By Fred Gonzalez
Described as a "subterranean speakeasy," the den-like Florida Room at Delano celebrates its first anniversary Friday night with a musical performance by legendary hip-hop group De La Soul. The clubby hot spot that "features old school Florida decor-meets-swanky cruise ship lounge" has been the place to spy celebs of all shapes and talents the past 365 days. But it's more than just a cozy hangout with a Lucite piano teasing you to touch its keys.
The small space (with a maximum capacity of just 200) has established a reputation for special live musical performances (working in partnership with Giant Step) and one-of-a-kind cocktails (the Carribean Cleanse rum and Mexican Watermelon tequila drinks come to mind).
We caught up with Ben Pundole, Vice President of Entertainment for the Morgans Hotel Group, to discuss the FR's first year and what to expect in its second. (Hey, will President Obama be tickling the ivories?)
How did it all start?
The Florida Room was like my baby because it was the first place in my new role to conceptualize and bring in everything that you see. I was really excited to do something with the Delano, and instead of modern and trendy we wanted something that could mirror the iconic hotel.
Why do you think The Florida Room works so well with live music?
We wanted to do something that wasn't part of a competitive set. We didn't want it to be another nightlife venue and part of the Miami Beach menu of bottle service and celebrity culture. We wanted something unique.
How did you get Lenny Kravitz and his team to design the space?
Actually a friend of mine was working wih him on some residential design things and I ran into her during a lunch. She showed me what he was doing and I thought it would be great if we could translate it for The Florida Room. I had no idea that Lenny had a design team.
What is your top memory from year one?
That's easy. The Roots for New Year's Eve. Not only is it one of my top Florida Room memories, it's one of my top memories ever. If I had nothing to do with Morgans or The Florida Room, it was brilliant.
Celebrities have come in and played on the glass piano, including Drew Berrymore, Jamie Foxx and Adam Grenier. What do you think was the best celeb moment?
Jamie Foxx went to see The Florida Room the night before his birthday. It was late and there were like 15 people in there. He got on the piano and started singing songs from Ray.
The lounge space has such a private feel, it seems like the celebrities would eventually be drawn in. Was that the intent?
Actually when we started it, everything was being so over-exclusive, and we wanted it to be a place where you could go listen to live music and get great cocktails. Ironically when you create a great product people will come, and it all goes back to the roots of creating an interesting mix of unique music and cocktails.
Gracious customer service seems to be a staple of The Florida Room. Where does that come from?
(General Manager) Joshua Wagner provides a gracious, well mannered service that he implements. (Master Mixologist) John Lermayer won the biggest cocktail competition in the world, and (Door Host) Granville Adams is the perfect fit. They mirrored the concept we wanted to create, and I couldn't be happier.
What can we expect in year two?
More of the same, and hopefully year 3 and year 4 and so on.
Jamie Foxx. Photo: Seth Browarnik/Red Eye Productions.