A high-tech boutique hotel is opening in Little Havana.
When it opens Dec. 28, Life House Little Havana will be the neighborhood’s first boutique hotel. The launch is also the first for Life House, a start-up lodging brand based in New York and backed by California and London investors. The 33-room hotel — which offers private rooms and a handful of group rooms — will cater to “mature millennials” looking for more than fun in the sun at accessible prices.
“It’s for people who are seeking substantial experiences,” said Life House co-founder and CEO Rami Zeidan. The brand, which offers affordable lodging with stylish amenities, is designed to connect people with the community around them.
Life House has raised $70 million in funding from Silicon Valley-venture capital firms Global Founders Capital, Comcast Ventures and Trinity Ventures, and London-based real estate firm Henley Investments. They’re betting that young travelers will gravitate toward the company’s tech-savvy, upscale, design-focused and local approach to travel.
It’s a niche that’s gaining traction. In 2013, Freehand opened an upscale hostel on Miami Beach. Just last month, the European hotel-hostel brand Generator opened in Miami Beach, with a mix of shared dorms and private rooms with large, comfortable common areas. Just a 15-minute walk from Life House Little Havana is the newly remodeled Tower Hotel Project, a 52-room hotel slated to open in February. (Construction delays pushed the opening back from its original September 2018 date.)
For travelers drawn to these lodgings, “What’s most important to you is value, value, value,” said Deanna Ting, Senior Hospitality Editor for Skift, a travel trade publication that monitors trends. “It’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. They’re not skimping on everything, it’s not bare bones. But they’re being really careful about what they curate.”
Life House embodies other key trends identified by Travel Market Report, a hospitality trade publication: connecting guests with the local community and making sure hotels tell stories.
Unique to Life House is proprietary software that allows travelers to manage their trips though an app if they choose. Guests can reserve rooms, check in and out, get to know each other before arrival, and chat with a concierge throughout their stay. Forums on wellness, nature, food and nightlife allow guests to check out local happenings. And no more waiting in line — guests can stroll right to their room and use the app as a key
“So much about our product is about the experience, and that includes the digital experience,” said Zeidan.
The technology also cuts costs. By having guests book directly though the app, Life House avoids paying commission to large-scale booking sites. “Technology allows us to circumvent the Expedias of the world,” said Zeidan.
The hotel will offer upscale touches — including Le Labo toiletries, a rooftop restaurant and bar with downtown Miami views, and a craft-cocktail cart that rolls the halls each evening. The rooftop will have a small wading pool. A standard queen room will cost about $149.
“We’re really trying to cater to people who want to stay at a boutique hotel but don’t want to spend $400 a night on it,” said Zeidan. Rooms range from traditional king and queen rooms and suites to group rooms with full-size bunk beds and private bathrooms.
Formerly the Thomas Jefferson Hotel, the building at 528 SW 9th Ave. dates from 1925. Life House bought the property in April for $8.6 million and gutted it. When renovations are complete, the hotel should feel like a worldly traveler’s mansion. The exterior will be painted terracotta and olive, reflecting colors seen elsewhere in the neighborhood. The lobby will feature it’s own cafecito window serving brew from Miami-based Per’La Roasters and will be filled with plants and artifacts.
Local bartender Brian Griffiths, an alumnus of the Broken Shaker, and chef Leo Pablo, who climbed the ladder at Jean-Georges restaurants, are spearheading the hotel’s restaurant and beverage development. The large garden flanking the hotel and the smaller rooftop garden will be sourced by the Little River Cooperative. Harvest from the garden will play a central role for the menu at the rooftop bar and restaurant, which will offer a Cuban-influenced cuisine.
“We came in and we said, what does this neighborhood need? Not another Cuban restaurant and not for us to pretend we can do Cuban better than the Cubans here,” said Zeidan. “The concepts are designed for the local community, what Little Havana needs, not for what the hotel guests need. Because what hotel guests in this day and age want is what the locals want.”
In recent years, Little Havana has become a booming tourist destination with about 2 million overnight visitors in 2017, up 3.6 percent from 2016, according to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visitors are drawn by the Tower Theater art film house, Ball and Chain restaurant/club, Azucar ice cream shop and a rash of new eateries.
Zeidan is a veteran of the hospitality real estate business who helped Starwood launch 1 Hotel and Sydell Group open Freehand Miami, both in Miami Beach. He hopes Life House Little Havana will bring positive gentrification to the community that will encourage more tourists to visit local businesses.
Life House plans to open its second, 26-room hotel in South Beach early next year. Denver and Brooklyn lodgings are also being planned. Travelers can begin reserving rooms online for the Little Havana location on Tuesday at lifehousehotels.com.