For a perfect night out in Tampa, stay, eat and drink at these 3 spots

If you haven’t heard, Tampa has become one of the hottest real estate markets in the country (although higher interest rates caused a sharp decline in 2022.) With family in the area, I often travel to Tampa to get to nearby destinations, either west to the beaches, south to Sarasota, or north to the springs and horse country around Ocala. Until recently, Tampa was just a short stop on my itinerary. This year, based on its rapid expansion and the corresponding opening of hotels, restaurants and tourist experiences, I decided to create a mini-vacation out of my pre-Christmas plans. Here’s a quick guide to a night in Cigar City.

Where to stay: The Tampa EDITION

Billed as Tampa’s only 5-star hotel, the Tampa Edition is located on Channelside Drive across from the famous (or infamous) expensive Heron apartment building. The area has clearly seen a renaissance in construction with the array of gleaming glass, concrete and steel buildings that include the hotel.

Tampa Edition opened as part of Water Street Tampa, a $3.5 billion urban mixed-use expansion project led by Strategic Property Partners, a partnership between Cascade Investment and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. The hotel and residences were created by Ian Schrager in collaboration with Marriott International.

I learned from my Uber driver on the way to the hotel (who happens to run a landscaping company during the day), that The Tampa Edition has hundreds of plants throughout the property. I’m a big fan of biophilic design, so I was excited to learn about it – and then I was met with a lush tropical (potted) forest upon entering the lobby. The driver wasn’t kidding. The staff handling plant care must have a full-time job watering, pruning and maintaining what seems like thousands of plants throughout the property. Apparently, Schrager wanted to create the illusion of a jungle of ferns and leaves. Control! He made it.

Guest check-in takes place on the ground floor near the hotel’s main entrance. An open lobby with 20-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows includes the Lobby Bar, which has a large-scale Anish Kapoor-inspired stainless steel lilac sphere artwork and a custom-designed travertine pool table. the guests were drinking cocktails and playing some games when I entered. At the other end is the entrance to one of the restaurants, Market at Edition.

The Tampa Edition features 172 guest rooms, 30 spacious suites and one penthouse suite with sleek modern decor and elegant details by Ian Schrager. Each room has floor-to-ceiling windows that offer spectacular views of Tampa. My room had sweeping views of the city and a Scandinavian vibe from the blonde wooden furniture and minimalist winter white color palette, accented by the ivory sheep throw on the bed. I felt cozy for Christmas in Florida, especially since the temperature dropped that week to frost warning levels.

I wandered around the stunning property before heading to the Punch Room for a cocktail. Unfortunately, due to my short visit, I didn’t get a chance to try out the spa or dine at the hotel’s many restaurants. Market at Edition is located on the ground floor, where costumed waiters offer Italian food in an airy space. Lilac, earning rave reviews from food writers (and my Uber driver), serves as the hotel’s flagship restaurant. The Mediterranean menu was designed by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser and features table-side preparations, personalized wine pairings and local seafood and produce. Fraser also created the seaside cuisine of Azure at Edition, the Greek restaurant set in a cool, romantic rooftop setting.

Where to drink: Drill room in The Tampa EDITION

From the lobby near the check-in desk, I climbed an architectural spiral staircase to find a guarded door on the second floor. Guarded, of course, in the most generous way by a host who checks to see if anyone has remembered to reserve a table inside the Punch Room. Of course I have, I say. Confirming, she leads me into a moody, sexy space anchored by a gorgeous ceiling-high bar in the back. Rich cobalt blue banquettes line the wood-paneled walls, while chartreuse green sofas and chairs create a focal point around a fireplace.

The Punch Room in Tampa is the first North American iteration of the concept created by EDITION Hotels. The cocktail menu takes cues from Tampa’s 17 storyu pirates, merchants and privateers of the century, hence a menu that leans heavily towards Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico spirits. Rum, of course, features heavily in many drinks, two of which I tried.

