Sunday, May 24, 2009

Literary Digs in South Beach at The Betsy

I just spent two wonderful days at the Betsy Hotel in South Beach. The Betsy sits on Ocean Drive across from Lummus Park in the Art Deco district. Recently renovated from the ground up, the Betsy is a historic property listed in the Florida’s State Registry of Historic Places. The pure white colonial facade of the Betsy shimmers among the crowd of art deco designs along Ocean Drive. Awnings and sidewalk umbrellas shade the street-side dining of celebrity chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Steak, where locals and guests dine on Angus beef and other culinary confections.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't gush about a hotel in this blog, I'd save it for my travel blog. But the Betsy is more than a hotel. It's a community in the making.

My room wasn't quite ready when I checked-in early at the Betsy. While I waited, account manager Livingston Alexander took me around the hotel and shared a bit about the philosophy of the hotel. The Betsy hopes to be more than just another place on the strip with rooms, beds and showers. Drawing from the legacy of historic hospitality, the Betsy aims to be a true public house, where locals mingle with guests for conversation, celebration, and cultural exchange.

This philosophy shows in the art that lines the interior walls. Currently on exhibit are photographs by renowned photographers Bobby Sager, Richard Bluestein, and a collection of prints from the Rockarchive. Large and luminous, the photos reflect the commitment the Betsy has with arts and literature. The Betsy welcomes non-guests to stroll through the hotel’s public areas to view the photographs.

Livingston walked me to my room on the second floor and showed me around. Most hotels of this class come with a mini-bar stocked with beverages and priced for profit. But how many hotels stock the bookshelves in the guest rooms with first-edition bestsellers? I went ga-ga when I saw this. He hinted at a writer in residence program under development.

Tingling with the thrill of a writer in residence program at this beautiful place, the next day I met with Deborah Briggs, whose title of VP Marketing and Philanthropy says it all. The EdD at the end of her signature reveals even more about her and alludes to the amazing legacy taking root in South Beach. Deborah is the daughter of the late Hyam Plutzik, a poet nominated for the Pulitzer shortly before his untimely death in 1962. She is a diva of ideas and is as passionate about education as she is about the arts and sees the Betsy as a place where ideas prosper with practice, life embraces art, and hospitality extends beyond the check-out date.

Deborah and I dined on Lincoln Avenue, at Da Leo Trattoria, the oldest Italian Restaurant in South Beach, where we talked about writing, art, music, our families, and our dogs. In between these topics, Deborah shared more about the philanthropic plans for the Betsy, which include the creation of a writer’s room at the Betsy and a writer in residence program to help writers birth literary projects. To commemorate Veteran's Day in November, the Betsy is bringing the Lennon Bus to South Beach for a school and community-wide tribute and educational outreach.

I promised to keep in touch with Deborah and herald news of the Betsy’s innovative ideas and philanthropic endeavors. The writer in residence program may not be fully operational as yet, but that didn’t keep me from writing while residing at the Betsy.


Tasha Alexander said...

Ohhhhh I want to go!!!

Lynn Sinclair said...

This sounds like a dream hotel, Carolyn. I wanna go too!

molly said...

I want to go there. Sounds fabulous. And a writer-in-residence program? How very cool...

Rebecca del Rio said...

Love South Beach...would be a perfect place for a writer--as long as she didn't spend all her time soaking up sun and the wonderful street life instead of writing. (My personal concern. :-)