Fred A. Bernstein

A Steakhouse with Rooms

Review of Browns Hotel, Miami Beach

Published in The New York Times, January 23, 2005


THE BASICS The original Browns, said to be Miami Beach's first hotel, was built in 1915; the two-story building, which predates Art Deco, looks like a Western trading post. The building was reconstructed and its pine exterior restored under the direction of the architect Allan Shulman. Information: 112 Ocean Drive, (305) 674-7977; the Web site,, is under construction.

Most of the building is devoted to Prime 112, a steakhouse owned by the Miami restaurateur Myles Chefetz. The second-floor hotel (with only nine rooms) feels like an afterthought. When I arrived at noon recently, weary from traveling, and asked politely if my room was ready, the manager responded, "You'll have to come back later. I'm having trouble with the computer. Until I reach our tech guy, I won't know which room to give you." The steakhouse serves up to 500 dinners a night, with crowds still waiting for tables at midnight. Why should a lone hotel guest matter?

THE LOCATION Until a couple of years ago, the part of South Beach below Fifth Street was a no man's land, despite the presence of Joe's Stone Crab and the Century, a quirky hotel for urban pioneers. Now it's as gentrified as the rest of Miami Beach. Nemo and Big Pink, both popular Chefetz-owned restaurants, are around the corner.

THE ROOMS A lesson in space-planning. Each "minisuite" is about 10 feet by 20 feet; a partition down the middle creates separate, 10-foot-by-10-foot sleeping and living areas. The partition supports back-to-back flat-screen televisions. The one facing the bed is so large, you'll feel like you're sleeping in a movie theater. Furniture is of-the-moment. (If you've seen a West Elm catalogue, you've seen the look.) Dark wood makes every piece of lint a star. Luckily, neither the crowd noise nor the smell of steak reaches the rooms. Mr. Chefetz said: "I put in eight layers of insulation."

THE BATHROOMS A third flat screen television and a complicated CD player create a high-tech feel at odds with the old-fashioned fixtures. There are gobs of Aveda products, including a wonderful, minty shampoo.

THE CROWD It's all downstairs, feasting on $44 T-bones and $11 baked potatoes. The Kobe beef hotdog is $20. "It's New Year's Eve here every night," my waitress remarked, referring to the throngs that party far into the night. My meal of filet mignon ($30), creamed spinach ($10) and creamed corn with truffle ($10) was superb.

AMENITIES There's no guide to hotel amenities, because there are no hotel amenities. (Luckily, my New York gym has a branch about a mile away.) And there's rarely anyone at the front desk. At check-out time, the only employees in the lobby were taking restaurant reservations, and none of them knew how to use the hotel computer. I gave my key to one of them; she said she would ask somebody to mail me a bill. It never came.

THE BOTTOM LINE A standard room is $350
Mr. Chefetz, asked to comment on the hotel's lapses, said: "The intention is that there will be a lot of personal service; the intention is to run it like a boutique bed and breakfast."

ROOM SERVICE For lunch or dinner, call the restaurant. But you're on your own for breakfast, almost. The manager told me to come downstairs and ask for one of the sous-chefs. "If you're nice to him, he'll make you breakfast."
plus tax. Still, it's easier to book a room at the hotel than a table at Prime 112. So if you don't want to drive home after dinner, this might be the place. After one night, longing for a pool, an ocean view, and parking, I moved to the Marriott across the street.