Employees Only & Washington Park Hotel, a South Beach odd couple

The swimming pool and front yard at Washington Park Hotel.

Washington Park Hotel (1050 Washington Ave., South Beach; 305-421-6265) quietly slipped onto the scene in March 2016 with its soft opening, gradually rolling out its inventory of four renovated Art Deco buildings and the architecturally significant “coral house,” occupying the entire city block between 10th and 11th Streets on Washington Avenue.

The 181 room lifestyle hotel celebrated its grand opening in July 2016 and last week marked the property’s finishing touch with the debut of Employees Only (1030 Washington Ave., South Beach; 786-264-3945), an outpost of New York City’s acclaimed West Village cocktail bar and bistro with a cult following amongst industry folks and the cocktail cognoscenti. 

Thematically, it’s a bit of an “only in Miami” pastiche of high and low: a jumble of Art Deco and Florida vernacular architecture, an affordable, unpretentious lifestyle hotel (nightly rates currently start at $142) paired with what might be the coolest cocktail bar ever to grace South Beach, a touch of New York City grit inside a turn-of-the-century coral cottage in the subtropics.

The Hotel

Two blocks from the beach, the hotel features ample grounds facing Washington Avenue including a pleasantly retro, kidney-shaped swimming pool with yellow and white umbrellas. There’s a yard with games like giant jenga and a few hammocks swinging lazily in the shade.

The Art Deco facades of the Washington Park Hotel.

The tidy and well-preserved Art Deco facades are unquestionably charming, each with their original monikers lit up in neon: the Kenmore, Taft, Bel Aire and Davis. There are stylish beach cruisers by Martone at guests’ disposal, retro arcade games (everything from pinball to Pac Man) and a “tuk tuk” golf cart to transport guests to nearby destinations.

There’s also a smart lobby bar, Swizzle, with drinks designed by EO (that’s what you call Employees Only if you’re cool) head barman Danilo Bozovic.

Guest rooms have a touch of style while maintaining an affordable price point.

While an effort’s been made to add a touch of style to guest rooms—leather headboards, a painted accent wall, modern bowl sinks—the finishes miss the mark of luxury and they lack a true design aesthetic. But that’s okay given the price point. The rooms are comfortable, the hospitality is warm and the concept if playful and fun.

The Speakeasy

But let’s talk about Employees Only. This place is seriously cool, Miami, and I don’t think we have anything else quite like it: a truly intimate cocktail bar with a touch Old World New York City charm serving an unfussy, yet ambitious bistro menu with admirable precision.

When I visited, local managing partner Granville Adams explained to me that the interiors are exactly like the New York City original, which opened in 2004. “The only problem with the space is, you forget you’re not in New York,” he jokes. “A friend visited and  walked outside after a night of drinking, surprised to find he was in Miami.”

True to NYC EO fashion, there’s a psychic holding court in the trippy foyer, in case it turns into a night where you need your fortune told. Once you step past the red velvet curtain with a humble “Employees Only” sign above the door, you enter an intimate, dimly lit space with a backlit recessed ceiling with sharp, ziggurat Art Deco angles.

The bar at Employees Only.

On one side of the room, a dark bar undulates and a wall glitters with liquor bottles. A short partition separates the cozy dining room with banquette seating and aluminum-edged, diner-style tables.

With a focus on classic cocktails, everything from an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan is on the menu (cocktails priced at $16). I tried the Billionaire, made with Baker’s bourbon, lemon juice, grenadine and absinthe bitters served up in a long stem coupe, perfectly chilled.

The classic New York bistro menu is given a delightful Balkan twist thanks to Croatian executive chef Julia Jaksic. Yes, there’s the expected fresh oysters, steak tartare (prepared table-side), a beet salad and bone-in ribeye. But there’s also outrageous bone marrow poppers in puff pastry with bordelaise, light-as-pillow ricotta gnocchi with shiitake mushrooms and parsnip and pan-fried skate with spaetzle and creme fraiche. Dessert is just as earnest with a ricotta cheesecake not to be skipped.

The bottom line: EO is definitely a spot to add to your South Beach rotation, perfect for a sexy date or a fun night out with friends. And if you’re checking into the hotel, you’ll enjoy some of the best rates on the beach in a central location just steps away from this dazzling little speakeasy.

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