- Associated Press - Saturday, April 3, 2021

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The landmark Don CeSar Hotel has added a two-story pool bar and rooftop lookout to its sprawling beachfront property, completing a three-year renovation project aimed at connecting the Roaring ’20s to the 2020s. At the Beacon Pool Bar and Lookout, visitors can sample a menu of bites and beach-inspired cocktails while enjoying the expansive and unobstructed views of the Gulf of Mexico.

The view “is what draws everybody here,” said Todd Gehrke, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. He said the renovations were designed to pay homage to the hotel’s commitment to health and wellness - from the tranquility of the sun, sand and surf to the history of the hotel as a one-time military hospital and WWII convalescent center. “It has kind of come full circle,” Gehrke said.

The multimillion-dollar renovations at the 93-year-old hotel include a complete makeover of lobbies, lounges, rooms and restaurants, designed to draw visitors back to the 1920s vibe that inspired the original hotel.

The lobby bar was moved to the center of the hotel and seating went from eight bar stools to 30. The old giant banana leaves and green and pink decor have been muted to softer tones of taupe and brass. Gehrke said the decor is a nod to Havana Nights or the Great Gatsby era of 1928.

Along with the scenic pool bar, the final phase of the makeover included refreshing the hotel’s 277 rooms, including 36 luxury suites. Designers added wicker furnishings, white-washed headboards and drapery and wallpaper with flamingo prints in gray and blush tones.

“We wanted to create a whimsical beach theme,” said Kayla Gordon, associate director of marketing. The size and configuration of most of the hotel rooms was required to remain the same since the hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. But several of the rooms connect to enlarge the bedroom space for families.

“To me, this just feels really comfortable and I love the beach theme and the Old Florida classic feel,” Gordon said.

The hotel, managed by Davison Hotels of Atlanta, also renovated its retail area, moving the 1950s-themed ice cream shop from Gulf Boulevard to the first-floor beachfront wing. The ice cream counters are now inside Uncle Andy’s Market, a full-service sundries shop that is new to the hotel. The boutiques still include clothing and swimwear shops.

On the same level are the remodeled Society Table restaurant, formerly the Sea Porch, open for all-day “Florida Gulf” fare, and the outdoor Rowe Bar, a nod to the hotel’s original developer, Thomas Rowe.

Maritana, the hotel’s signature fine-dining restaurant, was remodeled to reflect a more “classic and modern” motif, Gehrke said. Some of the booths were removed to enlarge the dining room, and a private room was added for small gatherings. CeSar, the famous moray eel that used to live in a large fish tank along the Maritana’s lobby wall, was relocated to an aquarium in Kentucky.

Emily Ferrari remains as executive chef at the Maritana, providing a fluctuating menu that includes everything from fresh, local fish to steaks and Mediterranean fare. “We call it coastal cuisine,” Gehrke said.

The majestic Pink Palace has welcomed presidents, including Bill Clinton, George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Movie stars Robert DeNiro, Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson have stayed there. So have Cher, Coretta Scott King, Elton John, Billy Joel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Britney Spears and Babe Ruth. It has served as the backdrop for numerous films and productions.

In 1942, the hotel was purchased by the U.S. Army as a military hospital for veterans returning from the war and later became a Veterans Administration headquarters. It was about to be razed in 1971 when a group of preservationists lobbied for its rebirth. Hotel developer William Bowman Jr. bought the dilapidated property for $460,000 and spent $3.5 million to refurbish the hotel. It reopened in 1973.

The hotel was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America in 1989 and later opened 30,000 square feet of event space and, in 2008, Spa Oceania. Gehrke said the spa likely will get some additional refurbishing in the next year.

The final restoration phase also included repainting and replanting along the palm tree-lined front drive to the hotel entrance.

The hotel is offering discounted guest packages to celebrate the completion of the renovations. For information, call 844-338-1501 or visit doncesar.com.

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