Sleeping With Versace: The Notorious Villa’s Hidden Tunnel And Other Decadent Secrets In Miami
by Jim Dobson
South Beach, Florida, has a lot more to offer than its renowned Art Deco architecture, sparkling white sands and culinary wonders. There are some amazing hidden gems not normally available to the general public.
I wanted to discover a unique and original experience for the traveler looking for bragging rights. When I arrived at the famed Gianni Versace Villa, now known as the The Villa by Barton G on star studded Ocean Drive, I was taken back to an era of major decadence.
The mansion was bought by the Nakash Family, owners of the American clothing company Jordache Enterprises in 2013 and famed over the top restaurateur Barton G. Weiss adds to the outrageous details where Versace left off after a more than $1 million renovation of the 19,000-square-foot property which was completed in March 2010.
The Versace Villa on Ocean Drive (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
With 10 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms across a sprawling 23,000-square-foot property, this is the notorious and much discussed spot where Versace was murdered in 1997, but there was so much more to the Villa than has been previously reported in the press.
Versace’s former dining room, renowned for its opulent pebble-mosaic walls and painted ceilings is now the 30 seat fine-dining venue called Il Sole. It comes complete with Versace’s china and crystal patterns. I dined on a fabulous meal of Grilled Calabrian Octopus with saffron polenta and chorizo, Pacific northwest sockeye salmon with cauliflower puree and finally a luscious Aegean Cheesecake, featuring petals in 24 kt. edible gold.
Versace’s Bedroom (Photo credit: Jim Dobson)
I was fortunate to be able to sleep in Versace’s massive bedroom suite; a 1,174 square-foot hideout featuring a nine-foot double king-size bed big enough for all your friends to pile on. Many of the walls were lined with extravagant painted murals and frescoes on the ceilings. Every corner had hidden walls filled with empty bookcases. (Versace employed a full time librarian to stock the villa for his guests.) My private butler had my clothes pressed before I ventured out for drinks by the Villa’s famed 1,000 mosaic pool (inlaid with 24-karat gold). I visited the rooftop observatory where Drake wrote his latest album, overlooking the extensive interior courtyard that was tented for Jay Z and Beyonce’s New Years Eve Party to avoid paparazzi helicopters. Upon entering the huge Moroccan Showers located adjacent to the Villa’s gym I was told of how Versace liked to sit on a bench in the room watching guests work out and shower while enjoying a cocktail. The ultimate voyeur experience.
The Moroccan Shower adjacent to the gym and pool (Photo credit: Jim Dobson)
As extravagant and stunning as the Villa is with it’s over the top designs, there remained however a darkness to the space. A lingering feeling of paradise lost and of ghosts past and present. My suite had a few mysterious visitors throughout the night; I kept one restful eye on the ornate gold doorknob on the front door in anticipation of it mysteriously opening.
After speaking with a few elderly locals who were a part of the area for many years I came to discover several unknown secrets to the space including a mysterious underground tunnel that is rumored to exist near the outdoor swimming pool. The large inlaid mosaic dial in the pool deck features a hidden code to the tunnel’s entrance. Nobody has figured it out yet… apparently. Versace was not allowed to build the pool and tear down the existing structure on the property, but one night under cover of dark had the entire building bulldozed and he ended up paying the city the fine that followed.
Madonna’s Bathroom in the Villa (Photo Credit: Matt McClellan)
Several of the high profile suites once inhabited by Madonna and Elton John also possessed their own secrets including Madonna’s requirement of a sparkling new toilet installed every time she visited. There are also hidden doorways and closets that have been covered throughout the remodeling. The small winding stone stairway to the Villa’s observatory also leads you to a room harboring quite a few scandalous liaisons I am sure. Maybe someday we will truly discover what lies beneath the mystery of the Versace Mansion but for now the public is welcome to stay there for the first time as the Mansion is now a boutique hotel ($2,200 for the luxury of sleeping in Versace’s Villa Suite).