The Surf Club Still Provides the Ideal Florida Getaway
By Steve Jermanok
Heading north of Miami Beach on Collins Avenue, most first-time guests to the Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club drive right past the building, thinking it’s just another high-rise condo. There is no large sign, just an inconspicuous plaque attached to the entrance, which only adds to the exclusivity and cherished history of the resort. Even the front-desk of the lobby feels nondescript. It’s not until you turn the corner and enter the vaulted ceiling and Havana-in-its-heyday design of the Lido Bar, that you begin to take notice. Especially when the bartender tells you this is the same spot where actor Gary Cooper once brought a giraffe to a party.
It was 1930 when tire tycoon Harvey Firestone founded the members-only Surf Club, inviting the glitterati like Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to join him at his beachfront property and escape the doldrums of the Prohibition, thanks to rum runners who would boat in weekly from Cuba and Bahamas. The parties in the palm-fringed bars and restaurants are the stuff of legend (thanks to that giraffe) and soon other celebs started arriving like Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, and Frank Sinatra with Ava Gardner, who honeymooned here. The Hemingway Tower and its spiral stairwell adjacent to the 12-story hotel, now leads to an intimate omakase-style restaurant where you’ll find photographs and illustrations of former members lining the walls.
The history certainly adds to the allure, but the reasons The Surf Club is consistently rated one of the top resorts in the country are the spacious rooms offering stunning vistas, their serene stretch of beach, and its highly regarded restaurants. Walk into the oceanfront guestrooms and you’re treated to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the expanse of the Atlantic. If you can manage to wake up early and crawl out of the comfy bed, you’ll be treated to a glorious sunrise over the waters from your balcony. Outside, you have three pools to dip your toes, a private beach club, and the popular boardwalk which separates the two and leads down to South Beach.
Their four restaurants include the Mediterranean-style Lido Restaurant, where perfectly grilled fish is served in the storied ballroom of the Surf Club; Thomas Keller’s Surf Club, known for its classic dishes from the 30s and 40s like Beef Wellington and Lobster Thermidor; Kosaka Miami, a $300 per person omakase dinner where the fish is flown in daily from Japan; and the latest pop-up at the outdoor Winston’s Bar, currently featuring Lebanese food from a well-known Detroit restaurateur.
Our clients point to the staff as the reason they return year-in, year-out. Rodrigo in the pool area will not only tell you about a tasty taqueria to stop for lunch when biking down to South Beach (Taquiza), he’ll teach you how to paddleboard like a pro. Yen, the exceptional bartender at Winston’s, can whip up a perfectly spicy margarita or a frothy latte. When he goes out of his way to find biscotti inside the hotel, we understood the secret to their success. They treat every guest like Winston Churchill.
Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club
Steve Jermanok has explored close to 100 countries and written over 2000 articles on a broad range of subjects, from food to art to adventure. He has worked as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, and guest editor for The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. In May 2012, Steve and his wife launched ActiveTravels, a new type of travel agency where your travel advisors have more than likely been to that one country that entices you. Since ActiveTravels opened their doors, Steve and Lisa have booked over 1,000 trips to all corners of the globe. Steve has been blogging daily at ActiveTravels.com since 2009.