Affectionately known as the “Pink Palace,” the Don CeSar is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Tampa Bay. Over the years, the historic building has undergone many changes and renovations. Originally built as an opulent resort in 1928, it became a military hospital in 1942, and a Veterans Administration Headquarters in 1945. After sitting vacant for years, it was reopened as a hotel in 1973, and was soon named to the National Register of Historic Places. Since then, it has served as the backdrop for several movies and welcomed visitors from around the world. Most recently, the hotel completed a multi-year, large-scale property renovation in March 2022.
While most locals probably associate the Don CeSar with white sandy beaches and beautiful sunsets, the hotel also offers great dining options. Though you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the restaurants, I highly recommend splurging on a staycation at the Don CeSar, which is what my husband and I did. From the moment you walk into the lobby, you feel like you’re stepping back in time to the 1920s.
The Don CeSar has a variety of places to eat and drink, but the Lobby Bar is the epicenter of the hotel. The bar and lounge area is sophisticated with art deco decor and plush furniture that evokes 1920s elegance. It’s the best place to watch a bartender whip up a fancy cocktail and take in the beauty and grandeur of the historic surroundings.
For those who want a truly upscale dining experience, Maritana is an AAA 4 Diamond restaurant located off the lobby. It offers coastal inspired cuisine and an extensive wine list in the completely renovated dining room. Maritana requires proper resort or smart casual attire and also offers a private dining room.
While the Lobby Bar and Maritana are on the main floor of the hotel, the ground floor houses boutiques and the rest of the dining options that include Society Table, The Rowe Bar, Uncle Andy’s Market and Beacon Pool Bar & Lookout. Sadly, the original Uncle Andy’s Old Fashion Ice Cream Parlor that welcomed ice cream lovers for more than 40 years was repurposed into offices during the hotel’s renovation. I felt especially nostalgic about this because I worked there during high school and when I was home on college breaks. The new Uncle Andy’s Market offers ice cream, sweet treats, coffee and other grab-and-go food and drink items, but it’s just not the same as its original namesake.
Exiting the doors from the ground floor corridor leads out to the pool deck and beach access. This is what guests come to the Don CeSar for and it is truly amazing. Within a few steps you can have your feet in the soft, white sand or swim in one of two pools. Rising up between the pools is the two-story Beacon Pool Bar & Lookout. It offers frozen drinks, specialty cocktails and a menu with shareable plates, salads, burgers, sandwiches and wraps. The upper level offers stunning views of the beach and the famous St. Pete Beach sunset.
Just off the pool deck is The Rowe Bar and Society Table, and both have indoor and outdoor seating. Named for the hotel’s founder, Thomas Rowe, The Rowe Bar is the more casual of the two restaurants. It features ample plush seating around several fire pits which is where we enjoyed a cocktail at sunset before dinner.
Our dinner reservation was at Society Table, a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The ambiance was warm and inviting thanks to the excellent service and the bright, Art Deco decor. While the menu wasn’t large, it offered a good variety of dishes such as Seared Scallops, Grilled Lamb Ribs and Seared Ahi Tuna. We opted for Crab Risotto ($24), Red Snapper ($37) and Seared Gulf Grouper ($41). All of the dishes were delicious and beautifully presented, but the Red Snapper was our favorite. It was served cioppino style with mussels, Florida shrimp, fennel and warm bread for dipping. For dessert, we enjoyed Key Lime Pie ($12) and the Bougie Brownie ($12), which was a chocolate lover’s dream. Overall, our meal and the atmosphere were amazing.
Whether you go to the Don CeSar to dine or for the beach, it’s the perfect place to act like a tourist and enjoy a quintessential Tampa Bay experience.
Society Table at The Don CeSar: 5 Stars
Location: 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
Hours: Open daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m.