Review: An Ocean View Junior Suite at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach
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As soon as the doors swung open to reveal the inside of the Faena Hotel in Miami, I realized this was not just some artsy, trendy, pricey resort; the whole experience was like a show. The Faena treats hospitality like theater.
I hadn't even set foot in the "Cathedral" lobby yet when one of the doormen, dressed in white, approached my wife and me and, unprompted, curated what we were seeing, pointing out the enormous allegoric murals depicting nature scenes under different themes (painted by Argentine artist Juan Gatti), the mosaic tiles on the floor, the fat gold columns and at the end of the red carpet just beyond the other set of double doors, Damien Hirst’s “Woolly Mammoth” skeleton in a glass cage. It felt like entering a cathedral or museum — or an art lover's paradise. The hotel’s colors are red, turquoise and gold and they pop up everywhere. You’ll also see Art Deco influences in the furniture no matter which room you get.
Indeed, the hotel and surrounding buildings are all part of Alan Faena’s grand artistic vision (there is also a Faena hotel in Buenos Aires). In 2013, the Argentine former fashion designer and current hotelier and real-estate developer began a $1 billion construction project with his billionaire business partner Len Blavatnik, on what would become a new arts-centric district in Miami Beach — The Faena District — on six blocks of beachfront land from 32nd to 36th Streets. The area includes residences, shops, an arts center and the makeover of the 169-room Saxony Hotel, where Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe once performed (111 of those rooms are suites, by the way). Faena — pronounced fie-een-ah — enlisted A-list names to realize his vision: architect Rem Koolhaas oversaw the hotel with interiors designed by movie director/producer Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume and set designer, Catherine Martin.
The Faena is a fairly expensive, boutique, independent hotel and it doesn't have any direct association with a loyalty program. When it first opened, rooms were said to start at $745 a night, but I've seen rates for a Bay View room fall under $400, once you start looking during the off-season — an example of pricing in June is shown below.
I paid for a Bay View room using my Citi Prestige Card so I could take advantage of its nifty fourth-night free benefit. The total cost would have been $3,026.72, but with the fourth night savings, that effectively came down to $488.47 per night or a total of $2,442.35, yielding me 9,080 Citi ThankYou Points for the stay. Note that reservations made with the Citi Prestige on or after July 23, 2017, will be calculated as the average nightly rate of your total stay, not including taxes (instead of whatever the fourth night cost alone is).
Note that Amex Platinum cardholders can also book this hotel through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, which gives you access to exclusive perks like guaranteed 4:00pm checkout, noon check-in and room upgrades (both are based on availability), daily breakfast for two, complimentary Wi-Fi, guaranteed 4:00pm late checkout and a $100 credit to be used during the stay. There's also a special third night free promotion happening on stays between April 27 and July 31 when you book a minimum of three nights by July 26, 2017.
The grand entrance tour did not end in the lobby. The doorman handed me off to another hotel worker who walked me over to the check-in area, where guests sit down with a front desk staffer to go over the details of the stay. There are no lines to wait in; if the two desks are filled, guests are led to the next-door library where they can sit, read or explore the bric-a-brac (vintage globes, sculptures, a life-size stuffed peacock). Checking in feels a little like sitting down with a personal banker — in this case, however, we had an exchange about check-in times, check-out dates and credit cards. I was also thrilled to hear that we'd been upgraded to a junior suite with ocean views.
I popped my head into the library before going up to my room and didn't see anyone. In fact, I never saw more than two people in the the space throughout my stay.
My junior suite had several distinct zones. There was a stocked mini-bar when I first walked in on the right, and a two-seat dining nook with small table on the left. A few feet beyond the entryway was the living room with a red couch, patterned rug, two red chairs, coffee table and lamps on the end tables.
The booze was top shelf and included Absolut vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, Bulleit bourbon and Bacardi rum. Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine wine but it'll cost you; this particular bottle goes for $120. Note the Faena brand wine at far right — a Malbec for $70.
In the mini-fridge, below the wine and spirits, were minis, soda, water and three kinds of beer: Corona, Peroni and a local beer, Wynwood Brewing's La Rubia Blonde Ale. Each was listed at $9. What was missing: no coffee maker or espresso machine. Bummer.
Let's just say the complimentary macarons didn't last long — have a snack before entering your room or you'll devour these in minutes.
The balcony — just beyond the living room, past the turquoise curtains and sliding doors — had a blue sofa and small end table. There was no discernible noise from either the beach or the roads, just the sound of me sighing in relief upon realizing the room was a good one.
The views were charming on both sides, though the ocean view (above) is considerably better than the bay view (below).
The bedroom, with a king-size mattress, combined the hotel's turquoise-and-red color scheme with a wood shelving unit in Art Deco style. The flat-screen TV faced both the couch and the bed — a resourceful (dare I say dramatic?) use of space that doubled as mirrors when the television was turned off.
Bonus feature: This suite had four closets that lit up when the doors opened. My wife and I could also keep our stuff in separate places. How luxurious.
The light switches, however, confused me. Though they appeared to offer great control with labeled buttons for all of the various light sources, I was generally left pressing every button in desperation to find one that would turn something on or off.
I did not make use of the butler, but hotel staff explained that I could have asked him to press up to three items at no additional cost, shine my shoes or deliver the complimentary coffee that accompanies wake-up calls.
The bathroom was hidden behind a white, sliding pocket door — more good use of space — and contained Carrara marble bathrooms with double vanity sinks, white tiles, walk-in showers and the incredibly silly (in my opinion) Toto toilet, which opened as you approached it and flushed automatically. I liked the under-the-sink lighting system, which functioned like garden spotlights to keep you from bumping into things you shouldn't be bumping into.
