Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
It's chaos in the cramped, boozy lobby. At the entrance, tank-top-wearing hostesses beckon pedestrians to sit at the sidewalk tables and have a drink (or seven) or smoke from hookahs (water pipes packed with flavored tobacco). Techno music plays in the background. The front desk attendants accommodate early check-ins by instructing them to store their luggage in the narrow hallway, across from the elevator -- there is no space devoted to storing guest luggage. As a result, the already cramped quarters on the first floor contain additional -- unsecured -- suitcases.
Guests vary, but given the cheap rates, most are between 20 and 30 years old, and this place sees a lot of spring breakers in March. You might smell some marijuana smoke in the hallways. Waiting at the bar for check-in (I wasn't the only one at the bar at 2 p.m.), I encountered Danny, a muscular Brooklyn transplant who runs "crowd control" and keeps the liquor stocked. Sipping an occasional beer himself, he was there to make sure the most raucous clients don't cause too much trouble. Still, the fact that his position even exists says a lot. Although this hotel is more welcoming to street traffic than its pricier neighbor the Avalon, noise is less an issue here than at other Ocean Drive hotels. There's no club blasting techno downstairs until 3 a.m. I didn't have a problem sleeping, but bear in mind that the Starlite is on Ocean Drive, next door to the spring-break-friendly Wet Willie's, and attracts a high number of college-age partiers.
Try to charm the front desk for added perks; otherwise, don't expect much.
Often staffed by only one person at the front desk, the Starlite isn't big on service. Check-in was relatively hassle-free, but a $100 deposit is required up front.
Still, the desk clerks I met were knowledgeable and routinely helpful when it came to directions and restaurant recommendations. One desk staffer, Patty, even volunteered to do my laundry for me in the staff facilities after she finished up with her own clothes. When I returned that evening, she had folded my colors but not the socks. I offered to pay for the service, but she waved me off: "I didn't mind doing it."
Not everyone got that kind of above-and-beyond treatment, though. At the front desk, I saw a young British woman ask Patty how to make international calls. Patty reiterated the procedure but didn't go the extra mile to do anything further.
Flanked by a Sunglass Hut and a Barucci accessory store, the Starlite feels like its own little degenerate strip mall. Immediately outside, patrons of the on-site hookah bar can watch beach volleyball players and ridiculous-bodied South Beachers stroll by. Beach access is just past the volleyball courts.
As for nightlife, there are plenty of places to get wrecked. One door to the north, guests will find Wet Willie's, home of the signature, grain-alcohol based "Call a Cab" fall-out-of-your-seat frozen drink. Check out its hilarious animated website. Also close by: noted 24-hour restaurant-bar News Cafe, reputed hangout of the late fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Pedestrians on Ocean Drive can expect to be aggressively solicited by young female hostesses to order practical-joke-size margaritas at neighboring restaurants.
There's no on-site dining at the Starlite. I recommend breakfast at Pinocchio, a small Italian coffee shop around the corner on Eighth Street that sells pastries (no egg sandwiches) and offers free Wi-Fi.
The bustling, sexy (and topless) beach is right across the street.
A jumbled horde of bikini babes, jacked dudes, couples on holiday, and families with kids play on a stretch of sand 100 yards wide.
Near the Starlite, South Beach makes it clear why there's a diet named after it. Half-naked beauties sun themselves on the broad stretch of sand.
In the mornings, the occasional runner trots along the harder, inland half of the beach. The joint is packed with sunbathers by the afternoon before thinning out again at dusk.
Mobile snack stands are scattered along the beach, selling soft drinks and chips. But alcohol is not allowed on the beach.
The rooms at the Starlite aren't decked out with impressive gadgets. A mini-fridge, a microwave, a Jensen tube TV with a somewhat fuzzy signal, and a couple ashtrays are pretty much all that's on offer. There's no safe in the room and no chain on the door -- just one dead bolt. Although the comforter was a bit scratchy, I slept well on the bed, which sported a Posture Pride Diamond Luxury Ultra Firm mattress. Don't know the brand? Neither do I, but it worked well enough.
Even for a low-maintenance traveler, there were some puzzling elements. In my Ocean Front King (No. 301), the bathroom ceiling leaked and the white towels carried stains of both black and red. My bath products consisted of five bars of Sweet Bouquet soap -- no shampoo or conditioner.
One plus: The hotel has replaced the carpets in its rooms with tiles. At the time of my stay, 95 percent of the floor refurbishment had been completed. I could hear construction both inside the hotel and at the nearby Clevelander during the day, but street noise wasn't any worse here than at any other Ocean Drive hotels. For a quieter stay, look for a place on Collins Avenue.
Practically none: no Wi-Fi, no pool, no fitness center, no business center, no on-site restaurant.
Unlike any every other hotel in South Beach, the Starlite doesn't offer a single meaningful feature.
Not family-friendly at all, with nothing in the way of child-oriented services or amenities.
There's nothing for kids on-site. From the hookah smoke to the heavy-drinking clientele, this place isn't ideal -- or even all that safe -- for small kids.
The hookah bar that operates out of the front of the Starlite has a kitchen, but it closes early in the afternoon and I didn't see many people ordering food. For breakfast, check out Pinoccho, an excellent café and pastry shop just around the corner from the hotel. I had a latte and a coffee cake for only $5.45 (pretty fair prices by Miami standards). Unfortunately, they don't do eggs or other American breakfast items.
Stains on the towels, hairballs in the sink, inconsistent service: The Starlite's a rough-hewn crash pad, but the Ocean Drive location is great -- just across the street from the beach and near booze-hawking establishments like Wet Willie's. But for about the same price, you can get a much better (and quieter) room at the Essex.