Miami, Florida (CNN) — To many outsiders and visitors, Miami presents itself as a flashy town, obsessed with all things glitzy and glossy and over-the-top.
However, since opening in the Surfside neighborhood two years ago, The Surf Club has become the city's most glamorous destination by going in the opposite direction—opting for quiet elegance and a serene environment away from the hustle of South Beach for its members, residents and guests.
Both well-heeled locals and savvy world travelers are drawn to today's revamped Surf Club just as Winston Churchill, Harvey Firestone and their ilk were in the '30s and '40s, as a retreat from a chaotic world.
Old-school Miami glamour
The hotel, pictured in its Jazz Age heyday.
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The longtime social club opened in 1930 and was for years known for its cabanas, where members spent leisurely days—Churchill painted seascapes in his—and for its elaborately themed parties designed by set designers from Broadway and Hollywood.
Events famously featured a Ferris wheel on the sand, kayaking in the pool at night, and a parade of elephants strolling up the club's dramatic entranceway, Peacock Alley.
Today, it's more likely to be The Surf Club Restaurant by Thomas Keller or Le Sirenuse, the Italian restaurant and Champagne bar from the owner of the Positano luxury hotel of the same name, that draws the upper echelons of society to this stretch of the Atlantic Ocean.
Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller made chose the Four Seasons for his Sunshine State debut.
Today's iteration of The Surf Club is more expansive than the original—with residences in three glass-fronted towers designed by Richard Meier and, above the original members' clubhouse, a Four Seasons Hotel with chic, residential-style interiors by Paris-based designer Joseph Dirand.
Guest rooms are bright and airy, reflecting Dirand's clean-lined modernist style. "The palette of the room reflects what you see outside your window," says the designer, who has worked on flagship boutiques in Paris for fashion designers including Chloe, Balmain and Givenchy.
"The beige color, which is the sand, the green of the palm trees, a little bit of greenish-blue that continues the colors of the water and the sky. You almost feel like the landscape is coming inside and you are floating in the air."
Miami's brilliant natural light is used to great effect, while the furniture, such as the modular table that can be used for dining, lounging or as a desk, is functional and built for modern life.
Hotel guests, residents and members (a small, exclusive group) all have access to the property's 900 feet of pristine beachfront, and to the glamorous cabana lifestyle of Miami's golden age—now with modern perks like air-conditioning and Wi-Fi.
Like the five studio cabanas (which are reserved as hotel rooms), the 42 daytime cabanas were also designed by Dirand, and share the hotel rooms' simple aesthetic, with terrazzo floors, tropical rattan furniture, full bathrooms and expansive wooden decks.
The hotel's private beach means no jostling for space.
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Daytime cabana guests (who pay rates between $350--$1,450 depending on day and season) have access to the hotel's pools, the spa's hammam, beach service, complimentary bikes and service from poolside restaurant and bar, Winston's on the Beach.
Not surprisingly, the Surf Club's spa is a gorgeous white-and-blue oasis of calm with private relaxation pods overlooking the ocean. What's less expected is that the well-stocked Kids' Club is as chic as every other part of the property, with terrazzo floors, palm-tree wallpaper and a sprawling green couch for lunchtime picnics after arts and crafts.
Best of the best
When The Surf Club's owner, Nadim Ashi, founder and chief executive officer of Fort Partners, first encountered the property, the members club had lost some its luster. But the developer had a vision, and to execute it he called on the best of the best in every field—from Meier and Dirand to the Four Seasons as hotel operators of the highest caliber.
The attention to detail continues right down to the property's Harlemlique à la mer boutique, featuring bedding, beach and resort wear from Istanbul, and Les Ateliers Courbet, a gallery of impeccably handcrafted decorative objets and home accessories.
Crab cakes are on the menu at The Surf Club Restaurant.
Perhaps the area where Ashi's high standards are most evident is in The Surf Club's restaurants and bars. The Surf Club Restaurant by Chef Thomas Keller is the first Florida venture for the Michelin-starred chef of French Laundry and Per Se. Here, the chef pays homage to Miami's beachside glamour with an impeccable menu of classic Continental dishes made with the highest-quality ingredients.
The setting, designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio in the sleek style of Keller's favorite era, the 1950s, is just as impressive, with its wood-paneled sheen, peacock and palm murals, plush banquettes and welcome champagne cart.
For lighter fare at lunch, The Surf Club recently unveiled its newest culinary outpost, MARE. The terrace restaurant has views of the pool and ocean, and serves light, coastal Mediterranean cuisine ideal for the balmy weather.
The stylish outdoor space was also designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio and features rattan chairs reminiscent of the ones found at the original club, along with colorful tableware handmade in Italy.
Le Sireneuse Champagne Bar brings a literal bit of Italy to Miami.
Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts / Christian Horan
Inside, adjacent to the terrace, is Le Sirenuse Restaurant and Champagne Bar, both of which were crafted from the original club's ballroom, with restored fireplaces, wooden ceilings and dramatic arches. The lounge, anchored by a stunning green bar made from lava stone shaped into waves, is dotted with palms, couches and chairs in pale, natural shades, grouped into intimate pockets with flattering low lighting.
"The atmosphere is everything," says Le Sirenuse hotelier Antonio Sersale, who worked with Dirand to channel his Positano hotel's warmth into the new space. ""Glamour has to have depth. And to have depth it needs to draw people who are tastemakers. What really makes a place is the people."
For a glimpse at some of the first tastemakers who understood the allure of The Surf Club, today's guests only need to step outside of Le Sirenuse and peruse the archival photos from the 1930s and '40s that grace the walls of Peacock Alley.
"We wanted to share the history of this unique location," says Dirand. "So many incredible people experienced it. And now The Surf Club still has a strong synergy with the city—not just the travelers but locals as well. It was forgotten for a little while but now everyone has discovered it again. It feels like something that has evolved naturally over the years—it's timeless."