Renovated Fontainebleau ‘s grandeur, glitz, glamour live on after five decades

Posted Sept. 26, 2012


MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Once the cocaine capital of the United States, Miami has come a long way since Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, Miami Vice’s legendary detectives, put this city on the map in the 1980s.

From one-time murder capital of the U.S. to international hot spot, the Miami area has abandoned its crime-ridden past and replaced it with one that is truly five star.

With the glitz and glamour of a fast life filled with high fashion and exotic cars, the streets of Miami are far from its quiet and nefarious past. Just decades after being the “it” place during the 1950s and 1960s, Miami Beach and Metropolitan Miami slipped into a state of crime, becoming a breeding ground for cocaine dealers, gangs, and prostitution by the early 1980s. As a result of multiple restoration movements, this remarkable city has regained its former position among tourist destinations as a global attraction.

Built by hotelier Ben Novak on industrialist Harvey Firestone’s Miami Beach estate, Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort and hotel opened its doors for business in 1954 with a grand ball attended by 1,600 people, including the mayor of Fontainebleau, France. Outraging critics and architects at first, the Fontainebleau became an architectural icon with time, in part through its emulation of the 16th century Chateau Fontainebleau.

With a 17,000-spuare-foot lobby with bow-tie marble floors, a rooftop gym, Russian and Turkish baths, and 250 cabanas surrounding the 6,500-square-foot pool, the Fontainebleau became the perfect way to continue and revitalize Miami Beach’s golden era. Considered the American Riviera, Miami Beach, in the following decades experienced a cultural transformation, in which the Fontainebleau held its place as the top hotel in the area and remained the nation’s most-visited resort destination; even charging admission to those who weren’t guests to enter and admire the hotel.

“If you create a stage and it is grand, everyone who enters will play their part,” said Morris Lapidus, the project architect after the Fontainebleau’s inauguration.

Keeping true to his words, Lapidus’ creation became a resort and nightlife destination that rivaled that of Las Vegas and Palm Springs. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, guests and performers included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball, and Jackie Gleason among others. Entertaining presidents and politicians alike, the Fontainebleau became a fixture in American entertainment and politics.

However, not all taking place at the Fontainebleau was legal. During the 1970s, the Black Tuna Gang, a group responsible for smuggling 500 tons of marijuana into the U.S. during the course of six months, was utilizing one of the hotel’s suites to run its operations. Its story was later recounted in the 2011 documentary “Square Grouper,” which follows the growing marijuana-smuggling trade of the mid-to-late 1970s.

In keeping with its roots, much of Miami has been preserved though Art Deco preservation movements, restoring iconic buildings like the Fontainebleau to its former glory. Through shows like “Miami Vice” and movies like “Goldfinger” and “Scarface,” all filmed in Miami with scenes shot at the Fontainebleau, Miami Beach has witnessed a subsequent boom in its popularity during the last three decades.

Since its opening, the Fontainebleau has been a top choice for celebrities and athletes alike. Despite its tumultuous past, this iconic hotel reopened with a bang just four years ago. Fresh off a $1 billion renovation, the Fontainebleau opened to the public by hosting the infamous Victoria Secret fashion show and has yet to stray from the spotlight.

With more than 1,000 rooms, this oceanfront resort is made to suit the diverse needs of all guests, whether there to have fun with friends, on vacation with the family, or simply on a business trip.

A “must see” for any Miami tourist, the Fontainebleau is home to some of the hottest clubs and trendiest restaurants, including London’s Hakkasan. Famous for its nightlife, this versatile hotel truly comes alive at night as crowds swarm the lobby hoping to get through the ropes of LIV or Arkadia, two of the Fontainebleau’s infamous nightclubs.

“The hotel’s many food and beverage establishments, including Scarpetta, Hakkasan, Gotham Steak House, Arkadia nightclub and pool, La Cote, and the many other restaurants and bars make it the perfect vacation destination and locals’ hang out,” said Brett Weithorn, president of Florida Skynet – Joonbug Miami, a public relations company that consistently chooses the Fontainebleau for some of its most elite events.

With live performers, like Tiesto, David Guetta, Drake, and even 50 Cent, these exclusive clubs quickly became the best in town. Those who couldn’t make it past the six-foot bouncers or simply had a more relaxed night in mind could find their way to the Blue Bar located in the lobby, with views overlooking both the clubs and pools.

Whether staying at the hotel, which could be pricey during high season, with rates of up to $500 a night for a standard room, or simply going for a drink, one will surely get a taste of the Miami scene.

“The hotel lobby is a scene on its own,” said Libby Miller, a 21-year-old guest from Rochester, N.Y. “You don’t need to know any one there, it’s a great place to simply people watch.”

A popular hangout among celebrities, the Fontainebleau is no stranger to artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Lil Wayne, who even mentions LIV multiple times in his lyrics.

