You’ll be greeted with a sip of wine at the Epicurean Hotel, where a lobby wall is made of wooden wine crate parts. You’ll spy lettuces and herbs growing hydroponically from the restaurant wall. Yet more edible greens – raised for spa treatments – sprout from the mani/pedi room wall. Surrounding that vertical garden is an expanse comprised of wine corks glued side by side. During the summer Sunday Splash, you might float atop an inflatable raft resembling an orange slice.
Get it? Food and wine pervade the Epicurean Hotel, a 2-year-old lodging facility just outside downtown Tampa. The boutique inn, owned in part by the Bern’s Steak House folks, is a short bike ride from urban pedestrian trails that extend through scenic areas into downtown parks, museums and stages. Hotel guests are free to hop onto an Electra Townie cruiser from the in-house fleet of two-wheelers at will.
Orlando residents seeking a weekend escape with fine meals, fine art and a pleasant way to burn off calories, might choose the Epicurean, an unusual choice that is only 90 minutes away.
In the hotel itself, the epicurean theme intertwines with every element. All artwork throughout the property has some tie-in to comestibles. A giant fork-and-knife replica stands guard over the bicycle rack. Etchings of grape vines and eating utensils distinguish the glass plates outside every guest room door. Behind those doors, lodgers can mix up cocktails using in-room shakers, adding in jarred martini condiments such as blue cheese stuffed olives. Prefer wine? Five bottles will be at the ready near your minibar.
On the lobby level, a spiffy 40-seat culinary classroom boasts a contemporary stage and stadium seating. The space hosts wine tastings, food preparation demonstrations and cook-offs among local chefs. Across from that, the Library Lounge, a common seating area, displays some of the Bern’s family’s 30,000 cookbooks; proceeds from sales benefit a culinary charity. A wine and spirits store specializes in rare bottles, and Chocolate Pi, a bakery, serves sweets and coffee drinks.
The bar of the hotel’s restaurant, Èlevage, stocks no commercial fruit juices. If your drink is fruity, the juice was extracted from the fruit that day (except for cranberry, which is purchased from a local farmer). Some cocktails, like the Cucumber Gimlet, are a refreshing mix of sweet and savory. At Edge, the rooftop bar, forget about ordering common cocktails like Jack and Coke. Many of the spirits are from boutique distillers, and the mixers are hand-crafted.
Èlevage is, in practice, the heart of the Epicurean. Bright yet warm, expansive yet sectioned into smaller areas, the all-day restaurant is topped with a drop ceiling of crossed rope that hangs from wood taken from a bourbon distillery in Kentucky.
While Èlevage has an ambitious menu, it’s part of a trio of related restaurants along the same Hyde Park/SoHo street. Bern’s is an old-fashioned steakhouse that has been searing T-bones since 1956. It is timeless. About a block north, its vivacious offspring, Haven, fills with 30-something professionals out to share plates of inventive foods like General Tso’s Duck Tongues. Even the less adventurous options are worthy of Instagram posts.
All of this tasting can put on pounds, yet those Epicurean cruisers are an enticing antidote. Turn right out of the hotel and head to Bayshore Boulevard, where a 4.5-mile sidewalk runs along Hillsborough Bay. You’ll enjoy expansive water views with a collection of ogle-worthy homes across the street.
If you turn left, after several miles – bits of which have exercise gear along the trail – you’ll hit the city center. There, you’ll have access to another trail, called Riverwalk, which connects with museums including the Tampa Museum of Art, parks such as the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The Tampa Bay History Center and the Florida Aquarium lie on the southern end of Riverwalk. Of course, car and cab will get you to any of these spots too.
Add a couple of days to your stay – if not to explore all of these cultural draws, then to try out Tampa’s other notable restaurants. Among them are The Refinery, a humble former house serving farm-to-table fare; Ulele, a large loft-like space incorporating native Florida foods like alligator and datil pepper into a broad menu; and Anna’s Americana Folk Art Café, with an eclectic bill of fare and live music.
Why visit Tampa when it’s so much like Orlando? Because its restaurants, its artwork, its performances, and one particular hotel are distinctive enough that you’ll feel like you’re really on vacation.