River Yacht Club Grand Opening Preview: Opulence on the Water

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No one moves to the Magic City to live the simple life. This is a city filled will all-night clubs, yellow Ferraris, and cocktails accented with real gold. Even if you can't afford to own an Italian sports car, some places let you channel your inner Trump — at least for a day. Miami is a city of extravagance, and nothing says "nonexistent budget" like a yacht club membership.

River Yacht Club (RYC), which hosted its grand opening last Thursday and officially opens to the public Wednesday, Februrary 24, is the latest luxurious development to pop up on the shoreline. Located at 401 SW Third Ave., the culinary/lifestyle venue is part of the combined $1 billion gentrification of the Miami River District.

Long-term goals for the neighborhood include River Landing Shops & Residences — a $300 million project that includes 426,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space — and a project by New York City's Chetrit Group that includes four residential towers, a hotel, shops, restaurants, and a public riverside park. KAR Properties, also based in New York, is working on a 60-story tower for the area. Miami developer Avra Jain, too, is bullish on the neighborhood — she purchased the Miami River Inn at 437 SW Second St. for $8.6 million in April 2015. 

The River Yacht Club includes the most upscale of amenities, from a boat marina and a yacht showroom to a signature restaurant and a VanDutch rooftop lounge. The first of its kind, the 150-seat lounge is named for the luxury yacht company. 

Yacht club memberships are available at different tiers, ranging from a more affordable Ambassador option for $120 per month to the Admiral membership, which requires a $4,800 annual payment. You don’t have to own a yacht or a membership to dine at the waterfront eatery, but only members can reserve tables.

Maritime themes permeate every aspect of the restaurant, from the seahorse details on the barstools to the ocean-centric fare. Even the indoor tables convey feelings of dining on a Mediterranean coast, with glass walls that slide open to offer panoramic views and a coastal breeze.

Zuma’s former development head chef, Michael Lewis, was brought in to create the winter menu. Executing that ocean-focused fare is River Yacht Club’s resident Chef de Cuisine Enrique Valdes, who worked alongside Lewis as Zuma’s Chef de Cuisine. The two are the first to contribute to RYC’s “rotating resident chef program,” which will feature seasonal menus executed by a revolving roster of in-residence chefs.

At Thursday's opening celebration, guests enjoyed cocktails from a lantern-lit bar on boat seats lined with nautical-patterned pillows. Although the club strived to immerse its guests in luxury, it’s difficult to ignore the stretch of I-95 that passes overhead.

Part of the reality of the Miami River District — one that developers seem to be shrugging off — is that the area is still in the first phases of its enormous transition. Just outside the opulent oasis of RYC are construction cranes and broken pavements. Only time will tell if local boat owners and big-spenders are willing to tolerate the surrounding area.

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