment. Despite some cool blue lighting and quirky poolside art, it is reminiscent, more than anything, of a roadside motel. As this traveler points out, "The pool is small and can be viewed by pedestrians in the road, so I'd say it's for a quick dip and no more."
The gym is similarly decrepit. From afar, it looks like a toolshed -- and it might as well be one. I never saw anyone use it. For the record, there are three old cardio machines, a dilapidated strength-training machine, and an assortment of free weights.
The Park Central's website mentions a rooftop sundeck, but it didn't seem to exist when I was there.
Strictly speaking, not an issue, though the place could use some refurbishing.
Two options -- one upscale, one standard -- at the hotel itself; dozens more within blocks.
The Park Central's main restaurant, Quinn's, which is right off the lobby, has a semi-celebrity chef and one of the classier atmospheres on Ocean Drive. But it was virtually empty two of the three nights I was there. The other restaurant, calledCasablanca during my stay, is identical to every other streetside hotel restaurant on Ocean Drive -- which is to say, completely skippable. In May 2010, new management took over the restaurant and renamed it Park Central Cafe.
For breakfast, head to the nearby News Cafe instead -- it has excellent food and even better people-watching. I highly recommend the French toast with berries.
Also nearby is the notable eatery A Fish Called Avalon, which, though not as f-f-funny as the similarly named film, has garnered accolades from Zagat and Citysearch. In 2009, on its 10th anniversary, the mayor of Miami declared January 16 "A Fish Called Avalon Day."
Last renovated more than 20 years ago, the Park Central unfortunately gives off the sense that its best days are behind it -- for the second time in its life. The pool, grounds, and decor all need updating, and the front-desk staff seems unhappy to be there. On the upside, the rooms are clean and reasonably priced -- and hey, it's right across the street from one of the most famous beaches in the world.