You may feel like a prosecutor or a witness when you climb the steps of the grand entrance to Le Meridien Hotel Tampa: it used to be the federal courthouse. So there are giant “United States of America” letters carved into the top above the four imposing columns. While the spaces are now quite trendy and modern (see the video tour further down), the architects retained what they could of the original “bones” and there are some fun touches such as reclaimed judges’ chamber doors. A desk down in the street-level part where you check in has the original judges stand as a desk, but cut down to normal size instead of looming over you.
This downtown Tampa hotel has a nice mix of original and revamped design elements that work well together to make the place feel both playful and solid. This is definitely one of those buildings that makes you say, “They don’t build them like they used to.” Thick stone tile tile floors connected by marble staircases are original and you seldom see walls this solid anymore between you and the traffic outside. This could potentially make a hotel seem rather cold and authoritarian when re-purposed from a functional government building, but they took the clean slate and filled it with modern furniture, colorful and whimsical elements that challenge you to not take the place too seriously.
The bottom level lobby area is approached from the side of the building, where staffers are ready to welcome you and provide you tips for what to do downtown. One nice perk here is that a guest key can get yon into the Tampa Art Museum. On a long walk or short share bike ride you can get to the Aquarium, the River Walk, the Pirate Water Taxi, the Tampa History Center, and the arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning competes. The historic Tampa Theater is a block away and you can get to Ybor City on a city trolley.
The downstairs lobby has plenty of sitting areas for conversation and then the Longitude bar area at the far end is one of two on site open in the evenings. One wall is decorated with blown-up reproductions of original blueprints and there are artsy photographs of original materials in different states during renovation. One level up is the high-ceiling attractive lobby, the original entrance of the courthouse. This open space transitions from lobby lounge to bakery to bar to restaurant.
The highly regarded Bizzou Brasserie here is split into two areas. The main one seats plenty without being cavernous and in contrast to the lounge areas, feels like a clubby space from the roaring ’20s, with leather banquettes and an eclectic collection of portrait drawings, photos, and framed mirrors on the walls. A large private dining area next to it has even more dark wood and furniture for intimate gatherings. Instead of being separated by walls, these various spaces have lattice shelves between them filled with books, art pieces, and wine carafes.
The menu goes for quality over quantity and fits on one page. Come with an appetite, because some of the best dishes are the heaviest. We sampled the charcuterie platter in our room with a drink before coming to the dining room, then had salads and two main platters: a heavenly truffle gnocchi and sausage, and a Shrimp Angeline pasta dish with garlic, plum tomatoes, and spinach. Appetizers include crab deviled eggs and a caramelized onion tart with gruyere and goat cheese.
A gym covers the aerobic and weight machine basics, while the heated pool outside is open year-round. It’s long enough for laps and has plenty of lounge chairs for relaxing in the frequent Florida sun.
Rooms are spacious and inviting, with clean lines and modern furniture, plus plenty of natural light from the large windows. They don’t skimp on the amenities here, with capsule coffee makers, ergonomic chairs, complimentary Wi-Fi that works well, robes, a music player, and good toiletries in the shower-only bath. Having a regular outlet and USB outlet on the nightstand is a welcome touch, but we gave up on trying to turn on the “smart refrigerator.” Thankfully there are ice machines on each floor.
Editor Tim Leffel currently resides in Tampa and was invited to spend a night at Le Meridien Tampa to review the property. As always, all opinions are his own.