If the collection of National Geographic magazines in the lobby and ping pong tables out back don’t give it away, then the $40-a-night bunk beds surely will: Freehand Miami, one of the newest lodgings in town, is in every way a hostel.
But this hostel, which opened in December, has a way of turning the stereotype of scruffy backpacker hangout on its head. Freehand is the creation of New York’s Sydell Group, which owns the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan and developed the Ace hotels in New York and Palm Springs, Calif.
Bathed in light, trimmed with wood and decorated with bright collages and a funny map of Miami Beach, the lobby of the 1936 building looks like an Instagram photo. The bar out back, Broken Shaker, was just named a 2013 James Beard Foundation awards semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program.
And the buzz has reached a level that some full-priced hotels could only dream of, with mentions in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, GQ and New York Post, which called the hostel “truly the new hipster hotness.”
Diana Morley, a 31-year-old marketing professional from London, didn’t know about any of that when she set out to find a calm place “that was not a big glitzy hotel” to stay after attending Winter Music Conference with two friends. She searched for boutique hostels, not even sure if Miami Beach had any kind of hostels.
Last week, Morley and friends Nicola Doran, an attorney, and Virginia Draper, who works in banking, relaxed by the Freehand’s pool, having found their bliss.
“I’m incredibly impressed with it,” said Doran, 29, also of London. “Whoever came up with the style concept for this place is genius.” She described it as retro, cool and vintage, but “not overdone.”
New York City design firm Roman and Williams — made up of a pair of former Hollywood production designers and art directors — is behind the hostel’s look, which includes touches of summer camp and nautical chic.
Sydell Group CEO Andrew Zobler said the company became interested in creating a “premium hostel” brand a couple years ago, believing that U.S. customers, especially young travelers without deep pockets, would respond to the product. The inspiration came from well-designed, thoughtful properties that have opened in Europe, Asia and Australia.
“We thought it was inevitable that hostel would get better and we wanted to be out there in front of it,” Zobler said.
Mark Vidalin, marketing director for Hostelling International-USA, said the trajectory, especially over the last 10 years, is that the hostel experience has improved as markets have become more demanding.
“People are looking for more privacy, more amenities, things like Wi-Fi, just in general things you know at home and expect elsewhere,” he said.
“And I think that expectation has reflected upon new hostel development.”
Hostels can be profitable, too, said Karine Bourget, hotel and leisure consultant with the investment advisory at Nordic Hotel Consulting.
“Hostels are typically less cost intensive as a budget hotel for instance as they require less staff, less amenities, etc.,” she wrote in an email. “Revenue are calculated per available bed instead of available room, which maximizes revenue.”