Last night, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace premiered with a party held poolside at Miami Beach's Villa Casa Casuarina.
The opulent property, still referred to by many as the Versace mansion or Villa Versace, plays a prominent role in the series. Filmmakers rented out the entire property for one month to film exterior and interior scenes.
At last evening's event, it was surreal to sit on the slain designer's pool deck and watch Penélope Cruz as a striking Donatella ponder her brother's empire while overlooking the pool beyond a Medusa-head-embossed railing. It was as meta as one can get.
If you weren't invited to the fete, you can stay at the mansion-turned-hotel for about $1,600 a night. An evening sleeping in the designer's own suite can cost as much as $2,500. If those prices turn you off, there's a much more economical way to walk in Versace's Italian-made shoes: Have dinner or cocktails at the villa.
Chauncey Copeland, general manager of the Villa Casa Casuarina, says that although the front of the property remains one of the most photographed places in Miami Beach, many people — tourists and locals alike — don't know they can eat in the designer's own dining room or have a smart cocktail inside his kitchen, now turned into the Onyx Bar.
"That's the biggest misconception. Some people think it's a museum and ask how much a tour is. I just tell them they should make a reservation for dinner," the hotel executive says.
The property, Copeland says, is still very much the same as when the fashion icon lived there. "We've gone to great lengths to keep Mr. Versace's vision." An on-staff artist is charged with maintaining the furnishings, murals, intricate mosaics, and inlaid pieces that are found all over the property.
Dinner at the restaurant, Gianni's, is close to being invited to a meal by Versace himself. The dining room is the same, with one exception: "He had a large royal table that sat between 26 to 30 guests," Copeland says. Now it's set with several smaller tables. The menu, Italian with Mediterranean influences, was designed to reflect the designer's tastes. "It's not too far from his favorite food, but I can't say for sure that they're the exact same dishes."
Seated in the dining room with its intricate stone and shell-inlaid walls, one can easily imagine the designer enjoying dishes like black truffle risotto ($28) or caviar service ($175 to $305) on a balmy Miami Beach evening.
The Onyx Bar is the only major addition. In Versace's time, the kitchen occupied this space. Now the stoves have been moved to a former garage, and a bar with stained-glass accents takes their place. The main attraction at the bar: a 24-karat golden margarita festooned with real gold flakes.
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Though Versace has left this world, his presence is very much felt throughout the space. There's even a rumor that a black cat can sometimes be found on the property with piercing eyes that hold the spirit of the fallen designer, though Copeland is quick to quash that story. "I've been here all hours of the day and night, but I've never encountered anything mystical."
Still, he admits the place exudes a certain energy. "One of the things that has always struck me is the moment when we begin our service for the evening and light the lanterns. It's magical. There's such a good energy about this place."
The Villa Casa Casuarina. 1116 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 786-485-2200; vmmiamibeach.com. Gianni's and the Onyx Bar are open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight.