We were excited to get a look inside the long-awaited Fenway Hotel in Tampa Bay, a place that first opened in the 1920s and just came roaring back to a new life. Some of the time here at Hotel Scoop we’re checking into a hotel soon after it opens, but this time we got into one the same day the local mayor and developer were doing a ribbon-cutting ceremony and throwing open the doors.
The Fenway opened in 1927, despite there not being a whole heck of a lot of people on the Gulf Coast of Florida then, much of the area more occupied by orange groves than people. This was long before there were fancy Clearwater resorts on the barrier island nearby. It was a grand affair that attracted high society, not least because of the speakeasy barely hidden on the ground floor. It was a jazzy joint, a place filled with music, something the new developers have wisely highlighted again. It operated seasonally through 1961.
The building went through many lives, including a radio station and several colleges, but also a squatter site and a threatened empty lot.
In 2014 a savior came along and bought the abandoned building and land for $2.4 million. The non-profit Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA wanted it to become its new national headquarters and a new international center for its parent society. As they went through various approval processes, it became clear that making it a boutique-sized hotel again was going to keep the regional stakeholders happy and serve the society as well—with their less ambitious set of community townhouses in the back. They packed it out with member bookings for the first week of November.
Unlike with beach hotels that are crammed in next to each other in nearby Clearwater Beach, there’s plenty of room to breathe at this waterfront property. Lawns and palm trees are on three sides, then in a courtyard area in the back, there’s a long rectangular pool with lounge chairs and some shade much of the day on one side or the other.
Eventually, the green space will bring guests back to a more genteel time without addictive screens, with croquet, bocce ball, and badminton on the expansive lawn. The Fenway is near one of the greatest rail-to-trail projects in the USA too, a 36-mile run that goes all the way down to St. Petersburg in the south and up to Tarpon Springs in the north, all flat and off-road.
The HEW Parlor & Chophouse is the only restaurant on site for this 80-room hotel, with an open kitchen, plenty of natural light, and just a few hints of the retro vibe. There’s a long list of good restaurants in downtown Dunedin though, which is close enough to walk or a five-minute ride away on the complimentary hotel bikes.
There are 8 breweries in small Dunedin, and close to 70 now in Tampa Bay, so the Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar gets props for staying local with the tap selection and not selling out to the mass brewer distributor pressure. Despite all the good beer and cocktail bars around though, this rooftop bar is going to be an instant success: it’s one of the few places north of Clearwater Beach where you can look out at the Gulf of Mexico while having a drink. (The photo at the top of this review is the view from there.)
It’s a breezy, shaded, attractive space that will be great for socializing while watching the sailboats go by. The public has access via the lobby elevator or directly by climbing 51 steps from the parking level.
There’s another bar in the lobby, where a jazz band will often be playing. You can belly up to the bar there and look toward the water, or take a lounge seat in one of the sitting areas. As with the roof bar, you can find some local craft beers on tap or order a classic cocktail that’s been around since the ’20s.
Rooms are not all that large, and baths are shower-only, but they make up for it with good design, modern touches, and a few musical cues. Two queens or one king bed sit on carpet and are surrounded by light color tones and dark stained wood. The conventional layout has a long row of counters and cabinets opposite the bed, with a wall-mounted TV, minibar, and closet with Florida-appropriate cotton bathrobes.
It’s not the 1920s when it comes to electricity: charging units beside the beds have two regular outlets and two USB outlets. A customized Amazon Alexa Dot unit functions as a speaker and tourist information source. Some of the beds have nifty fold-out reading lights on each side.
Each room has some kind of a musical touch, like a shiny cymbal on the wall with the Fenway logo. Suites have double the space, with a separate living room.
While The Fenway Hotel is run by the same group as the excellent Epicurean Hotel in Tampa, it is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, which means you can cash in points to stay here or earn points to add to your loyalty account.
There was still a bit of construction going on in the soft opening phase and some areas weren’t open to see, but based on who is behind the project, it should be a well-run affair with all the right details in place. There were 26 weddings booked before the place even opened. The property meets ADA standards for accessibility, with wheelchair elevators to the check-in level and to the roof deck, but there’s only one guest elevator serving the entire building—hopefully they bought one that doesn’t require much maintenance!
When it’s time to stretch your legs and explore on foot or by bike, cute downtown Dunedin is only a few minutes away, plus this hotel is near the Pinellas Trail for biking for miles and miles away from cars.
Rates run $200 to $300 per night most of the time, with no sneaky fee add-ons. (If you bring a car, it’s $15 a night for valet parking.) See more details at Marriott’s Autograph Collection site and check rates there, at TripAdvisor, or at Hotels.com.