Versace mansion set to relaunch as The Villa by Barton G.
The courtyard pool (left) and an exterior facade are shown in these images of the former Versace Mansion slated to open as a 10-room hotel in April 2010. (THE VILLA BY BARTON G.)
``The concept never worked,'' Weiss said of the palazzo's run as a private club, restaurant and boutique hotel. ``They operated it like the Hugh Hefner party palace. And it's so not.''
Three months after signing a 10-year lease to take over a property tangled in the Scott Rothstein investment scandal, Weiss insists he can launch a more elegant and refined era at South Beach's most famous (and infamous) former residence.
And he's starting by linking the 20-room manse to another colorful name: his own.
``Barton G.'' now adorns a flag flying outside Versace's old third-floor bedroom, a suite with fresco ceilings, a nine-foot-wide bed and a sitting room for the expansive closet. Wrought-iron gates that mark the spot where the fashion icon was murdered 13 years ago bear a new logo in gold: The Villa by Barton G.
``I think my name will breed definite stability, definite quality,'' Weiss said over coffee and croissants served on Versace china, which his catering company, Barton G., bought years ago for an event. ``When I erased the name and made it the Villa by Barton G., it tells you what it is.''
`OVER THE TOP'
The strategy raises the stakes for Weiss, 53, who has made a career out of flamboyant food. His Barton G. The Restaurant in South Beach serves macaroni and cheese on a mousetrap. He used a live giraffe to open his new restaurant, Prelude, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
Now he's taking on a notoriously difficult entertainment spot -- where he was the caterer for a time -- and counting on the Barton G. cachet to make the difference.
``It's an over-the-top venue and he's an over-the-top caterer,'' said Jeff Lehman, former general manager of South Beach's National Hotel, where Weiss' company once ran catered events. ``Maybe it's a match made in heaven.''
Weiss has mostly preserved the business plan from the owner, Peter Loftin, who paid the Versace family $19 million in 2000 for the 1930 house dubbed Casa Casuarina. The property will continue operating as a 10-room hotel -- Versace's Roman-style suite rents for $5,200 a night -- small restaurant, and lavish event space.
But Weiss sees a more discerning approach for the former Versace vacation home.
When the 70-seat restaurant reopens Saturday night, it will do so without black-shirted attendants hawking menus to passerby on the sidewalk. Weiss also won't restart the private club that once sold $50,000 memberships, and he's canceled the $50 tours Loftin initiated in 2008.
The new customer base is ``not the wannabes,'' said Weiss' new food and beverage director, Steve Haas. ``It's the people who actually are.''
Butlers will tend to guests, who can expect custom-made floral arrangements and private breakfast and lunch service. The public will be invited in for afternoon English tea (about $30 a person, Weiss said) followed by a reservations-only policy for dinner. The menu includes a $48 rack of lamb with Greek yogurt jelly and a cream of white asparagus soup for $13.
Loftin, a telecommunications tycoon who owns the property through a company called Casa Casuarina LLC, closed the mansion in November, three months after announcing a new partnership with Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein. Rothstein's staff briefly took over operations as they prepared to bring in a nightclub and an upscale Italian restaurant.
Rothstein's involvement came amid signs of financial strain -- the property was hit with state and federal tax liens, and vendors sued to collect unpaid bills. Weiss had left as the property's caterer around 2006.
But the Rothstein revival fell apart once federal investigators charged him with running a $1 billion Ponzi scheme with unrelated investments.
Rothstein, now awaiting a prison sentence, saw his 10 percent interest in the property frozen as the government prepares to seize his assets, Loftin said Friday.