Friday, January 4, 2013

St. Pete's Vinoy Hotel: The Grand Lady of the Bay

From the moment it opened in 1925, the Vinoy attracted the rich and famous. The grandest of all the 1920s Boom Era hotels, the Vinoy became one of the America’s most prestigious destinations, a coveted getaway for Hollywood stars, celebrities, presidents, and famous authors. It all started though with a party, a bet, and a game of golf at the St. Petersburg Beach Drive home of Aymer Vinoy Laughner, a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman. In 1923, famed golfer Walter Hagen drove several golf balls off the face of his host’s prized pocket watch, and the wager: whether the watch’s crystal would survive Hagen’s powerful drive. It did, and the golf balls landed across Beach Drive on a residential waterfront property, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Aymer Vinoy Laughner

Laughner’s party guests suggested he purchase the property and build a grand resort – one that would carry his name. Laughner purchased the land for $170,000, and led by architect Henry L. Taylor and contractor George A. Miller, construction for the Vinoy Park Hotel began on February 5, 1925. The contractor set a construction record for completing the 375-room hotel in just under 10 months, in time for a grand opening on New Year's Eve 1925.

The Vinoy in its prime during the 1930's

The veranda, constructed along the full length of the lobby, 
much like a Mediterranean palazzo

From the time it opened at the dawn of 1926, to its current incarnation as one of St. Petersburg’s most spectacular waterfront resorts, this timeless treasure still impresses with its lofty pedigree, along with an ability to survive decades of neglect, winds of change and painstaking renewal. For 85 years, the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club has been a place to relax, play, indulge, and savour the good life with a newly renovated lounge-like lobby, library, café, resort shop and expanded Promenade bar. It's also the only luxury hotel on the West Coast of Florida with the combination of a private marina, 18-hole golf course and 12-court tennis complex. 

The Vinoy private marina

As viewed from the water

In May 1990, after sitting unoccupied for 18 years, the restoration and reconstruction of the Vinoy began. For two years, architects, interior designers and local historians took careful consideration to preserve or recreate the historic landmark’s original Mediterranean Revival design and detailing. The original cypress beams, which were originally installed because they were impervious to pests, were removed, numbered, cleaned and replaced. The Pompeian frescos that so lavishly adorned the main dining room underwent meticulous restoration. The glazed quarry tile floor and the ballroom’s ornate plaster castings all, too, were restored to their original grandeur. A fine example of 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture, the Vinoy has earned a National Register of Historic Places designation. 

The Vinoy Lobby Promenade Lounge with fabulous cocktail seating

And more cocktail seating...

And more!

The original quarry stone foyer and cypress beams

Hoping to have a smart lunch at Marchand's Bar & Grill, the Vinoy's signature restaurant named after the original 1925 chef, we arrived just as they were closing, so were directed up the hotel's rooftop restaurant — Alfresco. With only one other table occupied in the restaurant, a boisterous group who were apparently enjoying a languid liquid lunch, we were shown to a window table.

The Vinoy's rooftop patio restaurant - Alfresco

The tropical plantation-style bar

An airy interior with turquoise tiled columns, vaulted ceiling and fan detail

A charming Christmas season table detail

The menu

Making the best of this casual dining spot, we ordered some Pinot Grigio and Conch Fritters to start. Unfortunately, this was going to the the highlight of the meal. Thoroughly impressed with the rest of the hotel, we wondered how they got Alfresco so wrong. The Coconut Chicken Sandwich was overcooked and dry, my Grilled Vegetables were al dente and the onions were actually cold and raw. The sauce that was drizzled overtop was some sort of citrus dressing that did nothing to enhance the dish. The Cubano Sandwich was so tasteless, my husband left it half eaten, as we all did. How can a kitchen screw up a Cubano? 

A glass of Pinot Grigio was a refreshing start to a very mediocre meal

Conch Fritters with cabbage slaw and mango

Hot and crunchy with generous pieces of diced conch, the fritters  
were unfortunately the best part of the meal 

Coconut Coated Chicken Sandwich with sweet potato fries

Grilled Vegetable Salad with tofu, quinoa and goat cheese 
with an unfortunate sauce slathered on top - too bad the vegetables were barely cooked

Cuban-inspired Sandwich with pulled pork, ham and swiss cheese

Gluttons for punishment, we stopped by Marchand's on the way out, to check out their menu and see what we missed. The dining room Manager was setting up for the dinner and encouraged us to come in and tour the space. Gracious and informative, he took the time to show us the dining room and tell us about the history of the hotel. I mentioned that we were very impressed with the beautiful interior design of the Vinoy and had wanted to have lunch in his elegant restaurant but had eaten at Alfresco instead. He asked how we enjoyed our meal, and I told him that we didn't — it was very mediocre. He vowed to look into the matter, but insisted that we come back another time and enjoy a long leisurely lunch at Marchands Bar & Grille, and handing me his business card, said he'd make sure we had a memorable meal. Next time we're in St. Petersburg, that's exactly what we'll do — and arrive early, to enjoy Chef Heimann's modern Mediterranean cuisine and classic 1925 inspired menu.

Marchand's Bar & Grille

Beautiful landscaping and flowering gardens outside the Vinoy

The beautiful breezy Veranda today

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