Which goodies come with this bathroom? The list includes a cloth for cleaning your glasses, nail file, sewing kit, sanitary bag, shower cap and cotton facial pads. Shampoo and conditioner are made by the in-house spa, the Tierra Santa Healing House. All are packaged in red.
Food and Beverage
Two rockstar chefs have set up shop at Faena: Argentine grill master Francis Mallmann runs Los Fuegos, while “Top Chef” winner Paul Qui operates the modern Asian restaurant Pao. The Los Fuegos experience depends entirely on where you sit and what you order. On one night I dined outside under a canopy in the casual rear area near the pool — note that breakfast is also served here.
On another night, I feasted in the main dining room at a sumptuous leopard-print booth, under an enormous chandelier.
Mallmann likes fire so many of the dishes have char or smoke flavors — whether it’s wood-oven empanadas, Madagascan prawns a la plancha, octopus a la Parrilla or any of the steaks (bone-in ribeye or Wagyu New York strip). Dinner for two will easily cost $250 or more depending on what you drink. The restaurant also offers a weekend prix-fixe brunch at $75 per person and a la carte options on week days.
The thing everyone wants to see at Pao is Damien Hirst’s other work, the “Golden Myth” unicorn, which stands above the tables in the center of the room. One side is pure gold, while the other reveals the anatomical cross section of the animal with all its muscles and tendons exposed.
Qui’s menu is all about Asian fusion, a hodgepodge of Japanese and Filipino techniques and ingredients with combinations you’ve never considered, like gnocchi with pork blood sauce, crispy pig ears, red onion and coriander. "Unicorn," an homage to the sculpture in the room, features sea urchin, grilled sweet corn pudding, kalamansi, chile de arbol and sake aioli.
In addition to the proper restaurants, Faena offers several more casual evening environments. If you just want small bites and good drinks in a swanky room, head to "The Living Room" next to Los Fuegos, a bar decked out with zebra-print couches. If you're feeling more outdoorsy, grab a seat at the "Tree of Life" bar near Damien Hirst's wooly mammoth and check out the shells attached to those palm trees.
For cabaret acts, there's a dedicated 150-seat theater. For quick drinks, check out the Saxony Bar, a nod to the former life of the hotel, accessible from outside, albeit in a tucked-away spot you might not notice at the bottom right corner of the building, in brick.
The hotel's room service menu ran the gamut, with staples like upscale burgers, chicken sandwiches and salads (Caesar, Mediterranean, etc.); crowd-pleasing entrees like rosemary chicken, New York steak and wild Scottish salmon; the extravagant (three “caviar experiences,” which cost between $210 and $420); and, “for our little guests,” a children’s menu with $14 spaghetti, $12 grilled cheese sandwiches and $14 crispy chicken tenders. Portions are large. I was especially touched by the offer, when I was ordering, to bring the dessert 20 minutes after the entrees came up to my room — the staff feared that the semifreddo might melt before I got to it. Be still my heart! The meal below, without wine, cost $206.81 including gratuity.
The hotel is literally on the beach, about a two-minute walk from the elevators, past the gilded 24-karat wooly mammoth skeleton sculpture by Damien Hirst and across the boardwalk.
Look for the red and white beach chairs and umbrellas as you walk toward the water.
You’ll pass a manned hut with towels and magazines on your way to the water. You can order food or drinks from any of the wandering servers, but beware: The seagulls like to swoop down en masse whenever they see tasty french fries and other dishes, so keep a lid on your plate if you’re not eating it immediately. Remember to raise the flag (which is down by default) when you want the servers to swing by.
An indulgence worth trying: Once you’ve gone for a swim in the ocean, your feet will be covered in sand by the time you return to your beach chair. Look for a man or woman carrying a water pitcher and brush; they will gladly pour warm water over your feet and brush away any remaining sand. It’s a free service but tipping is expected. Over the top? Yes. Nice? You bet.
The pool, located between the hotel and the boardwalk, is a stunner (it's actually on Architectural Digest's list of the 10 most beautiful pools in Miami Beach). For those who need shade, there are plenty of umbrellas around to shield you from the sun. Servers walk around taking food and drink orders here as well.
The Faena's spa, Tierra Santa Healing House, is an enormous 22,000-square-foot space divided into a main entrance and several boutique and private rooms, including one of the largest hammams (steam rooms) on the East Coast. Treatments are divided into three categories: beauty/facials, massage/bodywork and preventive medicine/holistic therapies. The first room you'll see is the spa shop, which sells all kinds of jewelry, ceramics, cosmetics and clothing, among other products.
Walk down the corridor and you'll see various private rooms where guests can indulge in massage, beauty treatments (like facials) and preventative medicine/holistic therapies. In the hallway area, which functions as a waiting room, the decor takes a minimalist, tastefully subdued approach with a focus on white; it's relaxing just looking at those couches.
The Faena's isn't like other luxury hotels. It doesn't have generic furniture. Nothing feels corporate. There's a palpable playfulness at all times. Art and design dominate, but never to the exclusion of comfort. And the service is consistently reliable and friendly. It's not a points-hotel, but it's worth checking out even if just for the restaurants, the pool or the artwork. It's also an evolving project (the theaters, the shops, the neighborhood), so I look forward to coming back in a few months and seeing what else they can pull off.
Have you ever stayed at the Faena in Miami? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.