A postcard scene splashed in ice cream-pastels, South Beach throughout the mid-20th century was art deco on a high. An autonomous design movement was ideal for sin city with an ocean, packed with sunbathers by day and the beautiful and sinister spoiling in nocturnal vices by night. When The Shelborne South Beach Resort opened in December 1940, an oceanfront penthouse went for $15 a night.
“Cabanas in the summer, this was the real spot, the place to be,” says Keith Menin, principal and managing director of Menin Hotels. Since opening its doors, The Shelborne was more than a hotel; it was a way of life where society went to bathe in South Beach’s culture of excess. “It’s prominent art deco and probably the last district gem to be converted,” Menin says. “There’s a lot of family history here. It’s really the first property my uncle [Russell Galbut, managing partner of Crescent Heights, one of the nation’s largest, most reputable residential condominium and rental developers] purchased in the 80s.”
A sybaritic city fueled by tourism then, has retained much of its economic vitality, sparking a decade of restoration and rapid development. “It existed,” Menin says of The Shelborne. “But up until about ten years ago, the deco district hotels were fading fast.” A roundabout 280-room hotel, it is several times the size of its neighboring luxury boutique properties. “This is the right time in my life to recreate it to what it should be today. It’s a big asset on a great piece of property. Everyone’s in trouble, but for me it’s the opposite. It’s my time to go.”
Already one of the youngest developers in Miami and top hoteliers to hit the boutique hotel scene at age 30, Menin’s ambitions dwarf those twice his age whose portfolio’s statures are half his, and the man is minus pretention. While fellow hoteliers, his friends, are minding forced sales and foreclosures, Menin is undertaking his most considerable project thus far. Executing in phases while the hotel remains open, the rippling waves of construction will leave The Shelborne awash with restoration by next season.
The hotel’s new entrance will open to Menin’s own chic lifestyle boutique and Philly-imported Zama Sushi Bar from Chef Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka of Philadelphia’s POD and Morimoto. Enlivening the scene, Zama will dish out innovative sushi, a la carte sashimi, maki rolls, and vegetable offerings, paired with contemporary Asian dishes, and a bar pouring specialty Japanese cocktails, beers and sakes spilling to overtake the hotel’s new main lobby with a funky, cool vibe come May.
Longtime friend John Meadow, who owns several hot restaurants in New York City, is Menin’s food and drink partner, bringing NYC cool to the South Beach restaurant scene. “He’s the best restaurateur that exists in my eyes. John’s the next big energy to pop. There’s no leasing; we do it all. It’s not about taking something that already exists like a Nobu or BONDST. When you have a vision, that’s easy to do. That’s not my style. I adapt to the environment; I go with it and make it MY thing. I’m like an artist with my hotels, I paint what will work there.”
Once through the ultra-modernized lobby touched by crème founder Jun Aizaki, a retro lobby bar is in the works. Dressed to kill in racy all black everything outfitted with Lucite pool tables, black-and-white photographs will accessorize the walls with family ties. His great-grandfather Al Galbut was one of the first to develop Miami Beach in the 1920s, constituting one the oldest families in the tight-knit Beach community. “The lobby bar is all black and sexy as if JFK and Marilyn Monroe were sitting at a corner table at 3 p.m. having a drink,” Menin says.