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Imagine, for a moment, you're an executive tooling through Hialeah, as executives are wont to do. You're tired stiff from a long, hard day of board meetings. That's when you see the sign, shimmering like a mirage in a water-parched desert, on Okeechobee Road at West 22nd Street just north of Swallow Drive.
"Executive Palace Hotel," the sign reads.
At the check-in desk — which is behind bulletproof glass — you're mildly disappointed to find they don't accept your platinum credit card points. And what's up with all the lube, penis pills, and wine coolers for sale by the register?
You tell the clerk at one point: "Why would I want to rent a hotel room for three hours?"
Instead, you rent an entire night in the "Palace VIP Suite" for the low, low price of $119.
Things get weirder inside the room. First of all, it has its own one-car garage. And a stripper pole. And a mirror above the bed. And a heart-shaped hot tub. And pulsating lights throughout. And a strange metal-and-vinyl apparatus that looks like an elaborate workout bench and smells like the underside of testicles.
You try to put it all out of your mind with a little C-SPAN. But on one channel there's a guy with his face in a woman's ass. On the next there's three naked people engaged in a sex position named for a landmark in France. All there is on the tube, you realize in horror, is smut!
Just kidding. If you've checked into the Executive Palace Hotel — or any of the dozens of motels and hotels along Okeechobee Road or West Calle Ocho that feature the word executive and/or heart shapes on their signs — you're probably not an executive, and you likely know exactly what you're renting.
Unless, that is, you're "Krystal" on Yelp. "The upstairs area was more or less completely useless considering there's only a stripper pole up there," she lamented in March. "The television didn't work initially, and when the maid came and fixed it, we realized that all of the channels were either in Spanish or filled with hard-core porn."
Miami's two no-tell hotel districts were spawned thanks to that dastardly phenomenon known as globalization. At least so sayeth Paul George, local historian and resident know-it-all at HistoryMiami.
According to George, before the '60s, Calle Ocho was populated by mom-and-pop hotels catering to tourists using Tamiami Trail. The rise of I-95, Florida's Turnpike, and I-75 took away that business.
Okeechobee Road's once-squeaky-clean hotels hinged on customers from the nearby airport. But around the '80s, Days Inn and Sofitel leached that business as well. "All the hotel owners still had mortgages and land deeds," George explains, "so they turned them into these three-hour sex hotels to pay the bills."
"With all the highways around here, it's convenient," says the less-scholarly Hugo, desk jockey at Caliente Adult Superstore in Hialeah, just off Okeechobee. "People come here to —" He then makes a lewd gyrating gesture.
"What do you think I'm here for?" said John Carvalho — who we couldn't believe gave us his full name — when we stopped him on the way out of the Hialeah Executive Motel on a late weekday afternoon, accompanied by his apparent girlfriend, who was straggling in stilettos. "At home we have kids and the TV. Here we can just go buck-wild for a couple of hours."
Strangely, everybody seems to know these places are sex spots except for the people running them. New Times had a heck of a time getting a hotel owner on the record for this story. Julio Del Rey, a member of the family that owns Executive Fantasy Hotels, parent company to four establishments on or near Okeechobee or Calle Ocho, initially told us the discreet garages have nothing to do with illicit affairs: "It's just a more efficient way to make use of the land," he insists. Only later does he admit, "It affords guests more privacy."
Dude, you patented a champagne flute bathtub. (He really did, in 2004.)
Del Rey came clean. "It's an adult hotel obviously," he admitted. "We don't ask who you bring to the hotel. It could be your wife, your lover, or your secretary."
As for his reticence to discuss details of the business: "I'm just a shy person."