A sedate South Beach? It exists at the Balfour

Anyone interested in staying on South Beach but not interested in the late-night hurly-burly that the destination is mostly known for might consider accommodations south of Fifth Street on Miami Beach.

The area is outside of the formal entertainment district that runs from Fifth Street to 16th Street, so it has fewer of the bars and restaurants that attract a crowd that’s mostly there for the party scene.

One good hotel choice in that quieter stretch of South Beach is the Balfour, a vintage 82-room property at 350 Ocean Drive. Recently reopened after $4 million in renovations, the hotel is at the southwest corner of Fourth and Ocean, so it’s only about a block and a half from the action.

“If you want to go party, you can party, but then you come back to the more peaceful side,” said general manager James Moore.

I visited on a weekend night recently, hosted by the Balfour, in a room fronting Ocean Drive. I can attest that after 11 p.m. there was very little street noise that made its way up to my fourth-floor window.

I stayed in the newer of two buildings that form the property. Moore said that the new building had been developed by previous ownership but not opened before the pandemic, so the June 15 opening of the Balfour marked the first time it had been used by guests.

The more modern building forms a U shape around a plunge pool that gives the Balfour an amenity it previously lacked. The suite I occupied had contemporary furniture and fixtures, green wainscotting halfway up the walls and ceilings that were formed partly of exposed concrete from the floor above. It was eclectic but comfortable.

I thought the bathroom was especially nice, with dual sinks and dual showers.  I particularly liked the shower controls, which were modern but intuitive, unlike so many new designs. Atop the new building there is an inviting rooftop deck lounge, with comfortable day beds and views of the city.

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The older of the two buildings was opened in 1940 as the Lord Balfour hotel, a name that is preserved in the blue neon marquee sign above the entrance. I’ve long been intrigued by this hotel on Miami Beach named for a forgotten Edwardian British prime minister.

Lord Arthur Balfour also served as Britain’s foreign secretary, a post he held in 1917 when it became Britain’s policy that a Jewish homeland should be created in Palestine. Jews moving to Miami Beach in the first half of the 20th century congregated heavily south of Fifth Street, and Balfour was a hero to many of them, including apparently the developers of the Lord Balfour, who also owned Blum’s Hotel in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

The original Balfour was designed by Anton Skislewicz, one of a handful of architects responsible for most of the art deco design in South Beach. On several of his hotels, including the Balfour, a long porch extends across the length of the facade. The porch is a comfortable, convenient spot to watch the passing scene while protected from the sun and rain.

Inside, there is a finely executed etched-brass elevator door and a spacious lobby with a lobby bar and a limestone Deco-era fireplace. The older building also has a U-shaped courtyard, paved in an attractive vermillion-and-white terrazzo design and shaded by towering travelers palms. It looks like an appealing place to have breakfast.

The room designs in the old building have been harmonized with the new building, although the bathrooms are smaller and darker.

Moore said he’s in the process of getting approval to expand the number of restaurant seats at the hotel to 120. A new restaurant concept is scheduled to debut in November, which will have seating on the terrace, in the lobby and in the interior courtyard. “It will be a restaurant in a hotel, as opposed to a hotel restaurant,” Moore said.

From the Balfour it is also an easy walk to several popular restaurants south of Fifth, including Big Pink, Sorbillo and Joe’s Stone Crab.

The hotel features 55 standard king rooms, 10 double queen rooms, 16 superior king rooms and three suites. Off-season rates currently start at $219 a night and could top out at $1,000 on New Year’s Eve, Moore said. Typically rates are in the $300-to-$400 range, he said, with prices generally higher on weekends and lower during the week.

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