By Meghan Jackson
The sun is out in full Florida force when I arrive at the grandiose, unmistakable pink building in St. Petersburg. The car door opens and I step out into the valet lane, which is as lively as the hotel from The Shining — before all work and no play made Jack a dull boy. I wonder if there are so many people coming and going because it’s almost the weekend, but I soon learn that it’s always this way at the Vinoy. Families, bridal parties and friends bustle with excitement through the lobby and connecting outdoor veranda; all cheerful, sipping on cocktails made with locally distilled liquors, whether they’re excited for an imminent big day or just happy because being here means that they get to escape reality for the time being.
Later, I become one of those carefree people, blissful on the patio with my own party of people, drunk off the warm 5 o’clock feeling (and a blackberry vodka tonic); fully separated from the interwebs of my smart phone and my life back in Atlanta — it’s easy to become submersed in the sense of coastal community that seems to envelop the Vinoy and St. Pete as a whole.
Breakfast the next morning takes place just outside the same location. The veranda has transformed from the evening cocktail hour to a quaintly elaborate picnic and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of choices: red velvet pancakes with cream cheese sauce, rock shrimp over poached eggs and grits, every fruit I’ve ever heard of and corresponding scones — all prepared by the hotel’s executive chef, Mark Heimann. I opt for it all. My eyes are much larger than my stomach. Not by much, however, because later wandering through the property admiring its unique history, I find myself pleasantly stuffed, imagining how easily I could give in to a mid-morning nap. But there’s no time for napping. There’s too much happening and too many activities to choose from. Like visiting the Dali museum mere steps from the front of the hotel, where the knowledge of the tour guides is almost as impressive as the work of the Spanish surrealist.
I stop by the pool and I’m burnt before I even have a chance to reapply sunscreen. It’s all too easy to lose track of time laying around and sipping the hotel’s signature Hummingbird cocktail made with St. Germain and raspberries. Every time I blink, it’s time to eat again. And the options are abundant, a theme I find repeating itself throughout this trip. For dinner, we make the short trek through town to Sea Salt, a contemporary seafood spot that uses 130 different salts to season their dishes. I’m sold on the Kurobuta pork chop topped with liquid mozzarella thanks to the waiter, who claims it’s the best pork in the world and that he witnessed a man break kosher for this dish. If it’s good enough to forgo Jewish law, it’s good enough for me — though he really had me at liquid mozzarella.
At the Saturday morning market, there are rows of fresh produce and pieces from local artisans waiting to be scoured. I seriously consider bringing back a jar of sunflowers, but decide against them realizing they might be problematic on my flight home. My skin burnt to a crisp means that later, gliding around the bay aboard Sailing Florida’s Thirteen Pennies — a 53-foot sailboat straight out of The Wolf of Wall Street — I have to reluctantly avoid the sundeck fit for a clan of mermaids. The waves are a little more intense than the ones I’m used to on my family’s deck boat, but the thrill and dolphin sightings are worth it. We trade Dali for DIY at the Morean Arts Center, where I learn that the pottery wheel is surprisingly therapeutic and that according to my new pottery teacher I’m blessed with a “steady hand.”
It’s the last night in town and after hanging around for three days, we’re all surprised to find Fred’s, the hotel’s secretive 1920s speakeasy restaurant, tucked right by the pool we’ve all passed so many times. Open only on Friday and Saturday nights and requiring a password to enter, the live jazz and old school menu would be suitable for a Gatsby party. Most of the group goes to bed after dinner, but being the last night, a few of us mosey up the stairs to the hotel’s staple restaurant Marchand’s, where the upscale, classic vibes have changed into the hangout spot for the younger, late night crowd. A mixture of guests on girls’ trips and family reunions, and even a bride and groom, intermingle. They talk and drink until the lights come on and the staff ushers everyone out so they can set up for their Sunday brunch and do it all over the next day.
The night may be over, but as I walk to my room I know it doesn’t get much better than the anticipation of crawling into a giant bed with crisp, clean sheets and not having to set an alarm. And that may just be the best thing about Vinoy. The blissful overindulgence, the friendly people and the simple, unrushed pace of an escape; doing truly whatever it is you want — all with a beautiful view, even if it’s just for a few days.
The Vinoy Renaissance
501 5th Ave NE
St. Petersburg, Forida