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Destination Dispatches: Setaing Pretty in South Beach

- Mary Gostelow, arguably the most-traveled, and most-traveling, lady of the 21st century. She is owner and president of The Gostelow Report, essential monthly market intelligence briefing for the top levels of the hospitality industry. She is also contributing editor to Elite Traveler, The Private Jet Lifestyle Magazine and EnRoute.

The perfect way to feel at home in sunny South Beach is in a yellow Lamborghini or on a turquoise bicycle.

In fact, the latter is the best way as you can stop and park it where you want. I borrowed an Electra bike from The Setai. A big basket, the kind of old-fashioned one that one’s grandmother used for collecting eggs, was firmly fixed on the front, ready for retail goodies. I was given a sensible U-shaped lock and key, reminded that it’s “all flat around here so you do not need to worry about hills,” and off I set.

The neon marquee of The Webster Miami.

After 15 minutes I reached my goal, namely The Webster (1220 Collins Avenue, Miami, thewebstermiami.com). In 1939 it opened as a typical Art Deco hotel, designed by architect Henry Hohauser. Now it is one of the world’s most glorious super-fashion boutiques, owned and run by long-time Gucci specialist Frederic Dechnik, ex-Balenciaga gal Laura Heriard Dubreuil, and former Gucci Group and Jil Sander Creative Director Milan Vukmirovic. The hotel’s main floor lobby is a cocktail bar and events venue. The first floor luxury sportswear and young designers. The second floor, with natural light and a posh private-residence feel, is entirely dedicated to luxury fashion. On the third floor is a gallery for rotating shows, fashion pop-up shops, and more special events. And on the roof is a restaurant lounge with unobstructed views of the blue Atlantic.

Inside the resplendent Webster where credit cards go to get their exercise.

Fortunately, the bicycle basket holds plenty of tightly-packed new t-shirts and a pair of bright pink shoes. After cycling back north via the oceanside walk, I returned to The Setai (just for the record, next time I might take the hotel’s complimentary town-car service, so I could buy even more from The Webster).

The main 77-room part of The Setai is in another Art Deco hotel, which opened originally, some 80 years ago, as the Dempsey Vanderbilt on Collins: now there is also an adjacent 2005-vintage, 40-floor building with 160 condos, 50 of which are in the hotel’s letting pool.

One of the Jean-Michel Gathy and Jaya Ibrahim designed rooms at The Setai.

Back down at the first floor, there is a two-floor gym, a spa block, and a trio of 90-foot pools, the first 75°F, the next 85°F and the last 90°F. Since only the 75°F had no takers, I plunged in and did my laps, discreetly eying the beautiful bodies displayed on loungers around all pools.

The Setai’s slick lobby bar.

Time for dinner. We walk through the main bar, with rough black floor tiles and a wall of tiny black bricks, all taken from Old Shanghai. We go on through to The Grill, a comfortable room off which leads the red wine cellar, which will seat up to 14 diners. There is also The Restaurant with many seating areas, including three, yard-wide protrusions at right angles off a wood counter that runs around three sides of the long kitchen, which is slightly sunken which means we look slightly down at what is going on. The woman nearest us, in a dark uniform and cap, spends the entire length of our dinner patiently shaving asparagus.

The next morning, I am back at the Restaurant, where the three table arms of last night’s dinner are now all part of the buffet that is so extensive and tasty that part-time local resident Sir Michael Caine often starts the day here. Ready for my spa appointment, I head past a headless Khmer statue to my Balinese massage by a skilled Colombian therapist who finds all the knots in my shoulders. Next time, I promise myself, I shall take time for a three-hour Setai Special, which includes an aromatherapy foot polish, Setai Jade massage, an organic facial, an Asian-style foot massage, a Himalayan crystal body polish and an Oriental bathing ceremony. But my airport car—a black Range Rover, windows darkened to protect VIPs’ privacy— awaits.

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