Many have said that driving around Miami feels like stepping into another time, and they aren’t wrong. Miami’s high number of unique Art Deco buildings and Miami Modern architecture are unlike anywhere else in the world. Miami even developed its own unique architectural style called Miami Modern (MiMo). MiMo is generally defined as the post-war architectural style that gripped Miami in the 1950s and 1960s. Miami developers looked to inject the city’s Upper Eastside with a unique regional style and decked out sleek minimalist buildings with fun, glamorous features.
No conversation about MiMo, however, would be complete without the Vagabond Hotel (or motel). Located on Route 1, amongst a sea of similarly charming MiMo motels, the Vagabond is a perfect amalgamation of all things post-war Miami. While hotshots like Sinatra may have stayed in glitzy hotels, the average family visiting Miami would stay in these roadside motels. (Despite what locals might tell you, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack never stayed at the Vagabond. They actually met frequently at the Vagabond Club, a long-gone club in downtown Miami.) The Vagabond is recognized as one of the finest surviving examples of a post-war MiMo motel. The Vagabond, designed by MiMo legend Robert Swatburg, was built in 1953 and operated until the 1990s—around the time a lot of the Eastside’s MiMo motels began to fall into disrepair.
In 2003, the Vagabond was designated a local historic site. Three years later, the city would establish the MiMo Historical District, which included the Vagabond. In 2012, the Vagabond reopened its doors for the first time in nearly two decades and in 2014 the motel was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Vagabond has been completely restored as a diner and hotel that is practically identical to how it looked when first opened in the 1950s. Instead of in-house motel staff preparing food, the diner is now the flagship location for Mr. Mandolin, the locally-adored restaurant with two other locations in Miami.
The Vagabond is an important part of Miami’s history and helps paint a picture of the allure and appeal the Eastside, Biscayne Boulevard, and Miami itself had to travelers in the 1950s.
Know Before You Go
If you don't feel like renting a room, you are free to walk around the motel, get a drink at the pool bar, admire the architecture, and grab a bite at Mr. Mandolin.