World-famous Ocean Drive is always buzzing. Fancy cars show off on the short stretch of road, while beach-going pedestrians, partygoers and joggers flock to the sidewalks to see and be seen among South Beach’s Art Deco architectural gems.
Another gem sits quietly among the rest — a refined grand dame among its more casual cousins. The former home of Italian designer Gianni Versace is today a luxury boutique hotel, restaurant and event space with a remarkable history.
ABOUT THE PROPERTY
Alden Freeman, a Standard Oil heir, built Casa Casuarina in 1930. The architect, author and philanthropist was inspired by the colonial design of the Alcazar de Colón, the former home of Diego Colón, son of explorer Christopher Columbus. The 1510 original in Santo Domingo is the oldest known European dwelling in the Western Hemisphere.
Freeman didn’t get to enjoy his architectural re-creation for long. After his death in 1937, Jacques Amsterdam brought the building. Over the decades, and with the downturn of local economy well into the 1980s, The Amsterdam Palace became a flophouse for artists.
In 1992, Italian couturier Gianni Versace purchased the property with the intention of restoring its splendor — and then some. Versace also acquired the Revere Hotel next door, demolishing the Art Deco property to add a South Wing, pool and garden area.
Sadly, like Freeman, Versace himself didn’t enjoy the luxurious abode for long either. In 1997, spree killer Andrew Cunanan murdered the acclaimed designer in cold blood at the footsteps of Casa Casuarina. Cunanan shot himself later that day in a Miami Beach boathouse where he hid from law enforcement in hot pursuit.
In 2001, telecommunications magnate Peter Loftin purchased the property and turned it into a private club. Lavish furnishings from the home sold for more at a Sotheby’s auction than the price tag on the property.
In December 2009, restaurateur Barton G. Weiss became the new owner of the historic Versace Mansion.
Today, The Villa by Barton G. offers 10 suites, cozy nooks and a rooftop lounge, complete with private butler service. The 19,000 square-foot property pays homage to Versace’s style and flair, while remaining a luxurious oasis amid the hustle of Ocean Drive.
“Barton channeled his inner Versace when he took over the property,” General Manager Joe Gibialante told ONE | Sotheby’s during an interview. “Everything is Versace-inspired. Barton G. looked at Sotheby’s auction books to recreate the baroque feel, but it’s at an updated comfort level, with bigger beds, for example.”
No detail is overlooked. Versace’s signature Medusa is everywhere — even in the gold-stained drain covers on the patio floor. A bronze statue of Aphrodite greets guests beyond the gates, evidence of Versace’s love for Greek mythology.
THE DINING ROOM
Locals don’t have to stay in the hotel to enjoy a taste of this unique property; gastronomic experiences are plentiful in the opulent The Dining Room, which is open to the public. The intimate dining space is covered wall-to-wall with ornate mosaic in Spanish stone pebbles. European craftsmen took about a year to complete the decor when Versace was master of his mansion.
Executive Chef Jeff O’Neil currently heads the kitchen. Popular dishes include the Maple Glaze Barramundi, a light white fish available as an appetizer. (A tip from the Gibialante: you can also order it as a double portion for a main course.) The Bread Crusted Diver’s Scallop and Anise Glazed Veal Cheek is another favorite. Dining under a frescoed ceiling, gourmands can expect silver service on Versace-designed, Rosenthal-cast china and a select wine list. For those who can’t make up their minds, The Dining Room offers a Tasting Menu and two Pre-Set Menus.
The Dining Room also hosts seasonal brunches and food events during select holidays. Classic English Tea, served by the butler team on pink Versace-designed china, is also available by request for parties of up to twelve guests.
In addition to weddings and other events, The Villa by Barton G. is able to accommodate private dining for groups of 2 to 42 guests in The Dining Room, the romantic Moroccan Room or the G. Lounge, a private bar overlooking the Atlantic.
Visit The Villa By Barton G. or call 305-576-8003 for more information. Reservations are required for The Dining Room.
— Maria de los Angeles is a freelance wordsmith based in Miami.