Historic hotels can turn out to be formal and stuffy, or they can go modern all the way and lose what made them special. The Vinoy Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida manages to pull off a nice balancing act of classic and cool.
First opened in the roaring 1920s as one of Florida’s ritziest hotels, it was often filled with wealthy guests and their families who would spend months at a time escaping the cold of the north. Famous faces on pillows here included Babe Ruth, Buster Keaton, and two U.S. presidents. It went through several iterations over the years and eventually closed as times changed and business dwindled. After a major restoration it reopened as a Stouffer hotel in 1992. (Yes, the people selling you frozen lasagna also used to run high-end hotels.) Eventually that company got bought by Renaissance and is now 30-odd brands in the Marriott Group.
Despite the fact you can earn and use Marriott points here, there’s little that feels corporate at The Vinoy besides the evident staff training. Staffers here are professional and ready to serve, but are also friendly and house-proud. They’re probably happy to be working in such an aesthetically pleasing environment. The grand outdoor terrace at the front is a clue that this grand hotel was built in the days before air conditioning, so this is where guests would spend the afternoon, drinking something cold and looking out at the boats bobbing in the marina. Inside, the lobby with arches contains several glass pieces from the Chihuly Collection—a museum that’s a block away.
What really takes this property from relic to relevant though is the lobby area surrounding the bar, with its multiple clubby sitting areas that are outfitted with designer furniture and attractive lighting. Lounging here it’s easy to feel elegant and stylish, not just stuck in a bygone era.
The main restaurant, Marchand’s Bar & Grill, is a real showpiece with its high ceilings, columns, and dramatic centerpiece bar. It’s also one of the best fine dining restaurants in St. Petersburg, frequently winning local awards. It has an extensive wine list for dinner and local Coppertail Brewery beers on tap. Breakfast is served here too if you want to experience it by daylight instead of candlelight.
The baths just have combo tubs, but they benefit from more decorative imagination. A gilded mirror covers one wall and elegant wallpaper ups the style factor.
Although The Vinoy Renaissance is on the downtown St. Pete side of the peninsula instead of on the beach, it still has a great resort feel thanks to all the facilities. There’s a full spa, an extensive gym, a spin class room, a large outdoor pool with plenty of lounge chairs, a whirlpool, and tennis courts. There’s also a full 18-hole golf course adjoining the hotel, a testament to how long ago this area was developed before so much sprang up around it.
The location is great for those who like to explore by foot or bicycle too. There are dozens of bars and restaurants within walking distance and the famous Salvador Dali Museum is a few blocks away. A ten-minute taxi ride will get you to the beach or Tropicana Field where the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball.
If you just want to stay in, however, there is another daytime restaurant near the pool, as well as a coffee shop right off the lobby serving hot drinks, pastries, and sandwiches. A hidden speakeasy requiring a password is only open on weekends, but another dining option at the golf course is open every day.
Effectively appealing to families, business travelers, and romantic couples, the Vinoy St. Petersburg is one of the top hotels in the Tampa Bay area and will delight most guests far more often than it disappoints. Rates start at around $200, higher in winter months. See more information at the Renaissance site or book online at Priceline or Expedia.
Article and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted one night at The Vinoy while reviewing it for another publication.