It’s the quiet I notice first. I’m used to arriving at any one of the hotels in Miami Beach and being greeted with the distinct thump of bass — either from the deep-house music wafting through the lobby speakers, or the distant thrum of a pool party a few hundred feet away. But at The Setai, the lobby is tranquil. Peaceful, even. Walking into the sleek, Burmese teak-lined space feels like stepping into another world — one that’s hundreds of miles away from the loud music and flashy cars of South Beach (though make no mistake, the flashy cars are here, too — just in a separate entrance tucked away for VIP guests and residents of the hotel’s luxurious Ocean Suites).
Nestled between a row of designer hotel chains on Collins Avenue, The Setai is the epitome of quiet luxury; the Loro Piana of hotels, in an area that favors the glitz of Versace. Owned by the family that founded Jordache jeans, the Miami hotel of choice for celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Madonna offers a luxe fusion of the area’s signature Art Deco aesthetic, with a pan-Asian twist. (Case in point: The lobby was built upon bricks transported from Shanghai’s old city, which also happens to be an Art Deco capital of the world.) Small touches — like the gigantic display of 500 ruby-red roses, refreshed weekly by a local florist — give the lobby a lush, grandiose air. Darker, moodier, and more stately than its nearby counterparts, The Setai offers a rare respite for anyone looking for a more low-key — though certainly not less grand — experience during their South Beach stay.
My first impression upon arriving in my Studio Suite hotel room: luxe. The wood-lined accents and sliding doors lend an air of serenity to a large, sun-drenched room. I judge a hotel by the grandeur of its bathtub, and The Setai’s was deep, roomy, and lined with marble (in other words: perfect). The king-sized bed is made by Swedish brand Duxiana and the amenities are Aqua di Parma, though the hotel recently just launched an exclusive partnership with luxury streetwear brand Palm Angels and will be debuting the brand’s first-ever shampoos, conditioners, and body products.
Walking through The Setai feels like strolling through a tropical escape — and for those who can’t book a plane ticket to Bali at a moment’s notice (or simply can’t stand the 24-hour journey), it’s the next best thing. For the picky, er, discerning traveler, The Setai offers not one, not two, but three infinity pools heated at different temperatures for you to choose from, all lined up in a row for you as you make your way down to the hotel’s private slice of beach.
But first, you’ll wander through the lobby and into the hotel’s main restaurant, Jaya (Sanskrit for “victory”): a stunning courtyard lined with lush palm fronds and centered around tranquil waters. During breakfast, it feels airy and serene; for dinner, the lights dim and the music turns up for sultrier vibes. But more on that later.
The spa at The Setai is housed in a nondescript building hidden to the right of the three infinity pools; blink, and you can miss it (which I did, more than once). There are a range of luxurious body and facial treatments from Swiss brand Valmont to choose from, the most extravagant being something called The Setai “Signature Master Of Time Treatment,” which involves a full-body exfoliation and pressure-point facial massage, ringing in at $1,300.
Though the signature facial treatments feature cutting-edge Valmont techniques, the spa also pays homage to the hotel’s Asian influence by offering an abhyangha massage, a traditional Ayurvedic treatment I received that left me feeling so relaxed, I practically floated away from the suite. (One thing to note — the treatment I received took place in a suite in The Setai Tower instead of inside the actual spa, and required a small moment of awkwardness where I had to walk through the lobby in a bathrobe.)
The true standout of The Setai, however, is the food. The hotel offers two dining establishments: The Ocean Grill — a casual beachfront dining space featuring menu items like fish tacos, grilled shrimp, and the most mouthwatering fresh ceviche — and Jaya, the aforementioned restaurant headed by Executive Chef Vijayudu Veena. I usually balk at restaurants claiming to do pan-Asian cuisine — pad thai and tikka masala are delicious enough on their own — but I stand firmly corrected. At Jaya, Chef Veena has created a menu melding flavors and spices from Thailand, Vietnam, India, China and Japan, taking care to invest in things like an enormous tandoori oven, which grills chicken to charred perfection, and hiring a staff from around the world who bring their countries’ unique flavors to the cuisine.
Jaya hosts an Asian Night Bazaar on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, which means you can take in some truly jaw-dropping live entertainment as you enjoy your meal. We started our dinner with an assortment of fresh nigiri and sushi, which somehow perfectly complemented the Thali Platter — an Indian appetizer featuring fluffy naan and various spice-filled curries. For mains, don’t sleep on the Salmon Panang Curry, which had just the right balance of creaminess and tang, and the restaurant’s signature Peking Duck, which was fragrant and surprisingly authentic for a city that has no Chinatown. By the time our dessert of coconut sticky rice pudding arrived, the lights were fully dimmed and a contortionist and fire dancer were taking turns performing in the center of the courtyard. I downed the rest of my Chili Passion Martini and ended the night with an indulgent soak in my room’s ginormous tub — full, relaxed, and content, as if I’d just spent a week in Bali.