John and I are just back from an amazing trip to Florida to meet with the incredible folks at Wendover Art Group and see the firm’s capabilities at their Largo headquarters.
John and I tacked a few more days onto the adventure to spend time in my hometown of Tampa with my super-fun parents, Lois and Jary.
Tampa has come a long way from my childhood when the city really felt like a small town–especially South Tampa where I grew up in a 1920s-era Mediterranean-style home on Davis Islands. Today, the Tampa Bay area has really grown up–big time–and really packs a punch as a destination rich with cultural offerings, restaurants, shopping, beaches, and so much more.
Here’s the Madcap Cottage Top Five List for Tampa.
Bern’s Steak House: It might look a bit like a bunker on the outside (truly!) and a retreat for well-heeled ladies’ of the evening inside (lots of red velvet, sculptures, and gilt), but Bern’s is one of the world’s top steakhouses–with an eye-popping wine list to match. By the by, late Bern’s founder Bern Laxer was a proponent of farm-to-table and organic fare decades before the rest of the world caught up. As a kid, the Nixon family went to Bern’s every Sunday and I would order Chicken Bern, dusted in sesame seeds and topped with crispy mushrooms, paired with a stunning salad and garlic toast. My parents would greet their favorite tuxedo-ed waiters and dive into perfectly marbled steaks. After, we would listen to Manny, the resident pianist, perform in the upstairs Desert Room where my brother would ask for “Like a Virgin” over the “requests” telephone. Today, John and I prefer the intimate ground-floor bar where we order superlative hamburgers with martinis or an amazing wine. Book in advance, and have some change for the valets outside. Pure bliss.
Henry B. Plant Museum: Tucked into the amazing, minaret-topped, Moorish former Tampa Bay Hotel–built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant in the 1880s–the museum now resides within the University of Tampa complex that sits smack on the Hillsborough River. Explore the museum’s period-era rooms and step back in time to a day when the pace was decidedly more languid. The museum also boasts an ever-changing assortment of exhibits such as “Dirty Laundry: The Tales of Women Workers at the Tampa Bay Hotel.” After, explore the exterior of the sprawling building with its vast porch, stunning ogee-topped windows, and silver minarets before having lunch at the world-class boutique-cum-eatery Oxford Exchange, sitting just across Kennedy Boulevard. And, yes, the restaurant does have a retractable glass ceiling, bookstore, stunningly edited lifestyle shop, and more…
Bayshore Boulevard: Wander the almost-five-mile-long balustraded and historic sidewalk that stretches along the bay in South Tampa, and enjoy superlative views of the water paired with a vista onto dozens of Tampa’s most exclusive homes (from bungalows to modern, south of France, and more) and glass-wrapped high rises. A great spot for running and biking, too. Yes, that is Alex Rodriguez’s sprawling home across the bay on Davis Islands and not a convention center.
Old Hyde Park Village: My parents live one street off this wonderful pedestrian-friendly entertainment complex that features shops such as Paper Chase, Lululemon, Bonobo’s, Sur La Table, West Elm, Anthropologie, and more scattered amongst plenty of green space and wide sidewalks. There are terrific dining options, too, including Bartaco, Goody Goody (a classic, old-school Tampa diner institution re-envisioned for today), Timpano, the Wine Exchange, Meat Market, and more. Plus, there are often events such as outdoor concerts and more. There’s even a terrific movie theater, CMX Cinébistro, that pairs great movies with eats and cocktails.
Tampa Theatre: When I was a boy, downtown Tampa emptied out after work hours ended, but, in recent years, the neighborhood has exploded with residential towers and restaurants. Plus, there are cultural venues such as the Tampa Museum of Art, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, the Tampa Riverwalk, and more. The historic Tampa Theatre, built in 1926 and smack in the center of the revitalized downtown, will whisk you off to the great movie palaces of yore with its Mediterranean courtyard-style interior complete with stucco walls adorned with velvet drapings and busts, “clouds” that flutter and “stars” that twinkle across the “nighttime” sky, and otherworldly bathrooms. In fact, I am so old that I can remember attending the Theatre’s grand re-opening in 1978 after the palace had been neglected for decades.