“I love going to LIV partly because you never really know who your going to see,” Miller said about the hotel’s famed nightclub. “It makes it really exciting.”

However, nightlife is not all this versatile hotel has to offer. With its own marina just across the street, this 30,000-square-foot resort boasts some of the best entertainment in the city, from its various pools and cabanas to its beaches. There are endless opportunities for the adventurous traveler. From Jet Ski rentals to fishing to golf, this hotel offers guests the whole “Florida package.”

The hotel’s fitness center and spa are just some of the other ways one could spend their vacation. However, this hotel is not just a playground for adults, the Fontainebleau is also well suited for families and business travelers alike. With its own FB Kids Club, children can enjoy supervised scavenger hunts and experience poolside fun while their parents unwind.

“I came down for a weekend for a convention and really loved the hotel, they had a great staff and terrific amenities,” said Adrian Hirschberg, a 35-year-old sales executive from Austin, Texas. “It was definitely a different environment to do business, I went from meeting clients to the beach in less than 30 minutes.”

Hirschberg enjoyed the experience so much he even came back with his family during their winter break.

“My kids couldn’t get enough of the beach and the jet skis,” said Hirschberg. “I would definitely recommend this hotel for a vacation of any type.”

Feel like leaving this seemingly all-inclusive hotel?

The concierge can arrange anything from boat tours of the city to snorkeling and scuba diving excursions. With a car service available for hotel guests, the search for entertainment is never a difficult one. From strolling down Miami’s iconic Ocean Drive and Espanola Way to wandering the streets of the Wynwood Art District, all less than a 15-minute drive from the hotel, site seers can take in a culturally diverse experience.

Jungle Island, Miami Sea Aquarium, and Miami Planetarium, all less than 30 minutes from the hotel, are just some of the few family activities available in the city. However, if feeling more adventurous one could drive a little further and catch an afternoon airboat ride in the Florida Everglades, while coming face to face with some of the most dangerous predators in the world.

Located just miles away from some of Miami’s best-known tourist attractions, including Lincoln Road and the busy downtown area, the Fontainebleau offers guests a convenient starting point, whether there for a weekend or a month.

Finding places to shop is never an issue, with stores like Scoop and Intermix just minutes away; and the hotel’s own IDAandHARRY and Aquamarine, just to name a few, conveniently located on the property.

For those in town for a concert or sporting event, the Fontainebleau is just a $20 to $50 cab ride away from Sunlife Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins, and the American Airlines Arena, which and has witnessed two consecutive NBA championship series, both of which were celebrated at LIV.

Unlike many other places, Miami is a travel destination year-round. During the winter, the Fontainebleau is among one of the hottest locations in town, hosting pool parties that rival those of Vegas and themed events at both their nightclubs. With talent like Deamau5 playing poolside for thousands of onlookers and Swedish House Mafia performing inside at LIV, the Fontainebleau hosts some of the world’s premier New Year’s events.

With tickets priced at $350 for general admission and table service going for thousands, partying at the Fontainebleau will surely put a dent in one’s wallet.

“The Fontainebleau Miami Beach is a one-stop shop for all entertainment related needs in South Beach,” said Weithorn. “Throughout the years, LIV has established itself as one of the elite nightclub destinations in the world. Open five nights a week, each night is branded with its own identity and musical direction, which has been one of the keys to LIV’s success.”

Come February and March, the Fontainebleau once again comes alive, as thousands fill the hotel, which has established itself as key venue in the music industry, for Miami Music Week and the Winter Music Conference.

During the fall the hotel offers a quieter environment, however remains far from empty, as it is conveniently located near the Miami Convention Center, just in time to attend Art Basel, Miami’s annual art festival.

More than just a seasonal location, something is always happening around the Fontainebleau. This summer it will host the I Heart Radio Music Conference and the various fashions shows for Miami Swimsuit Week.

Whether on business, catching a cruise, or simply trying to escape the cold, Miami has become a top tourist destination, with the Fontainebleau as one of its main attractions. Just 11 miles from the nearest airport, it offers easy access to the I-95 and Miami’s expressway system, allowing one to explore not only all the hotel has to offer, but all the city has to offer.



  • Website:
  • Address: 4441 Collins Ave., North Miami Beach, Fla. 33140
  • Phone: 305-538-2000
  • Directions (from Miami International Airport):
    • Head South toward Miad Cir
    • Take ramp to FL-112 E
    • Tale Exit 3 for FL-952 N/FL-953 S toward Le June Rd/FL-836/Coral Gables
    • Take Exit 2 on the left toward FL-112 E/I-95/ Miami Beach
    • Merge onto FL-112 E (Partial toll road)
    • Continue onto W 41st Street / Arthur Godfrey Road
    • Turn left onto Indian Creek Drive
    • Continue onto Collins Avenue and destination will be on right

Alternate Hotels

Address: 1756 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Fla. 33139
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Advisory: food, transportation, and entertainment can be expensive

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