Over 20 miles north of Miami, the Diplomat Beach Resort is asking South Beach to hold its tiki drink—the newly reimagined property is showing the tourism stronghold how it’s done.
After a name change and a $100 million renovation of the resort’s rooms, lobby, landscaping, pool and 10 restaurants and bars, the hotel is more destination than jumping point. There’s really no need to wander off the property. And with its Don-Draper-in-California aesthetic, it’s hard to work up the will to leave, anyway. The former black-and-gold décor was scrapped in favor of materials that channel the spirit of its breezy, beachfront location. It’s now a tropical throwback, one that subtly winks to 1960s tiki culture with its towering palms, warm woods, and the occasional bird gliding through the airy expanse of the lobby. Which isn’t entirely surprising considering that the resort was purposefully redesigned to marry the interior spaces with the ocean-tinged air beyond its floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors.
And the hotel’s renovation has attracted names with some considerable star power. Take Geoffrey Zakarian, for instance. The celebrity chef and restauranteur recently opened Point Royal inside the resort. “Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale have become terrific destinations for restaurants and hotels,” said Mr. Zakarian. “Hilton and The Diplomat Beach Resort are fantastic partners—not to mention, the location is very close to Miami.” With a focus on Coastal American cuisine, the raw bar here teems with briny delicacies—like Florida stone crab claws, poached lobster and oysters—that pay homage to the restaurant’s location on the water. Mains like cornmeal crusted Florida snapper and the grilled Ora king salmon are a light, but filling counterpoint to the playful tiki drinks populating the cocktail menu here.
Monkitail, a Japanese izakaya concept from Philadelphia-based chef Michael Schulson, pulls directly from Schulson’s experience living in Japan. The sexy, dimly-lit space delivers expertly made small dishes to diners’ plates immediately after they’re made. Thinly-sliced raw fish like the decadent and buttery toro are paired deftly with warm sticky rice. An open robatayaki kitchen that sits at the heart of the restaurant churns out tender renditions of quail, Kobe beef and venison while the elaborate duck shabu shabu and the eponymous cocktail feature tableside presentations worthy of your Instagram’s attention. “The ability to add a restaurant like Monkitail into an iconic hotel was a very exciting opportunity for me,” said Schulson. “The area seemed to really be starving for a sushi concept like this as there is nothing in the area that focuses on sushi, robatayaki and the type of experience we provide at Monkitail.”
After your meal, asked to be escorted to Nokku. You won’t find much signage that advertises its location. The restaurant’s hidden karaoke lounge is a word-of-mouth deal, with private (and thankfully, soundproof) rooms for small groups looking to give a rousing rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or a little “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Drinks are delivered directly to each room, which means your impromptu concert can go uninterrupted until the lounge shuts down at 2 a.m.
Designer Trina Turk has also lent her name to the hotel. The new cabanas surrounding the 240-foot lagoon pool were designed in an exclusive partnership with the iconic designer and feature brightly-colored fabrics and furnishings with a decidedly chic air. Playa, the Nuevo Latino poolside concept featuring food by celebrity chefs Sue Torres and Darren Carbone, are quick to deliver their bowls of guac and plates of drunken chicken tacos to your cabana with the requisite frozen daiquiri or margarita made with fresh juices.
If the stress of sipping rum cocktails by the pool is too much to bear, the resort’s spa is ready to soothe your drink-hoisting muscles. With a relaxation lounge featuring living plant walls and a room-length waterfall fixture, Zen is the order of the day. Hot stone, bamboo and plant oil aromatherapy massages give way to sweat sessions in the accompanying sauna and steam room, while an outdoor ocean terrace gives you a moment to breathe in the restorative sea air and soak in the effects of your spa treatment. And hey, you never know—you might even feel rejuvenated enough to hoist a few more cocktails by the pool again. No pressure, or anything.