Maracaibo offers an ode to Venezuela with Santa Teresa 1796 and Diplomatico rum, as well as the fruity buttery flavor of papaya mixed with the smoky spice of ancho chile. I loved the depth and complexity of this drink which finished like soft velvet in the mouth.

A glass of Ziggy’s Punch took me on a mental trip to Jamaica. The base note comes from Smith & Cross, a sea-strength aged bottling incorporating Jamaican high-ester style rums known for their exotic fruit and pineapple notes. On top is blended Plantation 3 Stars rum, smoky spices, ginger, clarified lime and Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb. A bright and refreshing cocktail, the result is lighter and more elegant than the description suggests, finishing with a perfect touch of spice.

If you can’t make a reservation at the Punch Room, The Tampa Edition has plenty of places to drink, all surrounded by lush greenery, whether it’s the biophilic lobby bar or the flower-filled rooftop pool bar.

Where to eat: Bern steakhouse

Once an insider’s secret, especially among wine lovers, Bern’s brilliance has long since slipped into public view. Launched in 1956, this 67-year-old restaurant miraculously continues to grow in popularity every year. Perhaps that’s partly a product of the city’s population boom (in 2020, the Tampa Bay area gained a net of nearly 50,000 new residents), but this iconic spot remains one of the hardest to hold in the city. I marked my calendar, set my alarm and woke up at 7am, thirty days before the night I planned to be in Tampa, yet there were only options left after 8pm. Since I was celebrating an anniversary and my husband was flying in from New York, we figured we’d play it safe at 9pm.

The evening began with a difficult position. I arrived promptly, knowing I’d need time to scan the 200-page wine list for the perfect bottle, whether it’s an old Bordeaux vintage or an underrated Bourgogne appellation. However, the staff would not seat me until my husband arrived and his flight was delayed out of New York (of course). Although he had landed, he was stuck in the rental car line. I had long decided to eat (and wine) in Bern, whether my husband arrived or not, but since we had flown in from two cities to celebrate an anniversary, I found it disappointing to have the same seating policy for two ( which yes, it says on the website) as you would with a large dinner group, especially towards the end of the night. Finally, after 20 minutes of frustration, I was shown to a table and given the wine list by the most gracious waiter, a career waiter from Turkey named Erhan Ozgur, who turned a false start into the star dining experience of the year. (Leave this guy for an increase, Bern.)

Depending on your point of view, Bern’s can be considered a steakhouse with a great wine list or a sit-down wine bar with a steakhouse. I tend to see it as the latter. We started with grilled oysters which came as six perfect bites richly dressed with spinach, leeks, bacon, Pernod and cheese. We skipped the caviar menu and the large shellfish towers, going straight for the steak. I ordered the 10oz dry aged strip and my husband went for the 15oz T-bone dry.

We knew this was too much meat for the two of us, but, when we were in Bern. The steaks came perfectly cooked with balanced marbling and deep beefy flavor, which we rated good to very good. As partners at Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn, home of the roasted, charred, buttery porter, we knew ahead of time to temper our expectations. Each entree came with savory French onion soup, a light salad, loaded baked potatoes, fried onions and a vegetable. The menu offered upgrades to more interesting sides from traditional dishes, but we preferred to save stomach space and direct our money to the wine.

Many of Bern’s treasures have long been looted, I note when reviewing the wine book, especially since my last visit nearly 7 years ago. (I’ve been three times.) Back then, pre-Covid, the staff also offered cellar tours. Still, the restaurant remains solely focused on replenishing its 600,000-bottle list that ranges from blue-chip labels to vintages and in-house oddities. There is something for everyone at every price point. Just back from Bourgogne, I chose a ruby, velvety Pinot Noir from Santenay, which had quite a bit of luxury, being a slightly warmer year and appellation. It complemented not only the meat, but also the quirky red lighting and Bordello-like decor.

Bern’s Steakhouse has a rare blend of ingredients. From its deep wine cellar, which conveys its Spanish colonial-meets-Italian rococo-meets-1950s American vibe, and its ensemble of urbane career waiters, it deserves to draw crowds—even if the seating politics can be more flexible occasionally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *