Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Out front, the Pelican Cafe, a bar and restaurant, takes the place of a typical hotel entrance. When I arrived, a waiter swooped over to help carry my bags to the tiny lobby, tucked far behind the bar. The casual staff seems only vaguely aware of hotel guests passing through.
The Pelican is a true South Beach original. Owned by the trendy Italian clothing designers Diesel, it has 30 rooms and two penthouse suites that each have a unique, funky design. When "a dresser with glitter on it" is part of your room description, you know you're at a place that doesn't take itself too seriously. I stayed in Psychedelic-ate Girl, which features wavy neon paint and mod furniture. But the rooms are about all you get -- there's no pool, and for a gym, you get free passes to an Equinox fitness center four blocks away.
Dim lighting, caged lights in the hallways and elevator, and weathered hardwood floors are a stark contrast to the bright, sunny surroundings outside the hotel. With a little retinal adjustment, though, it's actually a nice, relaxing retreat from the bright sun and bustle.
The young staffers here are as casual as their Diesel outfits, treating guests like just another friend of the hotel. It’s not luxury-level service, but guests can feel at ease.
Check-in was smooth, and the staff was able to answer my questions about South Beach knowledgeably. But as I rode the elevator to my room with the guy who checked me in, he asked me frankly, "So how is New York? Because I am getting bored here." The young, Diesel-clad staff here lacks the attentive bustle you'd find at your typical Marriott, providing just about the same amount of service that you'd expect at a Diesel clothing store, if not less. They hang out around the front desk and bar, and though they do their jobs, all of the staff I saw seemed to be counting the hours until the end of their shift, ready to hit the clubs.
Service in the restaurant and bar, though still casual, is superb. I was constantly checked on and chatted with, and the bartender and servers were able to recommended great drinks and dishes.
The Pelican is on Ocean Drive in the thick of South Beach’s noisiest restaurants, bars, and across the street from the beach. But the posh, be-seen hangouts are a 10- to 15-minute walk away.
The Pelican is in the middle of the madness on Ocean Drive, across the street from Lummus Park and the beach. The street is lined with restaurants and their hostesses, and you'll hear a soundtrack of motorcycle engines revving and subwoofers slowly rolling by, caught in thick South Beach traffic.
A bustling, sexy beach is right across the street. The Pelican provides beach towels, but not chairs.
A jumbled horde of bikini babes, jacked dudes, couples on vacation, and families with kids play on a stretch of sand 100 yards wide.
Near the Penguin, South Beach makes it clear why there's a diet named after it. Half-naked beauties of all genders and gender preferences sun themselves on the broad stretch of sand.
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.
Mobile snack stands are scattered along the beach, selling soft drinks and chips. But alcohol is not allowed on the beach.
Each of the Pelican’s 30 rooms and two sprawling penthouse suites has a unique design. It feels like the shell of a charming old beach shack, filled with vintage trinkets and over-the-top, vaguely teenage-tinged themes.
The hotel's 30 rooms each have a unique theme, decorated with wacky colored paint and trinkets found in Florida's antique sales by designer Magnus Ehrland, who now works as creative director for the Swedish men's clothing company J. Lindeberg. Best Whorehouse, Born in the Stars and Stripes, and Bang a Boomerang are among the playful names, boldly spelled out on each door. The rooms are clean, but they haven't been updated since the hotel opened in 1994, so it's starting to err a little heavier on the shabby side of shabby-chic.
Though the rooms' decor is never the same, the rooms come in two basic configurations: standard room with either two twin beds or a queen, and suites with king-size beds. I stayed in the Psychedelic-ate Girl room, a standard room with a queen bed. Wavy stripes of neon yellow and green paint covered one wall, while a glittery armoire, bright turquoise chair, and wobbly table topped with Paper Mag rounded out the trippy design.
The beds, though outfitted with sheets bearing the Pelican's own logo, have mattresses that sag and are far from plush. Though the kitschy, vintage furnishings didn't bother me, a mattress upgrade would have made me feel far better about my room rate.
Each room has a 27-inch tube TV with cable and pay-per-view movies. The suites have upgraded flat-screen televisions, and when we spoke to the marketing manager, he told us they're working on updating electronics throughout the hotel in the near future. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel, and my connection was strong, even inside the room.
The bathrooms, though each one has a different color theme, are probably the most uniform part of the hotel. They're all tiled nearly floor to ceiling and have a toilet, sink, and stand-up shower all in the same room. The showers feature large, rain-type shower heads (they sell them in the lobby if you really love them). Aveda toiletries are provided, including shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, and face and body soap bars.
Smoking is allowed in all rooms, and the hotel even stocks an extra ashtray in the bathroom. But I didn't actually smell smoke in my room or the hallways.
The Pelican is pretty bare-bones when it comes to features -- no pool, no outdoor space, no gym, but the beach is right across the street.
The Pelican provides free passes to Equinox gym, an upscale fitness center about four blocks away. It has tons of great classes and top-notch facilities. It's a real Miami gym scene, so be ready for bodybuilders, mean tans, and pickup lines.
Cribs are available and the chef can certainly whip up kid-friendly cuisine, but noisy Ocean Drive isn't exactly made for children.
This isn't the most family-friendly hotel, though cribs are available upon request. The rooms can be noisy, and for the price, you can get far more family features -- like direct beach access, an excellent pool, and supervised kids activities -- at the still central Loews hotel.
Much of the furniture is antique, and rooms haven’t been updated since 1994, but housekeeping ensures they're nearly spotless. If it weren’t for the built-in ashtrays, it wouldn't be clear that smoking is allowed.
The Pelican hotel has not undergone any major renovation since opening in 1994. The furniture is slightly worn, but much of it is antique and intentionally dated. The beds and televisions are the most outdated parts of the rooms.
Smoking is permitted, but I didn't actually smell smoke in my room or in the hallways. Rooms are cleaned very well -- they clean between visits and do "deep cleaning" periodically, according to staff. Fragrance diffusers in the hallways actually do smell very good (not just like an ashtray that's been spritzed with perfume).
Bathrooms look far newer than the hotel. Despite the colorful, kitschy tiles and antique-style fixtures, they were notably spotless when I was there. Tile grout was sparkling, mirrors were shiny, sinks and showers were rust-free.
The Pelican Cafe serves a great Italian fusion menu, and the bar staff has been there for more than 10 years, serving mean cocktails and a great wine selection. Loyal locals sit at the bar, calling staff by nickname and ordering their regulars, while tourists and guests enjoy their meal and view of Ocean Drive.
The awkwardly written guest book (translated from the Italian, perhaps?) claims in its description of the restaurant, "It's all about fantasy!" The dress code? "Follow the fantasy!" they encourage. In reality, the restaurant is probably one of the most relaxed along Ocean Drive -- one of the only places that doesn't have hostesses hawking the menus and offering special deals on drinks to anyone who'll take a seat. Instead, the laid-back staff is friendly and provides good service to customers of the hotel, regulars, and tourists off the street. The menu is excellent and serves a mix of Italian dishes and fusion -- imported Italian burrata is right at home next to a wonderful tuna tartar. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner (entrees start at about $20).
But for many guests, the bar is an even bigger draw. The bartender, Raffaela, is from the same town in Italy as the hotel's owner, and has been working there for 12 years. Drinks are all half price during happy hour, and he makes an excellent, but strangely clear, chocolate martini -- his own special recipe. They don't serve the giant mojitos like the somewhat trashier bars nearby, but they do serve them extremely fresh.
Diesel jeans joined the hotel game with the Pelican boutique. The 32 unique rooms -- like the stripey Executive Zebra or the trippy Psychedelic(ate) Girl -- are fun, but very worn. There's no pool, no on-site gym, nor is there even much of a lobby. But the hotel is in party central, across from the beach.