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Fontainebleau, a Miami Beach icon, returns

MIAMI BEACH

It takes a lot to impress here, a place where magazine models shop and $100,000 cars creep by without a batted eye.

But there are exceptions, and in the 1950s and '60s the only one that mattered was the Fontainebleau hotel. Blending five-star luxury with chic, progressive style, it was where Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack stayed and played, where James Bond beat Goldfinger in a game of gin rummy. A sleek, curvy layer cake of a place bending into the Atlantic.

But that was decades ago — centuries, really, in the lifetime of a high-class resort — and the grand old dame had been surpassed by newer and hipper sites.

Not anymore. After finding a new owner willing to pump in $1-billion, the Fontainebleau is back.

It reopened earlier this month with a $5-million celebrity-studded party attended by P. Diddy, the ubiquitous Kardashian sisters and others, with a surprise performance by Mariah Carey.

"In this business you really have to keep up with the times," said Howard C. Karawan, chief operating officer of Fontainebleau Resorts LLC. "We decided if we were going to do this, we wanted to do it right."

Even that seems an understatement.

The Fontainebleau was gutted to the studs, its 22-acre grounds completely redrawn. Developers added three upscale signature chefs' restaurants and an enormous new beachfront spa to accommodate 1,504 guest rooms — just under half of them suites in two new towers. Each features granite counters, walk-in showers and separate jetted tubs, flat-screen TVs, even a new Apple computer. That last part is the centerpiece of the "paperless" hotel — meaning all guest correspondence will be electronic.

New owner Jeffrey Soffer's team, which bought the property for $500-million and shelled out another $500-million in upgrades, is also opening Fontainebleaus in Las Vegas (fall 2009), Dubai and a fourth location to be named.

Though they wanted a new identity, designers strove to retain architect Morris Lapidus' original vision. For example, Lapidus' affinity for circles is clear throughout the hotel's spacious hallways, where elaborate chandeliers by Ai WeiWei, a consultant for the Beijing Olympics' Bird's Nest main stadium, hang from high-ceiling insets.

The grand lobby's original white and black bow-tie floor pattern was re-created out of new materials, and its furrowed columns were preserved and refurbished.

So too was the Fontainebleau's famed "Staircase to Nowhere," which historically led to a small coat room just above the lobby. Belles and beaus would take an elevator up, check their coats and descend the stairs for a grand entrance. The coat check is gone — not a terribly sensible feature in the tropics, anyway — but the runway remains.

"It's not a planned, themed, Orlando or Vegas-type resort," Karawan said. "(Lapidus') feeling was, it's more about the people, all about social interaction. This is about you being the star."

Standard rooms range from 500 to 1,742 square feet, and suites max out at a cavernous 4,000 square feet. The complex has 11 sharply appointed restaurants and clubs, some sure to become hot new tickets for locals. Sinatra's old haunt, the Tropigala lounge, is remade into a dance club under a domed light-up ceiling, and Blade is a late-night sushi hangout with a raw, sociable vibe. The confection kitchen will even offer a ready selection of wedding cakes.

Gone is the former 7,000-square-foot children's water park, Cookie's World. The new Fontainebleau features a freeform main pool and a separate European bath, where topless sunbathing will be allowed.

The spa, a two-story undertaking with a jagged, modern exterior, is covered in endless white marble. Post-treatment, guests end up in a coed lounge with its own pool, where specialized jets control several temperature zones. Upstairs is the exercise area, whose floor-to-ceiling windows offer expansive views of the ocean and grounds.

For all their grand plans, the designers did not seem to neglect small details. Beach chairs, for example, were made in-house with special pockets to keep cell phones and magazines dry. The front desk is literally a work of contemporary art, with a bank of alternating lights that constantly shift the station's color and depth.

After the opening party, the Fontainebleau hosted the Victoria's Secret lingerie show — the footprint of careful calibration to re-create its sexy, stylish past and to become once again relevant, a new place to be for a new generation of pretty and cool.

"There are probably only a handful of hotels as synonymous as this is with their location," Karawan said. "As the Plaza is to New York, as the Ritz is to Paris, the Fontainebleau is to Miami Beach."

Once, they hope, and for all.

.IF YOU GO

Fontainebleau

4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; www.fontainebleau.com or toll-free 1-800-548-8886. Rates start at $399 in-season, $299 off-peak (summer).

Canyon Ranch
hits Miami Beach

One of the country's best-known luxury spas, Canyon Ranch, has opened a resort in Miami Beach.

It's Canyon Ranch's third resort, in addition to properties in Tucson, Ariz., and Lenox, Mass.

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach opened Nov. 12 in the former Carillon Hotel after nearly four years of restoration, renovation and new construction.

The 6-acre oceanfront location includes a private beach, 150 guest suites, 480 residential units, two restaurants and a 70,000-square-foot wellness spa along with a fitness center, beauty salon and four outdoor pools.

You can dine at the resort or make appointments at the beauty salon without being a guest at the hotel, but to use the other spa facilities, you must stay overnight. To sample the Canyon Ranch experience, you can book a one-night stay and get free access to the pools, beach, steam rooms and other open areas without booking any additional treatments or classes. Canyon Ranch is offering introductory rates at the property through Wednesday at $200 a night for a one-bedroom suite and $250 a night for a two-bedroom suite (tax additional). Rates go up for the holidays: Thursday through Dec. 23, one-bedroom suites start at $650 a night. From Dec. 24 to Jan. 1, they're $1,100 a night.

For reservations, call toll-free 1-800-742-9000 or go to www.canyonranch.com.

Associated Press

Fontainebleau, a Miami Beach icon, returns 11/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 11:00am]
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