Iconic Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach Brings the Lux
By Janet K. Keeler
Staying at the iconic luxury hotel Fontainebleau in Miami is an experience that evokes old Hollywood glamor, tropical cocktails and the modern boom-boom-boom nightlife of Miami Beach.
When you stay at the Fontainebleau hotel, the azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the white sand of Miami Beach are your playground. From the rooms on the ocean side of the Fontainebleau hotel’s curvilinear structure, visitors can stare past the swaying palm trees and into the blue for miles and miles. You can get an idea of its splendor from this video.
On a clear day - and there are about 270 days of them annually in Miami Beach - you’ll still see nothing but blue water and sky from the Fontainebleau hotel. The nearest bit of land eastward is North Bimini Island, roughly 50 miles away. In the late afternoons when the sun isn’t shining, you can witness a dramatic sky show as thunderstorms roll through. Wait 30 minutes and head back to the beach.
But you’re not going anywhere else, unless it’s to cruise along Collins Avenue to check out the famous Art Deco architecture or to watch the nightly Beautiful People Parade. If your room is on the non-water side of the hotel, there will be endless entertainment from the Miami Beach street below, plus the lights of the city of Miami in the distance. There are plenty of reminders at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach that you aren’t in Kansas anymore.
Claire Brantley of Tampa, Fla., is a two-time visitor to the Fontainebleau hotel who has many standout memories of her family’s stays in Miami Beach. The iconic curved architecture of the main building of the Fontainebleau hotel was somehow modern and retro at the same time, she says.
The Brantleys were there not long after a $1 billion overhaul brought new shine to the Fontainebleau hotel. The hotel closed in 2005 and reopened in 2008 with a new spa, restaurants and refurbished everything. The structure was taken to the studs, and the effort paid off with a new generation of visitors able to experience the updated glamor.
“Our room was a suite with maybe the most beautiful view of any hotel we’ve ever stayed in,” Claire Brantley says.
Fontainebleau Hotel Celebrity Legacy
Tom Brantley was thrilled to see actor Kelsey Grammar stroll through the lobby of the Fontainebleau hotel during one of their stays. His celebrity sighting is not unusual because the Fontainebleau has a long history of being the place where the rich and famous book suites, be seen and sometimes even provide the entertainment. They have to walk through the lobby at some point so park there with a fruity umbrella drink.
Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason and Judy Garland were among the A-list celebrities of yesteryear who hung out at the Fontainebleau in the 1950s. Elvis and Frank Sinatra performed there. But lest you think the Fontainebleau is living in some sort of Miami Beach glory days haze, know that Pitbull and Lady Gaga have sung to packed audiences here in recent years.
The Fontainebleau hotel was born in the past but lives for today.
The Miami Beach hotel opened in 1954 on the spot where tire magnate Harvey Firestone’s mansion sat. It was called Millionaire’s Row and it is still that, though you could add a zero. Fontainebleau is one of Miami Beach’s most iconic structures, along with the smaller Art Deco hotels it shares Collins Avenue with.
For those who’ve never experienced the Fontainebleau hotel’s splendor in person, it’s likely they’ve seen it on the big screen. Josh Herman of the Fontainebleau’s marketing department has said that entertainment is in the hotel’s DNA. You would agree if you’ve seen Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, Al Pacino in Scarface, Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in The Birdcage, or Sean Connery in Goldfinger. All had scenes filmed at the Fontainebleau.
The small screen has been enamored, too, of the sweeping lobby and views. The third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was filmed in Miami Beach with many scenes shot at the glam Fontainebleau. Tony Soprano took a break from bleak New Jersey to bring his mob tendencies to South Florida in 2002. Watch closely and you’ll see Tony (James Gandolfini) peering murderously from one of the Fontainebleau room balconies, the curved main building providing the backdrop.
It’s not just Hollywood that loves the Fontainebleau. The American Institute of Architects named the Miami Beach hotel the top building in Florida in 2012. It received 2.4 million votes in the group’s “100 Years. 100 Places” competition.
Staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel Miami Beach
Often older, iconic hotels have small rooms and can feel a bit, well, musty. Not so the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. That billion-dollar makeover saw to that. The impressive original structure and grand lobby are still there, but now there are 11 pools, a state-of-the-art spa and 1,500 rooms, of which about half are suites.
