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The New and Improved South Beach Hostel

May 25, 2009 By Doug in Miami: Travel News  | 9 Comments

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When I last wrote about the South Beach Hostel (235 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139, 305-534-6669) in the summer of 2007, then-proprietor Greg Alvarez was at the helm, and it, along with its neighbor, the Jazz on South Beach, were the most hedonistic of the six places I reviewed.  Featuring the only full-service bar among the local hostels, the South Beach Hostel attracted a young, energetic crowd that liked the nightlife.  Further driving home its identity as party-central, it offered group escorts—and free entry—to some of the city’s poshest nightclubs. 

While the Euro-frathouse feel of the Jazz continues unabated, the atmosphere at the South Beach Hostel changed rather abruptly last July, when new ownership came in with paintbrushes in hand and a very different theme in mind.  What exactly do they envision for this bargain bedsit?  I decided to see for myself how things have changed there on a recent 5-day trip to South Beach, and booked a private room there for the length of my stay. 

RESERVATIONS & CHECK-IN

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The reservation process, which I handled by email, was very pleasant and easy.  It is normally the policy of the South Beach hostel not to accept guests with in-state ID, but they were willing to accommodate me after I explained my situation, and answered all my questions very promptly and courteously.  Check in is at 2 pm, and check out is generously late, at 12 noon.

I learned that while the hotel offered no parking, they did provide $15/day parking passes, enabling guests to park on residentially-zoned streets near the hostel.  When I arrived, I noticed there was no passenger zone in front of the building; people checking in most often parked in the street out front with their emergency blinkers on.  Fortunately, I found metered parking nearby.  The nice thing about staying South of Fifth is that it’s not as congested as other areas of South Beach, and finding an open spot isn’t generally that much of a hassle.  Just make sure you read the signs if you’re planning on bringing your car down!

When I walked in, I was amazed by how much the place had changed since my last visit.  Gone were the festive tangerine walls and the red velvet billiard table that had given the place the look of one of those trendy compounds from MTV’s The Real World.  The decor was now a chic, minimalist white with hardwood floors, conveying a much more upscale, elegant feel, more like the Delano than a college clubber’s party pad. 

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During my visit, the hostel was on the tail end of a lengthy renovation project; workmen were still busy with their power tools and their hammers, sharing the hallways with guests.  There were still a few rooms being worked on; some paint needed touching up in spots and some wiring covered up, but by and large, things were looking good.

When checking in, I learned that I would need $10 cash for the key card deposit.  Not having sufficient cash, they pointed me toward an ATM in the lobby, which charges $2.50 in addition to whatever your bank assesses to use a non-network machine.  Had I booked a dorm, I would’ve also been asked for a $5 towel deposit; however, it’s waived for private rooms.  I later learned, however, that there is a $1 charge anytime you need to change your towel—room service does not provide you with fresh ones—even if you’re staying in a private room.

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Once I’d checked in, I went up to my room on the second floor.  It was freshly painted and spotless, yet aside from the window and the beds, the tiny space was completely devoid of any decor, aside from some pegs on the wall to hang your clothes on and a pretty hip looking light fixture on the ceiling.  There were no TVs, no furniture, no closets, and the one bathroom was down the hall.  Figuring I’d be spending more time outside the hostel, this wasn’t a big problem for me, considering the savings: dorms started at only $13.95, and private rooms were just $24.95 a night per person! Rates like these are virtually unheard of in today’s South Beach!

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WELCOME DRINK?

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There are two areas of hospitality in which this hostel outshines its competition: one is the complimentary transportation to the airport after your stay, and the other is your welcome drink.  The website announced that you could order anything you wanted, but they suggested a mojito, a local favorite in South Beach.  I’d been anticipating it much of the drive down, in fact.  Needless to say, I was stunned when I got to the bar and presented my welcome drink coupon and the bartender told me that the mojito would cost $3! He claimed that the coupons only applied to well drinks and beer.  I gave him $3 for the mojito and left a dollar tip.

Later, after I’d gotten situated, Flor Rivas, the new head manager, graciously took time out from her busy schedule to speak with me and show me around.  I asked her about why the website had suggested a mojito as the complimentary welcome drink if there was a $3 charge.

