The Hotels of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

radit mahindro
7 min readDec 6, 2023

Welcome to the 1980s. From the decade of big hair, excess, and pastel suits comes a story of one man’s rise to the top of the criminal pile as Grand Theft Auto returns. Vice City is a huge urban sprawl ranging from the beach to the swamps and the glitz to the ghetto, and is the most varied, complete, and alive digital city ever created — Rockstar Games.

Rockstar Games, the creator of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) video game franchise, released GTA Vice City in 2002. GTA Vice City propelled GTA into a cultural phenomenon thanks to its suave protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, a sophisticated storyline, and the setting: Vice City, based on real-life Miami in the late 1980s and largely inspired by the famed TV series Miami Vice.

Grand Theft Auto Vice City trailer (10th anniversary)

The fictional Vice City is made memorable through its kaleidoscopic sunshine, radio stations and soundtracks, flashy cars, pastel fashion, swaying palms, and a dynamic open-world city to explore. The game starts with an intro that eventually leads Tommy Vercetti to his first stop point, where every player will receive their first mission: a hotel. In typical GTA games, many elements are based on real-life IPs and buildings. Here are some fictional / in-game hotels that are based on real-life hotels:

Colon Hotel
The Colon Hotel is based on the real-life Colony Hotel in Miami’s Ocean Drive. Some differences between GTA’s Colon Hotel and The Colony Hotel include the obviously stretched frontal textures and signage omitting the original name’s “Y” that results in its in-game name, a play on the final part of the digestive system. The game’s Dakota hotel is also created based on The Colony Hotel but using a different colour scheme.

The fictional Colon Hotel (left), Dakota (middle), and the actual Colony Hotel (right)

The actual Colony Hotel, opened in July 1935, is one of the early buildings erected during the Art Deco renaissance that revived Miami Beach after the great hurricane in September 1926 levelled the city in its infancy. The facade is emblematic of the Art Deco style — simple and symmetrical, with bold geometric elements like the inverted “T” that bears the hotel’s name and the horizontal eyebrows that hang over the windows in order to give a little extra shade to the tenants as they watch people strutting in the sunshine. The hotel is playful and tropical in the daytime, but come night, it is vibrant, garish, and pulsating with the glowing neon allure that has drawn people to this oceanfront playground since the 1930s.

The Colony Hotel was designed by architect Henry Hohauser, known for his Art Deco works across Miami Beach; he designed more than 300 homes, apartment buildings, hotels, stores, restaurants, and theatres. While Henry Hohauser may have leapt ahead of the competition with the design of the Colony Hotel for a brief moment, other Miami Beach architects immediately took notice of his work and began to incorporate similar modern architectural features into their designs, creating what would turn out to be one of the largest and most consistent districts of modern buildings from this period in the United States.

The Colony Hotel is a symbol of the Miami Beach Architectural District, which has its own preservation society and became, in 1979, the first 20th-century neighbourhood to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The actual Colony Hotel in its early years

Deacon Hotel
Deacon Hotel is based on the real-life Beacon South Beach (as written on their website) or Beacon Hotel (as read on their hotel signage). It was designed by architect Henry O. Nelson and opened in 1936. Unlike many Art Deco hotels in Miami, this one has no “eyebrows” above the windows to shade the sun. When it was fully renovated in 2009, The Beacon naturally kept its Art Deco exterior, though the guest rooms were decorated in a very colourful modern style while keeping some Art Deco touches.

The fictional Deacon Hotel (left) and the actual Beacon Hotel (right)

Hotel Harrison
Hotel Harrison is based on the real-life Harrison Hotel, which is quite unusual for GTA, whose usual modus operandi is altering real-life names of brands, cars, and buildings into something… else. But unlike the other fictional hotels in GTA Vice City that are based on real-life hotels, Hotel Harrison is twice the size of its actual counterpart, done by mirroring the building into symmetrical structure, and is painted red instead of white.

Hotel Harrison is among the most familiar hotel buildings in the entire GTA franchise due to its central role in GTA Vice City’s storyline. In the game, a Faggio, based off real-life Piaggio Vespa, is constantly parked in the alleyway, and a random car also spawns on the west side of the building.

The fictional Harrison Hotel (left) and Hotel Harrison (right)

Laurence Hotel
Laurence Hotel is based on the now-called Hilton Grand Vacations Club McAlpin Ocean Plaza Miami, which opened in 1940 under its original name McAlpin Hotel. Designed by Lawrence Murray Dixon, the hotel’s tripartite facade follows ‘the rule of three’, so prevalent in deco buildings in Miami Beach.

Similar to Henry Hohauser, Lawrence Dixon was also an influential architect in Miami Beach, whose portfolio includes the legendary Raleigh Hotel (currently undergoing a restoration project and to be reopened in 2025 as Rosewood The Raleigh Miami Beach) and the Ritz Plaza Hotel (renamed to SLS South Beach after an eight-year restoration project). The TV show American Experience described Lawrence Dixon’s and Henry Hohauser’s works’ signatures as “streamlined curves, jutting towers, window ‘eyebrows’, and neon… perfectly suited to a city created for sun, sand, and relaxation”.

The name ‘Laurence Hotel’ is presumably taken from the first name of Lawrence Dixon.

The fictional Laurence Hotel (left) and the actual Hilton Grand Vacations Club McAlpin Ocean Plaza Miami (right)

Parsons Hotel
Parsons Hotel is based on the real-life Pelican Miami Beach (as written on their website) or Pelican (as read on their hotel signage). Also designed by architect Henry Hohauser, the Pelican was inaugurated in 1948. Renzo Rosso, the Italian fashion mogul behind Diesel and the president of OTB Group, first purchased the Art Deco gem in 1990, long before Art Basel cemented the city’s reputation as a bonafide cultural capital.

In 2020, during the two memorable years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrea Rosso, the Creative Director of Diesel Living (son of Renzo Rosso), closed the Pelican for two years of renovation. The sensitive renovation saw the hotel’s original furnishings restored to their former glory, no small feat as each of the themed guest rooms was outfitted with one-of-a-kind vintage finds sourced from around the world.

The fictional Parsons Hotel (left) and the actual Pelican (right)

“The Pelican was one of the first most important boutique hotels in the world,” said Renzo Rosso in a press release. “Its original spirit has now been restored by my son Andrea in a detailed way, with authentic Deco furnishings and keeping its uniqueness intact, with every room creating the perfect background of a new adventure. It’s a cornerstone of Ocean Drive and will always lead the pack with its one-of-a-kind style.”

Renzo Rosso himself came to Miami Beach around the same time as fellow Italian designer Gianni Versace, who purchased Casa Casuarina for USD 3 million but spent USD 30 million to re-store and renovate it by creating 8 bedrooms, 2 kitchens, 3 sitting rooms, 10 bathrooms, a bar, a library, and 4 living rooms (Versace was shot dead in front of Casa Casuarina in 1997). Years earlier, Versace was one of the fashion consultants for the TV show Miami Vice.

The Pelican

There are more hotels in GTA Vice City that are based on real-life hotels. While you are wasting your time exploring Vice City to check them out, enjoy the official playlist from one of the game’s radio station, Flash FM:

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