The Vagabond Hotel's spectacular renovation will come full circle when the Vagabond Restaurant opens next month, just in time for Art Basel.
Restaurant partners Alvaro Perez, Chris Wang, and chef Alex Chang are nearing completion on the space, which will incorporate art and the restaurant's outdoor space with chef Chang's cuisine. Chang found fame when his underground restaurant at an on-campus apartment at the University of Southern California was made into a documentary, Paladar, by filmmaker Gil Freston.
Alvaro Perez, whose career spans the hospitality and art worlds, has curated a group of talented and eclectic artists, some of whom were commissioned to paint specifically for the Vagabond Restaurant. But, of all the art, what will surely be the most significant and eye-catching is the original Vagabond Hotel sign. The sign, salvaged from the renovation and battered from a half-century of wear, will form the back bar and serve as a focal point to the restaurant. As Perez shows off the blue and yellow relic behind a padlocked gate, he is as excited about the acquisition as someone who has unearthed an original Picasso at a garage sale. "That sign is going to give me such good luck!" he exclaims.
On the other side of the bar, facing west toward Biscayne Boulevard, a living wall of locally grown bromeliads, designed by Edwige Belmore, will blend with shades of green walls and royal-blue carpet. On the east wall, artist Guillermo de Yavorsky will capture "contemporary vagabonds," 25 portraits of colorful neighborhood residents. Perez explains, "A contemporary vagabond is someone who can sleep at the Ritz in St. Bart's one night and then crash on his friend's sofa in Miami the next. He or she is a citizen of the world."
A chef's counter alongside the wall will feature a long bar where diners will be handed no menus, allowing Chang to create a custom meal "until you say no more." Adjacent to the chef's counter, a gleaming gold orb by Steven Steven MacIver will reflect the afternoon sun.
Other notable elements of the dining room include a wine cellar stocked with bottles that range in price from $40 to $200 and a work by celebrated Venezuelan painter and muralist Oswaldo Vigas. Perez is quick to note, however, that most of the artists showcased are emerging, something he is passionate about.
Attention to detail continues all the way to the ceiling. Look up and you'll see retro sputnik light fixtures floating among contemporary constellations by Kenneth Nyakabwa, whose work is already featured in the Vagabond's guest rooms.
Chang is also ready to stimulate Miami's senses. The chef is busy working day in and day out at a test kitchen next door. Chang, who says he hasn't even had a chance to explore his new home, is eager to have people try his food. "It's amazing to be working with a group of people so passionate about a project."
Chang points to several large containers of vegetables and fruits he's experimenting with: fermented local okra and carrots, and mamey extract.
Even before the restaurant opens, there's intense buzz, with a packed house expected for Art Basel week. Once open, the restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week.
If you want to sneak a peek, the Vagabond's pool bar is open daily and celebrating "Happy Month" throughout October and November with $8 specialty cocktails, $7 select wines, and $5 craft beers. Try the lawn cocktail, a refreshing yet sophisticated drink made with gin, Pimm's, mint, and cucumbers, served in a Collins glass.
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As a bonus, here's some footage from Paladar: