It’s Friday night and EDGE rooftop bar at The Epicurean Hotel is buzzing. Bartenders pour designer cocktails for well-heeled and well-dressed patrons admiring the view of South Tampa.
“It reminds me of a rooftop bar in New York,” said Stefani Curley as she sipped her drink. “Of course, with the added bonus of being Florida.”
Linda Paullus, a Columbus, Ohio resident visiting the hotel, agreed.
“It’s a swanky place,” Paullus said.
This is exactly the vibe Epicurean developers envisioned for the newly constructed 137-room hotel on South Howard Avenue. The Epicurean is being developed in collaboration with Bern’s Steak House and will be the first newly constructed property in the U.S. to join the Autograph Collection of Marriott International.
“We want those who are here as guests to not have to leave for dining or having a great drink,” said Tom Haines, the Epicurean’s general manager. “And we want locals to say, ‘The Epicurean is the place to go.’”
The $35-million boutique hotel features the 80-seat Elevage Restaurant, Chocolate Pi French Bakery, Evangeline Spa, a wine retail store and an amphitheater-style classroom for cooking classes. There’s also a pool and a 4,000-square-foot patio area.
The Epicurean is the first food-and-beverage themed hotel in Florida, joining only a handful of others like it in the entire country.
The theme is subtly expressed in the hotel’s décor.
Instead of magazines, cookbooks are available for guests to peruse. The front desk backdrop is made of pieces from dozens of wooden wine crates. A small intimate sitting area at the entrance to Elevage features a hog-shaped coffee table.
“Almost all hotels serve food and wine, but very few focus on it,” said Haines. “We have incredible talent and resources with the Bern’s group.”
When it comes to culinary prowess, it doesn’t get much better than Bern’s Steak House. Opened in 1956 by Bern Laxer and now owned by his son David Laxer, the restaurant is considered one of the best in the country. The Laxer family partnered with Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging and Development Group to create The Epicurean. Rooms are priced at $200 to $400 a night and Marriott Rewards can be used at the hotel.
Executive Chef Chad Johnson heads the kitchen at Elevage and at the helm of Chocolate Pi is Bern’s executive pastry chef Kim Yelvington.
From the third floor of the Epicurean, a large bay window overlooks Bern’s Steak House, which is located across the street from the hotel.
“We’re operating on the Bern’s mantra - 'We do things differently here',” said Brandon Marshall, Epicurean director of sales.
Take the typical hotel room staples – coffeemaker and mini bar. Haines, the former executive assistant manager at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, knew from experience that about 20 percent of hotel guests actually use the mini bar.
“So we had to make a decision,” he said. “We chose not to do one.”
Instead, each of the guest rooms at the Epicurean has an artisan pantry filled with craft beers, wines and pre-mixed cocktails created by Dean Hurst, the director of spirits for Bern's and the Epicurean. There’s Purple Haze goat cheese and prosciutto instead of chips and cookies.
The Tassimo Coffee Maker replaces the typical brew machine, whipping up a cappuccino or latte with the push of a button.
The theme is exemplified in Elevage’s menu, which requires diners dive in palate first.
Breakfast choices range from lobster-and-bacon hash to wild rice granola. Dry-aged hamburgers and foie gras bratwurst are among the lunch fare. The dinner menu features plenty of steak and seafood choices, with tempting departures like monkfish schnitzel and lamb shoulder lasagna.
The hotel aims to lure what Tom Haines calls “the next wave of travelers.”
Those who’d rather hop on a bicycle than board an air-conditioned tour bus can wheel away with a gourmet packed lunch (the Epicurean provides both).
Judging from a recent Friday night, the approach is working. Hundreds check in at the Epicurean via Facebook and Twitter, proudly proclaiming their whereabouts to cyber-friends.
“We’ve done the social media, we’ve connected with our local following and we’ll continue to communicate,” Haines said. “It might be (about) a mixologist in town at EDGE or a special we’re having.”
The Epicurean Hotel’s app sends out different push notifications for locals than it does for tourists. The distinction means locals will receive real-time updates.
“It reinforces the idea that this is the place to be,” Haines said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The Epicurean Hotel
WHERE: 1207 S. Howard Ave., Tampa
CONTACT: Visit www.epicureanhotel.com or call 813-999-8700