Going Uptown at the EPIC Hotel in Downtown Miami

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It’s a tight turn off Biscayne Boulevard Way into the drop off area out front the EPIC hotel in downtown Miami, but a memorable one. Around the central fountain topped with a white chain link sculpture (by Xawery Wolski), the highest end of the automobile industry rotates—Ferrari, Bentley, Porsche, Maserati, you name it. Alongside, yachts bob in the private marina at the mouth of the Miami River. From them all step the hotel’s rich and/or glamorous clientele, be it NBA stars or hot shot business moguls with arm candy in tow.

With each arrival, at least a dozen or so porters, valets, bellhops, and other hotel staff leap into action with broad smiles ready to attend to any needs, while the part-doormen, part-security detail (complete with ear piece) grandly sweep open the front doors to welcome you inside the ultra-posh world of the Kimpton hotel.

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At least that’s how it works for most people. Pull up in a taxi or on foot dragging a beat-up carry on behind, and the response becomes far more tepid. Of course, that’s entirely understandable if a fat tip is the goal, but the hope is always that, like justice, hospitality is blind. Unfortunately, it may not always be so at the EPIC, at least during my three-day stay last March.

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Materially, the EPIC sits on the uppermost shelves of the hotel industry, starting with the massive hotel lobby, which inspires some degree of awe with its super-high ceilings, inverted wedding cake chandelier, weighty gray stone walls, and resident art work, on these days, by Metis Atash, including a “Chanel inspired” punk baby Buddha covered in Swarovski crystal. In the evening, the lobby turns into the hotel’s central meeting point before a night on the town, which often begins or ends at the two attached lounges—Lilt, which jams with high energy jazz bands till late in the night, and Zuma, where chef Rainer Becker serves his take on modern Japanese cuisine.

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The best dining experience, however, is on the west end of the EPIC’s second social hub on the 16th floor at Area 31. Named for Fishing Area 31, a UN-designated sustainable fishery zone, where much of the restaurant’s fish and seafood are drawn from,  Area 31 serves “chef driven, ocean inspired, local flavor” and succeeds on all fronts. From appetizers like razor clams, ceviche, and burrata to entrees of lobster in saffron chowder, braised chicken on creamy polenta, and rack and loin lamb, dishes virtually sing on the palate, making a meal there worthwhile regardless of whether you are a guest are not. Couple that with the glittering nighttime views from the outdoor terrace, and every element of the perfect dining experience is ticked in bold.

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Once you filled your belly, you can work it off on the other side of the floor in the Exhale Spa, composed of a fitness center stocked with treadmills, ellipticals, and weight machines; a yoga and core fusion room; retail shop; and, of course, treatment rooms for all manner of facials, peels, massages, scrubs, waxes, manicures, and the like. Otherwise, simply melt off the extra weight under the sun outside on daybeds around the huge 13,752-square-foot pool deck with three pools to dip into. The main section is as much a scene as a place to take in the sun, but a second area on the other side of the fitness center offers a bit more tranquility and shade.

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When it’s time to retreat indoors, any of the 411 rooms and suites in the floors above are ideal, and lovely enough in themselves to linger longer than needed. The junior suites (starting at $314 per night) are particularly built for relaxation, with a plush sectional sofa just inside the door and a king-sized bed topped in super soft Frette sheets beyond a partition of wardrobe, minibar, and swing out Samsung flat screen TV. Elevation to ecstasy, however, comes in the bathroom, where the separate soaking tub massages and soothes the body with jets of water and Exhale-brand bath salts. In the quite of the morning, budget a little time to sit on the attached balcony with tea (available for free in the lobby) and a bit of reflection.

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It’s then that the realization may come that the few authentic smiles you’ve received during your stay were from the cleaning staff, while the rest directly resulted from successful swipes of the credit card. Of course, you simply may not give a damn, and no doubt many of the guests at the EPIC Miami, particularly those on business, probably don’t. Indeed, if the goal is comfort, quality, and excellent value for the money, it’ll be hard to top the EPIC anywhere in Miami.  But if you really want to make yourself at home, you may have to do that elsewhere.

Rates at the EPIC start at $179. Book directly online with the hotel or try a booking site such as Priceline or Hotelopia.

Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the EPIC Hotel

All photos by Mike Dunphy

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