In This Issue

Some Like it Hot

by Christopher Cameron Photographed by Courtesy of Fontainebleau Miami Beach
Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Practically everything ever said about anybody in Miami is true. That’s because every single species of escapist—thermostat-obsessed snowbirds, cocaine cowboys, bikini blondes, handsome Cubanos, shell collectors, grifters, billionaires, art snobs, yachtsman and playboys—really exists down here. They bathe in the same ocean, cruise the same boulevards, tan on the same beaches and sip Hemingway daiquiris in a sunstruck coequality enforced by a blazing, seasonless sun.

And if what’s said about the populace of Miami is true, that goes doubly for the guests of the Fontainebleau hotel, where a good number of those aforementioned free birds are still at large.

More than any of the other luxury high-rises that now line Collins Avenue, the Fontainebleau evokes a yesteryear glamour that borders on kitsch. (An aside: Locals are known to pronounce it “fountain blue.” Try not to cringe.) Yet its status as a luxury icon remains unchallenged. The Miami Beach jet set is still enthralled with what might have otherwise been an embarrassingly passé resort. Why?

Simple: money, notoriety and lots of it.

In December 1954, the year the hotel debuted, the New York Times raved that the Fontainebleau is the “ultimate extension of the traditional modern luxury hotel to superlative standards of size, décor and plushy plushiness.”

Built on the old Harvey Firestone estate, the sprawling 565-room hotel (now triple that) quickly became synonymous with Hawaiian shirts, cigarette smoke, oily lounge loafers, tiki drinks and names like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Sean Connery’s (arguably) best Bond film, Goldfinger, was filmed along the Fontainebleau’s undulating pool.

Then, in the ’70s and ’80s, the hotel went full Miami Vice. The notorious Black Tuna Gang operated a marijuana smuggling operation from a suite high in the hotel, able to move 500 tons of drugs in just 16 months. During that period, the hotel went bankrupt, sold its furniture, added pricey condos and changed owners repeatedly.

But nearly a decade ago now, something big—$1 billion big—happened at this Morris Lapidus–designed plushy mammoth of Miami Beach. And the money hasn’t stopped flowing since.

In 2008, the Fontainebleau reopened following an extravagant ten-figure renovation, celebrated with a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Earlier this year, the poolside cabanas received an update, and new executive suites were rolled out in the Versailles Tower. (The hotel is full of Frenchish motifs, and the marble fireplace in the presidential suite was pulled from the old French embassy in Washington.)

And most recently, the hotel’s nightclub LIV, known as the La Ronde Room in the 1950s, received a $10 million cash injection. Once renowned for performances by Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett and the Rat Pack, the club reopened this summer as a digital disco, with 400 LED panels, projection mapping and something called “Hollywood squares.” It’s a flashier, more Kardashian-friendly atmosphere—the kind of place Snoop Dogg or Fergie plays. Kate Hudson, Alex Rodriguez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Sean Combs and Jennifer Lopez have all been spied there.

Money flows in from a Dubai investment firm and local billionaires. Turnberry now runs operations. But all that scratch has a way of breeding scandal.

Shortly after the hotel reopened from its billion-dollar overhaul, Bernice Novack, the wife of the Fontainebleau’s late developer Ben Novack, was found dead in Fort Lauderdale. Three months later, the heir to the hotel fortune, Ben Novack Jr., was found bludgeoned to death in a penthouse suite of the Hilton Hotel in Rye Brook, New York. His eyes were gouged out.

During the investigation, it was discovered that Novack Jr. had been having an affair with a porno actress named Rebecca Bliss. His estranged wife, Narcy, knew that if her husband divorced her, she would be left with only pennies. She was soon convicted for the crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

It’s literally a hotel worth killing for. Top that, Ritz Carlton!

That may be morbid, and its associations may not always pass for good taste, but for a hotel that’s getting on in years like the Fontainebleau, money, scandal, celebrity and, most of all, folklore are essential to staying relevant in a town where last season’s hot spot was just that.

“In Miami when you refer to one of the ‘older hotels’ you’re likely to be talking about one that was built three or four seasons back,” Esquire wrote during the Fontainebleau’s fourth season. “This is a place that has more magnificent

resort hotels along a couple miles of beach front than there are on the whole continent of Europe. . . . Among the cities of the world, Miami Beach is—let’s face it—a character.” 


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