Like underage stars known for their hard partying exploits, it’s hard to believe that the Delano is only just now turning 21.
The hotel opened its doors in October 1995 and was instrumental in putting South Beach back on the map as a fashionable destination favored by celebrities and models. From Madonna and Lenny Kravitz to J. Lo and Diddy (or whatever he was going by back then), the lobby has been graced by countless boldfaced names.
A collaboration between visionary hotelier Ian Schrager and avant garde French designer Philippe Starck, the two drew inspiration from Alice in Wonderland’s trip down the rabbit hole. The Delano was one of the first to introduce the lobby as a social space and played an influential role ushering in the boutique hotel trend.
While it’s easily the most iconic hotel in South Beach, there are still plenty of secrets that you’re probably not privy to. We caught up with the Delano’s longtime director of housekeeping, Tony Costello, who’s seen it all, to get the scoop.
1. Nothing to See Here
When the Delano first opened in 1995, Collins Avenue was a little seedy. That’s where the tall hedges around the façade come into play, designed to block out the less than desirable surroundings and create a lush world within a world.
2. Down the Rabbit Hole
There’s an ornamental blue door in the center of the hedges near the hotel’s port cochere that represents the rabbit hole in Alice’s journey to Wonderland and, thus, your entry into the altered reality of the Delano.
Fun Fact: Blue Door was also the name of the Delano’s original restaurant in the space now occupied by Bianca.
3. Wonderland Proportions
Inside the lobby to the right, you’ll spy what is easily the most photographed sofa in the world. It’s the oversized Starck Couch whose proportions are definitely fit for Wonderland.
“Everyone who walks into the lobby gets their photo taken on that couch,” said Costello.
Stop and think. You know you’ve had your picture taken there too.
And apparently Matt Damon and Sarah Silverman shot a video jumping up and down on the couch, called “I’m F*$&ing Matt Damon.”
Good thing it gets reupholstered twice a year.
4. Museum Quality Furniture
The lobby boasts museum quality furniture including a wooden Calvet chair by Antoni Gaudí designed for Casa Battlló in Barcelona valued at $30,000 and a gold Leda chair with surreal high heels at its feet by Salvador Dalí valued at $20,000. In fact, those high heeled legs have been known to walk towards the lobby’s exit with the help of guests who’ve tried to take it home with them, recalls Costello.
5. Surreal Furnishings
Other notable pieces include Fornasetti’s Moor chairs with backs designed in a woman’s form, an 1800s Victorian wooden bench with bears carved into it from the Bavarian Black Forest and an Eames La Chaise chair.
6. What’s Up or Down?
The lobby is intentionally designed without any signs so guests are encouraged to explore and discover. When you make your way towards the elevators, you’ll notice subtle plaster arrows pointing up and down on the walls as a hint of where you are.
7. Murano Glass Only
Every piece of glass in the hotel is by Murano, from the light fixtures to the mirrors.
8. Crystal Piano
There’s a clear acrylic piano in the lobby that you can see through to its chords and interior. Called the Crystal Piano, it was originally part of the Florida Room until the subterranean lounge was redesigned to become FDR. Queen Latifah and Jaime Foxx have both tickled its ivories.
9. Going Deep
Further inside the lobby, a vignette called “Reflection of my Life” features an oversized mirror with a table, a leather chair, a silk chair and two small wooden chairs representing Schraeger with his wife Rita and two daughters. From this vantage point of family life, he’s reflecting on his wilder days. The man opened Studio 54, after all.
10. Starck’s Imagination
Starck has his own vignette. If you’re standing by the sushi bar Umi, the lobby’s gauzy white curtains and columns are designed to feel like being underneath a table as Starck often was as a child playing with toys. That’s why a chair shaped as a wheelbarrow is placed there as one of his playthings.
11. The Most Utilized Feature of the Hotel
The lobby’s iconic pool table is a replica of a Brilliant Novelty table from the early 1800s. During one of the Delano’s debauch Tuesday night parties thrown by Tommy Pooch circa 2009, the table collapsed under the weight of dancing revelers and was later restored. “It’s one of the most utilized features of the hotel,” said Costello.
12. Bianca’s Look
Starck’s touch stops once you reach Bianca, which was redesigned in a more subdued aesthetic in 2012.
13. Leo was Here
Leonardo DiCaprio was once forced to check out because the paparazzi blew his cover. The hotel goes to great lengths to protect the privacy of their celeb guests.
14. Still in Wonderland
Outside past Bianca, the backyard is landscaped with more nods to Alice in Wonderlan d, from the gumdrop trees to the oversized chess board and a marble Carrarra table set for a tea party.
15. That’s Water Salon to You
And that’s not a pool you’re looking at. It’s the hotel’s Water Salon designed as a Roman bath where the water only reaches chest height so guests can wander through with their cocktails and socialize with different groups.
16. Ethos Tours
See for yourself with an Ethos Tour by request only led by Costello. Call 305-674-5752. From $49 per group with a minimum of 10 people.