Few sights in South Beach set off as many camera flashes as the gated mansion at the corner of Ocean Drive and 11th Street in Miami's Art Deco district. And that's exactly how restaurateur and events impresario Barton G. Weiss likes it. The address in question is the former home of Gianni Versace, who solidified the manse's spot in history by meeting his untimely death on the front steps. Thirteen years have since passed and the building is generating buzz yet again, but this time in a good way. Under Weiss, who took over the 1930s-era pad late last year, the mansion has been transformed into the Villa by Barton G., an all-suite boutique hotel with five-star amenities and British-trained butlers assigned to each room. When asked what prompted him to get into today's rather cutthroat hotel business, Weiss says matter-of-factly, "I'm a hospitality junkie."
It certainly shows. He spared no expense in an ambitious, three-month overhaul of the property. Suites come with 24-karat-gold bath fixtures, ceiling frescoes, king-size or California-king-times-two beds, Kindle e-readers and cashmere-and-mink throws that fetch $3,900 if you feel like taking one home with you. Even the turndown treats are indulgent it could be a Willy Wonka-esque platter piled with nostalgic confectionery one night or a fondue fountain the next.
Weiss is new enough to the hotel industry to be brimming with ideas, but also wise enough to know what appeals to a discerning clientele. Unlike at most hotels, for instance, spa services at the villa are reserved exclusively for resident guests, with treatments such as a 24-karat-gold facial and the Villa Indulgence a reflexology massage requiring four therapists. "Since everyone else is doing four-hand massages, then I must do eight!" exclaims Weiss.
Despite the changes, Weiss respects the bones and the soul of the villa, being careful to keep much of the fashion designer's vision intact, right down to the Versace china used in the dining room. The kitchen concocts playful dishes like a Caesar salad with smoking nitro-frozen dressing and there's a dash of magic to the wine list too, which arrives resting atop a velvet pedestal.
If Weiss has his way, the surprises will keep on coming. As he pauses to survey a pile of about 30 throw pillows expertly arranged on a hand-carved couch inside the villa's Moroccan Room, he asks, "Did I go too far?"
Suites from $1,900 per night through Oct. 31. For details, go to thevillabybartong.com.
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