By Vanessa Packer
Photography Justin Namon
WE ARE AT ONCE at home and at ease when stepping into The Freehand for the first time. It’s not the South Beach found in Will Smith’s Miami music video, and it’s a far cry from your grandmother’s Florida apartment, The Freehand (thoughtfully and geographically) lies somewhere in between. Laid back but not lazy, cool but not exclusive, it caters to the young traveler who is at the stage in his or her life, which is “all about self-discovery and figuring out what you want to do and what your passions are,” as Roy Alpert, who heads the innovative hostel concept on behalf of the Sydell group, describes. In an effort to mix Miami local and Miami visitor, the inviting common spaces encourage mingling and conversation. The music doesn’t blast and there is no velvet rope. As Alpert says, “A big part of our business plan was creating a hostel where locals would hang out at, which is rare.” The Freehand is well placed in this new Miami that is more conscious, mindful and authentic in it’s experiences, food and people.
What was the original concept for The Freehand?
It’s a hospitality offer geared towards the millennial traveler, which is the 21-35 year old customer. There is an in-between stage of your early to late twenties that our generation has, which previous generations didn’t have. It’s that sort of prolonged adolescence and there are no real hospitality offerings for people in that stage. The boutique hotel market is getting pretty expensive for people that age. They are getting married much later and they are financially independent much later. Travel is a big part of that time and we want to create an experience where people can meet others and not sacrifice design or good food. When I traveled in Australia, there were never really hostels that I felt comfortable staying in. There were either weird hostels or really nice hotels.
What did this space used to be?
It used to be the Indian Creek Hotel, which was a boutique hotel that had a lot of charm but the bar wasn’t even open and the space wasn’t being maximized. We kept a lot of the building and catered it to a younger demographic and opened a bar with Bar Lab, which became The Broken Shaker, and that took on a life of it’s own. It became a place that was the antithesis of what is happening in Miami.
How do you describe the movement that is happening in Miami right now?
It’s an anti-flash type of movement. WIth all the nightclubs opening and the very Vegas-y type of places, the locals have been abandoned. So for them, The Broken Shaker is a place you can come to with no velvet rope, no door guy, everyone is welcome. Also when you are traveling the most important thing is meeting locals. In the past year since we opened there have been a lot of other places that have opened that are similar.
Radio Bar which is a locals’ bar by people who have been in nightlife and were just over it. Gale cocktail lounge, Rec Room, there are starting to be less of DJ driven nightclubs.
You’ve lived in Miami for a while on-and-off, how have you seen the landscape change?
My first trip to Miami I walked into the Delano, it was all flash and I was like taken by that property, and thought it was really special. Now we want to do the opposite of what that property did. It’s also become more cultured because Art Basel came here and that has helped bring more attention to Miami. Miami is somewhat undiscovered, it’s still a relatively cheap beach town to live in from a real estate point of view and it’s three hours from New York. It’s like going to the Hamptons. I don’t get how people don’t come down here every weekend from November to March.
That feeling of walking into the Delano, what do you want people to feel when they walk into The Freehand?
I want them to feel like they are walking into someone’s home. A friendly warm environment. We like to embrace the quirkiness and a lot of the boutique hotels that are hip now you get a little bit of attitude when you go there. The staff is almost too cool for school to talk to you. Here we cater to the time period in people’s life that is for discovery. It’s like the show Girls, we embrace the quirky and you are figuring it out because you don’t know what you want to do, so we embrace that. Our staff is in that period of their lives too. It’s a very social time and it’s a time of where you want to meet a lot of people and learn as much as you can.
How did you choose Roman and Williams to design the hotel?
They had worked with us on the Ace New York. We had a relationship with them, they were perfect for this because we are doing a lot of higher end projects and this is something that was fun for them to work on. It’s a handmade approach which is a big part of their design.
What does a healthy day in your life look like?
In New York, I get into the routine, so its easier. When I’m traveling for work it’s more difficult. In New York I go to the Juice Press every morning get the B juice or The Meal. For lunch we opened SweetGreen next to my office, so I go there everyday for lunch and I get whatever their monthly salad is. I love the Guacamole Greens and the Spicy Sabzi, which satisfied my Middle Eastern side. I go to Jack’s Wife Freda four times a week. I’m very into having my set places. I get the grilled chicken usually and that comes with a chopped salad, but it’s really an Israeli salad just like my mom used to make when I was growing up.
Being in the hotel/hospitality business, you must travel a lot. What are your travel essentials?
The most important thing for me is being active. I have to do something every morning its essential. I go for a run, especially in a new city. I travel with my family a lot and we are all pretty active. We play basketball and do anything to keep active and be outside but depends where I’m at. When I’m in Israel, I’ll go to the ocean and go for a swim, when I’m in LA I go hiking. When traveling, you don’t always have access to healthy stuff, so just staying active is really important. Making do with what you’ve got.
What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Africa because you have the chance to observe how nature works and you realize we are not so different. It shows you how cruel and beautiful things can happen at the same time and are found in the same place.
Where do you hope to travel to?
I haven’t been to Brazil. I really want to go to South America.
You keep pretty healthy, is there anything you avoid eating?
Growing up we ate a lot of dairy but I don’t eat it anymore. I feel much better not eating it and I actually think I have a dairy allergy. Another thing I don’t eat is tuna because of mercury. I noticed a difference when I took that out of my diet. When I would eat sushi, I would end up ingesting a ton of sodium and the water weight has gone away since I stopped. That’s been a huge difference. I just feel better. I eat meat once a week.
Do you ever get flack for being healthy around your guy friends?
I just think there is a funny misconception about guys that eat healthy in general. It’s viewed like you are superficial or narcissistic for wanting to eat healthy and I think it’s not fair. Girls are allowed to eat healthy, so why shouldn’t it be socially acceptable for guys to eat healthy too. At the end of the day you want to feel good so why not eat the things that make you feel good. There’s that Seinfeld episode where Jerry orders a salad on a date. I agree you can’t order a salad on a date with a girl, but you can still be healthy and not be weird.