“He charged you for your welcome drink?” She sighed.  “He’s not supposed to do that! I’m going to have a little talk with him.”

She gave me a couple of additional drink coupons and wrote “mojito” on the back, to ensure that there would be no confusion the second time around.  (Just make sure you don’t experience a mojito mishap—insist on your free welcome cocktail!)

During our time together, I asked her about how things had changed under the new management.

CLEAN AND SAFE

“Now, it’s all about cleanliness and safety,” she beamed.  She explained that the 34-room building they’d inherited was a mess.  “The bathrooms were horrible…horrible! The guests weren’t being taken care of.  Now, they’re cleaned four times a day. ” This, I could attest to.  In fact, the chambermaids are so omnipresent in the hallways and the restrooms, sweeping…mopping…scrubbing…, it seems they never go home.

She also explained that the typical guest was less party-animal these days and more sophisticated, often European.  “We want people who usually go to hotels to know about this place.”

In addition to other improvements, they reduced the number of beds in the rooms: 12-bed dorms became 8, and the 6 bed dorms became 4.

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Unfortunately, even with the present improvements, the rooms generally tended to be claustrophobically narrow, devoid of furniture other than beds or bunks, and at the time of my visit, aside from the restrooms in the lobby, there was only one restroom per sex covering the entire 2-story hotel.  And in the men’s room, there was only one stall.  There was no dressing area, so you’d have to stand in front of the (3) shower booths to dress, hoping no one opened the restroom door while you were doing so, lest you be exposed to the world in all your glory.

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“You have to go with what you got, ” she offered.  And they were doing their best to improve the situation, putting the finishing touches on two additional bathrooms, which would mean one men’s and one women’s room per floor.  They would be somewhat larger than the present ones; the new men’s room would have five showers, two stalls and a urinal.  Unfortunately, I never got to take advantage of them during my stay, but they should be finished now.

Flor also indicated a stack of wall mirrors in her office, which she explained were soon to be installed in each of the rooms.  She also noted that the rooms will soon include tables and chairs, so you don’t have to sit on your bed to use your laptop.

On the subject of safety, your room card is necessary to enter all interior doors in the hotel.  You’ll also need it to access the restrooms.  Cameras also monitor the common areas and the front desk is manned 24 hours/day.  I felt like I was in Fort Knox.  Nonetheless, I was very surprised one night around 2 am to have a strange couple with luggage in hand open the door to my room while I was sleeping.  I later found out the front desk had mistakenly assumed my room was empty and given my key to some new arrivals.

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AMENITIES

The hostel offers free Wi-Fi; ask for the code at the front desk.  Also, there are computers you can use in the lobby at a rate of $1 per 10 minutes, with a 20-minute minimum.  There is a laundry room; washers and dryers are available at a rate of $1.50 each.

Lockers are available in the dorms and in the lobby; locks are sold at $5 a piece.

One of the most impressive additions is a movie room, which has plush, cinema-style seating and a large screen TV.  It’s situated next to the kitchen, so you won’t miss anything while you’re heating up the popcorn. 

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The kitchen is large and has a stove, sink and refrigerator available for common use.  You must put your food in a plastic bag with your name on it or it will be thrown out…or eaten!

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In addition to the full-service bar, light fare, such as nachos and cheese and quesadillas are also available, and a free breakfast, consisting of a toasted bagel, a piece of fruit, and your choice of (refillable) coffee, tea or juice is served each morning between 8 and 10.

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CUSTOMER SERVICE

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Aside from the confusion over my welcome drink, I found the staff to be pleasant and easy to talk to.  Chris, one of the breakfast servers, was particularly outgoing, as was the Russian bartendress.  The front desk was also polite and friendly.

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A FEW BUMPS IN THE ROAD

If you’re planning to spend some quality time in the room and you like the privacy of your own bath, this may not be the place for you, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars on your accommodations and spend the money on other parts of your vacation, it’s nice to know that economical options such as this one are available, and that you needn’t sacrifice style in the process.  While the space feels a bit cramped and at times noisy, the management does appear to be going the extra mile to ensure a quality guest experience. 

