Pink stucco buildings, striped awnings, wrought iron balconies, and tall palm trees, their fronds creating shadows that move with the morning breeze — that’s my view as I sip a cappuccino at a French café. It’s quiet, and voices are low. But the night before on Española Way was a totally different story.
Outdoor tables lining the street under twinkling lights were filled with diners, and lively chatter went into the late hours. It was a scene from summer in Paris, Rome, or Madrid, and I took it in as I walked back from a tapas and sangria dinner at Tropezón. At the newly opened Esmé, a driving force in Española Way’s current revival, I couldn’t resist watching from my second floor window.
A hundred years ago, developers created Española Way as an artists’ colony modeled after Mediterranean villages. Through years of ups and downs, the two-block area has retained its look, even as hurricanes struck and businesses closed. Today, the renaissance of Española Way is largely the result of the development of Esmé Village in a row of buildings that included the original Clay Hotel, built in 1925.
A paseo along the buildings of the village features colorful tables and chairs, landscaping, overhead lights, and tiled floor. From the lobby of the hotel Esmé, next door is the stylish El Salón for cocktails created from specially crafted spirits. A few steps further, Bar Pintxo offers a selection of pintxos, Basque-style tasty bites to accompany cocktails. On the rooftop, a pool, plush cabanas, and bar are connected by a walkway joining two buildings. Across the street from the village, the chic Casa Matanza offers additional guest rooms and suites.
“We’re thrilled with how the property has been received,” General Manager Jessica LaRosa told Travel + Leisure. “It didn’t take long for us to start seeing regulars at Bar Pintxo and El Salón, and The Roof has truly become the hidden oasis that we had envisioned. The live music during happy hour at Bar Pintxo and jazz at El Salón have been hits too. I couldn’t be more proud of our team for making each day at Esmé a magical one for our guests.”
This part of historic Española Way has its own mystique, having been the base for Al Capone’s gambling syndicate in the late 1920s. Later, Desi Arnaz of “I Love Lucy” fame is credited with starting the rhumba craze when he and his band played at the Clay Hotel. Scenes from television’s Miami Vice and the movie “The Birdcage” were filmed on Española Way. Part of a 2017 revitalization project made it a pedestrian-only street, and progress continues with the Esmé and the village.
The glowing gemstone in the hotel’s logo and the name Esmé — short for Esmeralda, Spanish for “emerald” — came from the developer’s plan to create a “hidden gem” in the heart of South Beach. After my visit to the new hotel and village, I can confirm that they have achieved their goal.