From the moment it first opened its doors on New Year's Eve 1930, The Surf Club in Miami has hosted history. It is an institution whose reputation looms large in the imagination of so many more people than can ever have visited it, let alone been members. When tire tycoon Harvey Firestone first had the idea of a new type of social club, on board his yacht the Marybelle, he could never have imagined how enduring the appeal would be of what he would soon create.
On this same 9-acre (3.6 hectare) stretch of oceanfront in Surfside, Florida, located in the northern beaches of Miami, Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club today comprises 77 guest rooms, a selection of hotel residences, Le Sirenuse Restaurant and Champagne Bar, three pools, a pristine beach, and Spa and Wellness Center.
"The Surf Club's success has always been determined by quality, passion and relaxed precision and that remains our priority today; being intuitive, exceeding our guests' every expectation and creating memories that will last a lifetime," says General Manager Reed Kandalaft.
The Mediterranean Revival building and beachside cabanas that made up The Surf Club were designed by Russell T. Pancoast. They formed elegant backdrops that would frame the beach and sea, and cradle the crowd from the outside world at the same time. It quickly became a magnet for members that crossed industry, culture and class. It was a home away from home for people who shared provenance, privilege and a preference for pleasure.
Archive photos show poolside fashion shows directed by Elizabeth Arden, Shah Mohamed Reza of Iran on the tennis court, his wife on water skis and Winston Churchill painting in his cabana. There was booze on the beach during prohibition, kayaks in the swimming pool, black tie boxing dinners and lavish themed galas, one time with elephants, another with 300 tables made of ice. It was a place of myth, legend and endless laughter. The names that rolled up were pioneers of the good life: Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Elizabeth Taylor, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Frank Sinatra, Tennessee Williams, Joan Crawford, Liberace.
They came to The Surf Club for its reputation as a place where proper impropriety was allowed. It was for people with good taste seeking good times. It combined power and pleasure, ceremony and swagger – its members felt off duty but on show, together. It provided its crowd with somewhere they felt they belonged, somewhere safe: a ballroom and beach, behind closed doors.
Firestone's mission was to embrace the possibilities of a new era and provide a new crowd that was emerging with a new type of offer that supported who they were, how they lived and how they behaved. It was a social club with sophistication in its bones, matched by a singular understanding of who its members were and what brought them together. It respected privacy but allowed freedom.
The new Surf Club is an extended embodiment of its original values at a greater scale. Nadim Ashi, the founder of Fort Partners who today owns The Surf Club, explains his mission to preserve, respect and enhance the original spirit:
"We have selected the best of what everyone can do and we have pushed them to give us their best," Ashi explains. "We haven't let go of anything less than excellence. We believe that if you create something unique it will last. We have not created The Surf Club, but we have a commitment to ensure that what we are doing has integrity, culture and quality at its heart. It needs to be alive and loved."
Some of today's greatest creative minds were commissioned to write the next chapter of The Surf Club's story. Pritzker-prize winning architect Richard Meier has designed three buildings that frame and flank the original clubhouse. They are an exercise in discrete classical modernism, simultaneously reflecting and disappearing into the changing sky, the beach and the sea.
Parisian interior architect Joseph Dirand has been tasked with designing the interiors of the public areas and bedrooms of the Hotel, together with the cabanas. Renowned for his ability to bring atmosphere, rich narrative and quiet drama to life through space, materials, furniture and details, Dirand has created a series of rooms that evoke a sense of the past with a feeling of the present and a hint of the future. Five Cabana Studios are Dirand's homage to The Surf Club's unique cabana culture, situated on the original Cabana Row.
Le Sirenuse will open its first restaurant and champagne bar away from its famed Positano home on Italy's Southern coast. Led by Chef de Cuisine Antonio Mermolia and restaurant General Manager Luciano Sportiello, Le Sirenuse Miami presents a menu that includes both classic dishes from the Positano resort's Michelin-starred restaurant made with ingredients flown direct from Italy, as well as new dishes debuting at this location. Playing on shades of faded magnolia, beachcomber green and mahogany, Joseph Dirand's design combined with the oceanfront view evokes the same spirit that has been enjoyed for generations at Le Sirenuse Positano.
At The Spa, a light-dappled sanctuary designed by Joseph Dirand with crisp hues of white and blue, wellness services blend time-honoured traditions from around the globe with cutting edge technology and internationally acclaimed skin care lines to provide a completely tailor-made experience. The steam, sauna and showers, as well as the mixed traditional hammam, offer a perfect pre- and post-spa experience, while a tea lounge and relaxation room with private alcoves overlook the ocean and gardens. Eight treatment rooms are bright and airy, with two Spa Cabana Suites offering absolute privacy.
Also within The Surf Club's historic building, artist Michele Oka Doner has created a large, site-specific installation that tells the story of The Surf Club's legacy inspired by a wealth of source material from its past.
Outside, pool experiences include quiet and family options; and a future cabana pool to accompany 40 day-use cabanas featuring fully-air conditioned indoor furnished spaces with full bathrooms. On the pristine beach, guests can take part in an array of non-motorised water sports. Younger guests are also welcomed at the fully-supervised Kids for All Seasons studio.
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