Shelter: Vagabond Hotel

We pay a visit to this Miami institution; once a fabled hangout for Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and the rest of the Rat Pack
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Jun 14, 2015 | By Zach Piña

Forget what you think you know about Miami, as part of the Huckberry Field Guide to Miami,
we're visiting an awesome "new" hotel at the heart of the city's new cultural renaissance.


omewhere near the intersection of Scarface eighties-camp and the height of Miami Vice, the city’s very identity became the victim of its own appeal, like collateral damage from the opulence that once brought tourists in by the boat-loads. And what we discovered after digging in to some of the best Miami has to offer, is that this polarizing stigmata nearly kept us from missing out on a truly great American comeback. 

Yes, much like anything worth keeping an eye on, there was that inevitable moment when Miami flew a little too close to the sun, earning itself something of a reputation in the process. But the city is very much making a triumphant return to form, due largely to a re-emerging scene of art, music, culture, and funky vibes (the good kind — trust us on this one); all stark opposites of the Miami around the apex of Don Johnson's career. We recently had the good fortune of checking out a new Miami hotel at the heart of the new movement; one that deftly eschews the very “Miami-ness” of even its storied past. And like any good phoenix-from-ashes story, this one took flight in the burned-out remains of its former self. 

By the time we roll up to the Vagabond Hotel just a stone's throw from Miami's Upper East Side, the scene on Biscayne Boulevard is pretty radically different. Specifically, it's radically different from the days when this part of town was a haven for drugs, prostitution, and general skullduggery. The modern hotel actually probably has more in common with its identity in the fifties, when it was a favorite haunt for Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and the rest of the Rat Pack. Hailing the new wave of funky art and design from the 1930s, the Vagabond's room decor is decidedly retro, but the lighting is perfect, the vibes on point, and the hotel itself features all the best amenities that any modern Rat Pack could appreciate — including killer live music, a lush garden patio and a fantastic restaurant to boot.

Though the Vagabond is proudly modern, reminders of its colorful past and subsequent history as a vacant lot are thoughtfully integrated throughout the hotel grounds. This is most prominently displayed in the property's main signage, salvaged and restored from its heyday. Look a little closer though, and you'll find other indicators of that other life. For example, the front desk still has the "no refunds after five minutes" placards from the eighties, and the pool patio features a number of art installations comprised of various signs, salvaged when the property was being wrestled from entropy's grip. 

Speaking of which, the extensive restoration process included even the pool's mermaid, who couldn't stay buried forever. Seriously, the city tore down the diving board and filled in the pool, but when the Vagabond's new managers restored the property, they faithfully salvaged even the mermaid tiles, ensuring the new pool would be rendered just as Dean Martin and the Rat Pack once enjoyed it. 

Whether you're staying at the hotel or not, make the Vagabond a must-visit on Sundays, when live music fills the pool patio and the grounds beyond. We were particularly lucky on this Sunday — the Damian J. Project brought the place down with an expert blend of funk and jazz. 

Perhaps most impressive about the Vagabond's return to glory though, is that even with the extensive "retro-luxe" renovations, the vibe remains faithfully eclectic, chill, and more truly Miami than many of the city's cultural hotspots could ever hope to be. How's that for a comeback story? [H

Love what you see at the Vagabond? Learn more or book a room here

Zach Piña is Huckberry's Managing Editor and resident watch nerd.
In another life, he was a pastry chef on Zissou's Bellefonte. 
Follow him on Instagram here

All images Huckberry