The other night Curbed checked in to the Biltmore Hotel's famous, and quite notorious Everglades Suite, much more well known as the Al Capone Suite. Here's how it went:
1:30 PM: I arrive at the Biltmore Hotel, ready for a night in the huge Al Capone Suite, a few very good meals, a swim in a giant pool, and maybe some ghosts. There were no ghosts, but there would be a door that opened itself later in the evening. I check in, and head upstairs to have a quick look around before afternoon tea in the lobby.
In the elevator I discover the suite is on the 13th floor. Yep, unlike many buildings that superstitiously omit the 13th floor, the Biltmore doesn't. There's a small elevator lobby with double doors, leading to the suite's foyer that enters into a small kitchen and the grand double-height living room. This is a really mind-blowing suite. A massive stone fireplace is in front of you, there is a dining table on the right, a sitting area in the middle, and a large desk to the left. A piano is also to the left. Windows on the far ends look out onto balconies which are accessed through small side-doors that also lead to the suite's other spaces. A balconied mezzanine encircles the room, with a vaulted, chandelier-mounted, frescoed ceiling above. The suite occupies two entire floors of the hotel's tower.
Many celebrities have stayed in this suite. It was either this one, or the less grand one above in which the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed when they came over from the Bahamas so the Duchess could have an impacted molar operated on. Dwight D. Eisenhower spent a few months in this room convalescing when the hotel was in use as a VA hospital. Bill Clinton stays here. President Obama stayed here.
Al Capone may or may not have even stepped onto the 13th floor. Ever. The legend is that he ran a speakeasy in the suite during prohibition, although there isn't much hard evidence existing to support that. Mobster/hit man "Fatty" Walsh was murdered here in 1929, an incident which Capone may or may not have had anything to do with. Throwing more shade on the situation, having a Capone connection is sort of Miami's version of "Washington slept here", and followed close behind in Miami lore of course by "Frank and Sammie partied here." Still, it's enough to give the place the honor of the top spot on this slideshow of Travel+Leisure's 'Worlds Most Notorious Hotel Rooms.'
2:00 PM: Afternoon tea in the lobby is lovely, and a proper, slightly fussy affair with a lady playing a harp, finger sandwiches on a three-level tray, a lady pushing around a tea cart, loose leaf tea, and clotted cream. I bring my computer intending to do some work while munching on scones and petit fours. I don't. Making a mess of a little pastry, and then a devil's egg, I remind myself to work on my manners.
3:30 PM: After tea, the Director of Marketing Danielle Finnegan takes me up to the highest suite in the hotel, on the 15th floor. Although it is very nice, and has three bedrooms while my suite "only" has two, everything is on one level, and the architecture is much more modest than the Capone suite. The large windows have killer views. Still, this is one situation where the best room is not the penthouse.
4:00 PM: I go back to my room to check it out a little more. A book on the history of the Biltmore arrives by bellhop (or whatever those guys are called these days)!
The Everglades/Al Capone suite is huge, but the biggest and most intractable aspect of the suite is that damn living room. It's two stories, with windows on either end, with an open mezzanine, heavy wood paneling and cabinetry, a stone fireplace, and hand painted ceilings. Basically, every inch of it is historic and unalterable, which is great until you realize the entire second level (reached by a narrow stairway) is consumed by one small-ish, poorly lit bedroom and that damn mezzanine and a few petite sitting areas that it connects to. The mezzanine is probably great as a viewing gallery for parties but not much else. Still, there are a lot of little nooks and crannies to discover, and even once you've had a quick look around, you still might discover you've overlooked a bathroom or a closet or secret corner somewhere. The Everglades Suite is a showplace and an adventure.
5:00 PM: Pool time. The hotel's pool is huge, at one time the biggest hotel pool in the Western Hemisphere, and also famous. I swim for about five minutes. I also go exploring for a little while. There's so much to say about the Biltmore that even mentioning that Johnny Weissmuller, who would later be a famous actor and play Tarzan, could launch into a long, fascinating history of bathing beauties and aquatic shows. I'll save your eyes.
6:00 PM: A bit more exploring. The hotel is inland, away from the ocean, which has always been a bit of an issue. The huge pool adds the watery backdrop, and the golf course that is its back yard preserves the vistas of an oceanfront hotel. Venetian gondoliers originally transported hotel guests down the Coral Gables canal to Tahiti Beach, the hotel's private beach, but they're long gone and mansions occupy the beach property now. The original golf club house is a grand, stately building. There's a tennis center, and a culinary school. In another wing GablesStage puts on plays.
7:00 PM: Back up to the room to get ready for for dinner at 8. The shower has a marble bench and two shower heads. I took a shower sitting down.
8:00 PM: I and a guest have dinner reservations for 8 at one of the hotel's restaurants, La Fontana. It occupies the hotel's courtyard, one level down from the lobby, which contains a large fountain. Very well attended by no less than two waiters, the manager, and somebody who seemed to be a busboy, the meal is elaborate and delicious. The setting, with the sky and the fountain, and the courtyard, is absolutely gorgeous. The weather is really comfortable, and if I look up I can see the tower and our room.
11:00 PM: Feeling very full... Exhaustion. Sleep. Wasn't planning on going to bed so early, but hey, it happens. Wind is whistling around the tower. Earlier I noticed a balcony door pop open, probably from pressure changes. It couldn't have been Fatty Walsh's ghost. Obviously.
Lying in a bed formerly occupied by Obama, Clinton, and "that Simpson Woman" (what the Duchess of Windsor was sneeringly called by stuffy old Brits) I get really hot and sweaty. Time to turn down the thermostat. Okay, done. The bedroom's still a little hot, but not as bad. Meanwhile, that big ol' living room is freezing. I wonder if the Duchess had this problem too? Oh, they probably didn't have air-conditioning when she was here. Sorry Duchess.
A few more itty bitty observations about the room: the bathroom's so big it could really use a second waste paper basket by the sink. The power outlets underneath the desk were all in use already. Somebody in the upstairs bedroom would have to go down that very narrow staircase in the dark to take a late night pee, unless there's another bathroom I missed. The many lights in the living room all have their own switches, making turning them all off annoying. There's a door to a dusty and possibly forgotten utility room that looks like it's supposed to be locked but isn't. One of the the tower's outside columns is missing. The empty spot is visible from one of the balconies. Little things.
The utility room might make a good upstairs bathroom. Just a thought.
Oh, and I wish I could play the piano, or the piano was the kind that played itself. Boy that would be magical in that space.
10:00 AM: Breakfast. We were supposed to go down at ten and ran a bit late, but seriously, who makes reservations for a hotel breakfast? And anyways we can see the whole courtyard from one of the suite's balconies and there are plenty of seats. Anyways, I'm trying to multitask and update Curbed while getting ready.
10:30 AM: Boy, our waiter must have woken up on the grand side of the bed this morning. Tea towel draped over arm, "Sirs" flying left and right, he's very nice and attentive but I wonder if he's secretly judging my casual attire and the fact that I ordered Coke instead of coffee.
11:30 AM: Time to pack up the overnight bag and Biltmore book, give one last longing goodbye to the grandeur that is the suite's living room, and check out. Adieu, Biltmore, adieu.
· Biltmore Hotel coverage [Curbed Miami]