I always root for the underdog, and the same goes for hotels. These properties, and their backers, may not have the location, space, facilities, and financial resources of their glitzier competition, but they often make up for it in ambition, passion, and gumption. In Miami beach, where the strip running from South to the North beach passes one gated palace after another—Faena, Fontainebleau, the Palms, and Metropolitan by COMO—the L Hotel demonstrates many of these root-worth qualities.
Granted, the building—a mostly feature-less, cream-colored, lightly Art Deco structure—just off the 41st Street Bridge, doesn’t inspire immediate confidence, particularly in comparison with the lush surroundings. The first clue why is in the turquoise sign on the upper right corner of the façade that reads Hotel Alamo Apts., a relic from the building’s previous incarnation as a two-star flophouse, which came to an end soon after an electrical fire in 2014.
Step inside, however, and the tone drastically changes. Purchased by Avi Kramer and Haim Yehezkel, who own four boutique hotels in Miami Beach, the hotel was gutted and given a $4 million head-to-toe renovation to create what a press release says “blends contemporary grandeur and modern Miami flair.” Where the grandeur comes into play, it’s hard to say, but the flair is clear to see in the dynamic main lobby designed by Meron Levy, with one wall taken up by a glittering zebra-stripe mosaic that leads past a classy Art-Deco fireplace (now filled with white candles) to a mid-century room divider right out of Mad Men. The area between is furnished with eye-catching chairs and ottomans that resemble upholstered flowers. It’s worth looking up too, as the lighting fixtures seem inspired by celestial objects.
The same spirit also inhabits the rooms themselves, which come in five classes. Room 202, a deluxe corner king, (starting at $139 per night) is at the top of the totem pole and comes with yet more intriguing design elements, most prominently the leafy web-like wallpaper emanating from behind the Euro Top beds. Beyond the bed is a seating area with funky lime-green armchairs, side tables, and a window looking out to a “water” view, although a major road runs in front, somewhat diminishing the effect. You can also see the hotel’s yacht dock—after all this is still Miami. A second, bar style seating area runs along the wall opposite the bed and under the flat screen TV, however, the seats don’t quite reach a comfortable height to use it as a work surface, at least not without a few pillows under your tush. A weak Wi-Fi signal made it nearly impossible to work anyway, but in all fairness, that’s not what people come to Miami Beach for.
Rooms come with a small kitchenette stocked with the usual minibar snacks, but be careful with the tea and coffee, which, like the water, is not free here. Drinking from the tap is discouraged by the front desk either, but it’s not entirely clear whether that’s to encourage purchasing the bottled water or due it actually being unclean (other hotels on the beach say it’s fine, as do news articles). Whatever the case, you can stock up at the grocery store nearby if cutting costs is important.
While out, be sure to head two blocks east to find the L Hotel’s greatest indirect amenity, the four-mile boardwalk that runs along much of the length of Miami beach, and fills with joggers, power walkers, parents pushing strollers, and the odd feline early in the morning. Whichever direction you choose (although south from the L Hotel is longer), there’s plenty to see—the beach and ocean to one side and the ultra-glitzy backyards of the resort hotels. To get intimate with the sand, simply plop a towel down anywhere or pay a surcharge to access the L Hotel’s private beach area with chairs and umbrellas (a beach package, which includes two chairs, one umbrella, two towels, and two bottles of water is $35.00).
If already familiar with the boisterous South Beach, you’ll notice, and savor, the relative calm of the Mid- and North-beach areas by comparison. There’s probably more money in the latter, but it acts much more demurely. In other words, South Beach is costume jewelry, and North Beach the real thing.
The great thing about a stay at the L Hotel, is that you get to enjoy the benefits of the location without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. Sure, you won’t get truffles in your morning omelette or bellinis to wash it down, but the bagels and cream cheese and OJ are just fine. If your goal of your visit is to enjoy the beach and all its aerobic and bronzed wonders without the gilt flim-flam, I doubt you find a better value than the L Hotel.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the L Hotel
All photos by Mike Dunphy