The Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida is a historic majesty wrapped in a mantle of Old Florida seashell pink and lime peel twist. From the moment her first vacationing socialite guests entered the lobby on New Year’s Eve in 1925, they were dazzled by the lobby’s soaring 25-ft high ceiling held coyly in place by hand-stenciled pecky cypress beams, manicured lawns and splashing fountains, an immense ballroom for dancing and concerts, and the opulence expressed by the Moorish motifs of the Orientalism movement, all of which remain today.
Aymer Vinoy Laughner’s original $3.5 million investment enjoyed the fawning attention of the wintering rich and famous until wars and economic failings robbed its youthful beauty. Abandoned for 18 years, she powdered her foundation with a $93 million historically accurate makeover in 1992, merging the reverently restored 1920’s Mediterranean Revival architecture with genteel Southern hospitality.
The wide verandah overlooking the azure waters of Tampa Bay and the hotel’s 74-slip marina still beckon guests for cozy conversation and the hotel’s signature cocktail, Aymer’s Promenade Punch, a sweet concoction of rum, schnapps, fruit juices, and club soda. Wednesday through Saturday, docents lead a customized historical tour for groups and the Grand Vinoy Ballroom is still dressed to impress diners and dancers.
“Not many properties have a ballroom with a built-in band shell, arched ceiling and a specially commissioned 750-piece Isla de la Luna—an all white Dale Chihuly chandelier,” says Tim Reuther, director of event management.
Sixty percent of the grand lady’s business is corporate. The 361 rooms are undergoing renovation with high-end décor and electronics suitable for business guests. The 45,000 sf of indoor function space includes the 11,000-sf Palm Court Ballroom and mezzanine foyers that hover above the exquisite lobby.
Marchand’s Bar & Grill casts its spell with the hand-painted frescoed ceiling, Roman columns and clerestory windows. Waiters sport patterned vests identical to those from 1925 and the décor is historically accurate, but the cuisine is dazzlingly contemporary, especially the incomparable paella.
Fred’s Steakhouse is dark mahogany woods, low lights and the feeling of a members-only club. A pictorial tribute to restaurant founder Fred Guest’s polo-playing ancestors and their famous business teammates, men like the Duponts and Guggenheims, adorn the walls of the 12-person private dining area. The food is classically current; perennial faves include robust steaks, French onion soup and seasonal escargot.
Catering and in-house DMC Showorks service extensive outdoor function space. “The Esplanade is our largest, offering spectacular marina and pool views,” notes Reuther. Capacity is 700, reception. The brick paths, a large circular fountain and vined pergola define the Tea Garden’s timelessness, for 200 pax.
Celebrating the arts has become St. Petersburg’s economic draw. Glass blowing, painting and pottery group classes are held at the nearby Morean Art Center’s Hot Shop. Seats 55. Inside the center, there’s room for 75 for meetings and receptions. Morean is adjacent to the (Dale) Chihuly Collection, the artist’s first permanent display in the country, which opened in June.
Coming January 11, the new Dali Museum opens, doubling the number of exhibits and the size of its current museum to 66,000 sf. The startling complexity and fanciful design includes an events room and dedicated theater sure to draw international groups, as will the 21,000 art works.
“We’re unique in that we’re a true resort destination at the edge of a city,” says Reuther, “within walking distance of arts venues, restaurants and downtown St. Petersburg.”