Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
Living the high life in Miami Beach
Stylish dining in Gianni Versace’s former estate
Every December, we trade our boots for sandals and head to Art Basel Miami. Especially for Bostonians, it’s an ideal place to warm up, get inspired, and maybe pick up a new piece of artwork along the way.
The biggest contemporary art fair in the world, Art Basel Miami attracts over 250 galleries and 70,000 visitors with art on display that’s worth a collective $3 billion. And as the interest in the art fair has grown over the past decade, it has become the ultimate convergence of art, music, design, fashion, and celebrity culture.
To top off our star-studded stay, we dined at the former home of Gianni Versace, the original celebrity designer. Casa Casuarina, built in 1930, originally served wealthy northern tourists who flocked to Miami before its post World War II downturn. Gianni bought the property in 1992, when Ocean Drive was just beginning to recover from decades of crime and neglect. He renovated it to suit his tastes and lived there until his untimely death in 1997. In 2009, Barton G. Weiss, an acclaimed restaurateur and concept designer, converted the property into The Villa by Barton G. The Villa houses a boutique hotel, event space, and our dinner destination, Il Solé.
We’re happy to report that Barton G. has kept Gianni’s $33 million dollars in renovations largely intact. The classic Italian villa boasts countless frescoes, marble flooring, stained glass windows, and ornate stone mosaics. Ten luxury suites and imported Italian marble bathrooms accommodate stylish guests. Even the pool is lined with 24-carat gold. Every inch of the space remains true to the Versace brand: embellished, extravagant, and eye-catching.
Il Solé’s space feels authentic and historic, which is appropriate given the fact that it occupies Versace's original kitchen and dining room. We started the night at the bar, which is both intimate and wrought with Old World charm. There, we chatted with the bartender, who educated us on the mansion’s colorful history. According to him, 80% of The Villa’s current furnishings are from when Versace lived there.
The dining space is equally intimate and well-appointed, with only eight tables inside and a few more on the patio. Dining in the tranquil setting, it’s easy to forget that you’re just a few blocks down from the raging discos on Ocean Drive. Il Solé appears to attract mainly locals celebrating special occasions—it’s a well-kept local secret with very little marketing promoting it.
As experiences go, Il Solé is more a portal into the life of an icon than a foodie destination. The Italian-influenced, seafood-dominated menu was elegant and well-executed if not particularly inventive. Nevertheless we enjoyed our meal, save for one flaw: the waiter. His aloof personality could not have been further from Versace’s flamboyant charm.
We’re fans of turning historically-significant houses into restaurant spaces and have visited them in many cities (are you listening Boston-area restaurateurs?) The Villa transported us to a different time and place. The restaurant designers authentically preserved the beloved icon’s home and brought Versace’s spirit to life as a result.
If spending an evening in Gianni’s fabulous shoes intrigues you, we suggest a trip to Il Solé. Just be sure to arrive in style.