Even 11 years after designer Gianni Versace was killed on its front steps, tourists still ogle at the gates of Casa Casuarina, his former home in Miami’s South Beach. These days, though, they’re as likely to be looking for celebrity visitors as they are for a macabre kick. After Versace’s death, telecommunications billionaire Peter Loftin purchased the property and turned it into an exclusive private club with a $50,000 membership fee and $4,000 annual dues. Today the mansion is once again a see-and-be-seen enclave for the rich and fabulous. Until last year (and with a few exceptions) entry was limited to the club’s 200 or so members and their guests, but Miami’s superluxe Mandarin Oriental recently gained a foothold: Now anyone staying at the hotel can purchase a day’s access for just $175.
Built by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman in 1930 as an homage to the Dominican Republic’s early-16th-century Alcázar de Colón, Casuarina came into Versace’s hands in 1992. He demolished the hotel next door and expanded the building into the ten-bedroom villa it is today. Loftin, to his credit, has left things largely intact so it’s easy to imagine the likes of Madonna and Elton John partying the night away amid the archways and ornate balconies of the three-story courtyard.
Upon entering, guests can follow the Versace-logoed walkway to the mosaic-tiled pool, multiperson showers, and Moroccan-style relaxation lounge; upstairs, plush bedrooms await those seeking a bit of lie-in. Dinner, prepared by award-winning chef Wolfgang Birk, is served in the mansion’s dining room (or wherever guests choose to eat), notable for the stunning tilework on the walls. In addition to having access to these mansion amenities, Mandarin guests can also partake of the oceanside sand scene across the street from Casuarina, in a secluded area attended by "beach butlers." One final Versace-worthy option: traveling to Casa Casuarina by yacht from the hotel ($350, which includes the one-day access fee). 305-913-8288; mandarinoriental.com