Old habits die hard, though: While returning one night around 1:30 am to the buzzing lobby, I noticed a coke dealer enthusiastically plying his wares to some young guests standing around outside the building.  They snorted up his goods with the kind of casualness you might expect from someone enjoying a sampling of turkey sausage at your neighborhood Whole Foods.  With this image fresh in my head, I realized the management’s sophisticated vision may be a little hard to transform into reality here.  You can dress it up all you like, but it’s still South Beach…

Related Categories: Hostels Miami: Travel News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

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9 Comments on

"The New and Improved South Beach Hostel"

Doug says:

An update: the hostel is no longer charging the $1 fee for fresh towels.  But don’t go crazy or anything!

Posted on 05/30/2009 at 12:36 AM

Doug says:

Addendum: The $24.95 per person room rate requires that two people stay in the room.  If you’re traveling by yourself, you’ll have to pay the other $24.95.

Posted on 05/31/2009 at 8:10 AM

Mihai says:

I`m here and I can say :
Rooms are nothing spectaculous, but the people from here they know how to make you to stay more then you belive and you gonna love the bar.To sad that i can`t rent for more then 21 days.

Posted on 09/04/2009 at 4:56 PM

Katie says:

Hi Doug,
I’m thinking about going to South Beach in November for a few days. Everything sounds great, but I’m traveling by myself (a 21 year old female). I know there are always risks traveling alone regardless of where you are, but is this hostel/area a relatively safe place? Can you give any suggestions on which bars/clubs/places to avoid? Also, I’m guessing everything, (food, beach, etc.) is within walking distance?

Posted on 09/28/2009 at 5:42 PM

Doug says:

Hi Katie, to be honest, I don’t find South Beach to be a particularly dangerous place.  At least no moreso than any other major city.  A little common sense should suffice.  This place has locks on all the doors, but whether that actually makes it safer, who’s to say?

I was never really into the bar and club scene, so in that area, I would recommend clicking on the “Discuss” button at the top right and joining the forums.  People there will be able to give you a better idea than I can.

Pretty much anywhere you stay will be close to the beach and food.  It’s a very compact and walkable area!

Posted on 09/28/2009 at 11:11 PM

Mike Cip says:

re :katie
I truly recomand you the South Beach Hostel.Tuesday it`s the pool night…wendsday movie night,...thursday it`s Twister night.. etc etc. The place it`s great.it`s in the greatest neighborhood from South Beach.You have great restaurant`s like Red, Prime Italian, Prime 112, DeVito, all of them at no more then 2 blocks.The area name it`s South of Five.They just finish a park.If you wanna go in clubs… “Mansion” it`s 9 block`s away from SBH…(just if you are 21, they ask for id)and on Espanola Way, ” Club Barcelona ” ( they do not ask for any id,it`s a small club….very small but cute,nice and with good people.If you like salsa and all this spanish music go in “mango`s”...it`s on Ocean Drive and 9…i think… if not.. do`t woeey.. just ask somebody.Try to make your rezervations on`line.. and do not try to go at the hotels.. because THEY ASK FOR TO MUCH! you not gonna stay in the room 24 hours. You need a bed where to sleep, and a shour.By the way….do you know you gonna share the room with other people ?:)) don`t worry… it`s really nice….

Posted on 09/29/2009 at 8:21 PM

Katie says:

Re: Mike

I would try to get a private if I decide to go. Do you work for them or something? Haha. You’re really trying to sell it to me.

Posted on 09/29/2009 at 9:03 PM

Mike Cip says:

re: Katie
No, i`m not working for them but i know them and I stay there for alot of time. I`m back in MS now, but until now I was there every tuesday night for the pool turnament.I stay in other hostels… like JAZZ and SANTA BARBARA,but i didn`t like it.In SBH i found new friends and now i talk with them tru facebook.You can look at South Beach Hostel profile on facebook.smile))( i wish to work for them..like a bartender smile cheap drinks…alot of money…nice music..inteesting people and alot of tips smile))

Posted on 09/29/2009 at 10:21 PM

Briawna Warren says:

There will be a group of 7 ladies including myself.. Is there a way to pay extra or make it so that there are no others that join our group. We want to stay together, but don’t need the larger fancy hotels; we’re not going to Miami for the hotels as odd as that may seem smile If not this place, are there any we could do something like this at?

Posted on 01/30/2013 at 10:16 PM

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