So you can hang out in your plush room for however long you’d like, staring out into the blue of the Atlantic or the lights of Miami. Or kick back on the room balcony in the morning with a cup of coffee. You’re in America’s tropics so enjoy the warm breezes that go with the panoramic view. Then head to the pool or beach just beyond the line of palm trees.
Rest up because the evening is coming and that means dining or dancing at the Fontainebleau hotel. Maybe both.
The Fontainebleau has three renowned fine dining restaurants along with smaller venues and the oceanside Le Coté (think France’s Côte d’Azur). The big three:
James Beard-recognized chef Scott Conant has an outpost of his famed Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau hotel. It serves rustic Italian cuisine but then there is duck and foie gras ravioli, which speaks to Conant’s culinary aesthetic and the hotel’s glam. The Sicilian ceviche includes market fish (hope for grouper), castelvetrano olives and sweet peppers.
If you’re used to getting Chinese food at a take-out strip mall joint, the Hakkasan menu will deliciously broaden your horizons. Charcoal gilled honey Chilean sea bass. Sweet & sour prawn with pomegranate. Sauteed asparagus with lily bulbs. You get the idea. There’s a nod to the tropics on the cocktail menu, too. Consider the Hakka with Grey Goose vodka, sake, coconut, passion fruit and lychee. Consider, too, making reservations, especially for Sunday dim sum brunch.
Restaurateur and chef Michael Mina brings his class American steakhouse to the Fontainebleau. It’s located just off the Chateau Lobby and is rooted in the hotel’s legendary past but with a menu of modern sensibilities. You could certainly see Sinatra and his Rat Pack gathered around a big table eating filet mignon and ribeye steaks smothered in Béarnaise sauce or topped with crabmeat. That was the ‘50s and those classics are still on the menu. Add to that chimichurri sauce for a tomahawk chop or Australian Wagyu beef. Old times meets new times, for sure.
The Brantleys of Tampa are split on their favorites. He liked StripSteak and Scarpetta was her No. 1 choice. Their young son? Give him the swimming pools.
After a meal (and maybe a nap?) head to one of the Fontainebleau’s clubs. LIV Nightclub is 18,000-square-feet of star-studded exclusivity. There’s DJ-driven dancing until dawn plus skyboxes and bottle service. Pulsating lights, soaring ceiling and a legendary Miami Beach scene with some of the hottest entertainers, and hopefully a celebrity sighting is what you’ll find.
The BleauLive stage at the Fontainebleau is famous for its top-self shows including performers Maroon 5, the Jonas Brothers, Flo Rida, Katy Perry, and more. Its New Year’s Eve shows are legendary.
Attractions Near the Fontainebleau Hotel
The luxury of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach may hold your attention for your entire stay. There is that much to do, including activities for children.
But if you venture from the hotel, which is just 14 miles from Miami International Airport, you’ll find plenty more to do and see. You might dare to go bare at the northern end Haulover Beach, north of the hotel. The southern part of Haulover Beach and Crandon Beach Park to the south, which you’ll need a car to get to, have beach wheelchair rentals, making them accessible experiences.
Check out the Miami Beach Boardwalk along the 21st-45th Street Beach. Get in an early morning walk and keep your eyes peeled for Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, Leonardo DiCaprio and his latest love. This is not the time to keep your head down but look for the stars with their caps pulled over their eyes and hair tucked under.
Miami Beach welcomes diverse travelers and opened the country’s first LGBTQ visitors center. There are a number of LGBTQ events throughout the year, and especially during Pride every June. The Gay & Lesbian Walking Tour stops at a number of sites important to the community.
There are number of other guided walking tours to help you get to know the area better, including several about the famed architecture.
The pedestrian Lincoln Road shopping district is worth a visit for a quick bite and maybe to buy a cute outfit for clubbing. The award-winning Yardbird Southern Table & Kitchen is Lincoln Road adjacent. Yardbird is big on bourbon but consider trying their watermelon spin on the classic mojito.
For the kids, the Jungle Island Zoo, formerly called the Parrot Jungle, isn’t far and has lots of animals found in the tropics. And weirdly, but fun, are the camel rides.
Get acquainted with the routes of the Collins Avenue Trolley to get to nearby Miami Beach sites.
As always, the Miami Beach attractions are great for people watching, especially when you head out for an after-dark walk along Collins Avenue. Even the non-famous can be entertaining. Remember, though, the Fontainebleau’s famous lobby. Celebs sweep through on their way to the beach, restaurants and clubs just like you.