The Betsy stands half a block from the northern end of Ocean Drive, in a relatively tranquil location, mercifully removed from the hordes of cruise ship passengers that now overwhelm much of the once-glamorous thoroughfare. The Betsy is unusual in that it is the area’s sole example of “Florida Georgian” architecture, having been designed in 1947 by architect L. Murray Dixon, who elsewhere worked in the prevailing art deco style. (He was responsible for numerous other well-known hotels, including The Tides and The Raleigh.) As a result, The Betsy has a traditional feel, an atmosphere augmented by potted palms, ceiling fans, colonial furniture and a long congenial lobby bar. Essentially, it is the South Beach hotel for people who don’t like South Beach hotels. True, many of the rooms are on the small side, but the 600-square-foot Royal Suites are extremely stylish and comfortable, and come with separate living areas and unexpectedly spacious baths. The courtyard pool provides a peaceful place to read and sip a margarita. And the rooftop Ocean Deck is a wonderful setting in which to enjoy a light meal and a glass of wine, while gazing at the glinting water of the Atlantic.
On my recent visit, The Betsy seemed much as before, but in fact profound changes were already underway. At the back of the existing hotel stands a 1937 art deco structure, formerly the Carlton Hotel, with an entrance on Collins Avenue. This is now being converted into an extension, scheduled to open by November 2016, which will be joined to the original hotel by a bridge. When the two buildings are combined, the capacity of The Betsy – South Beach will more than double, from 61 to 130 rooms. The Art Deco Wing will also include a 3,000-square-foot rooftop pool, an expanded fitness center and spa, a library and two new restaurants — a casual dining venue and Ventanita for crêpes and gelato. The existing hotel, to be known henceforth as The Colonial Wing, will continue much as before, though the restaurant will now be LT Steak & Seafood, an American restaurant from Chef Laurent Tourondel. I very much look forward to a stay at The Betsy – South Beach in its new greatly enlarged incarnation.
HOTEL AT A GLANCE
The Betsy — South Beach 93
The traditional atmosphere; the consistently obliging staff; the congenial bar.