We try to visit Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Florida at least once a year. It’s one of our favorite places to eat, anywhere. We love going with friends and introducing them to the Bern’s experience but when we get the urge to go, we’ll make it a date and take the hour (or three hour with bad traffic) drive on I-4. Most time we’ll go earlier in the evening and then head home afterwards. For this trip, we also had to be in Tampa the following evening so we decided to make a mini-vacation out of the visit to the Florida west coast.
I knew what hotel I wanted to book. In 2013, the owners of Bern’s Steak House helped open a hotel across the street. The four story, 137 room hotel is focused around fine food and great wine. It’s the perfect place to stay if you’re eating at Bern’s because after the steak and a trip to the dessert room upstairs, all you need to do is make it across the street and fall into bed.
The Epicurean Hotel is a part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection hotels brand and as of this writing, there are 134 hotels in the “collection.” Here’s how the Autograph Collection is described on their website:
Driven by the knowledge and vision to go beyond the commonplace, we handpick and celebrate the world’s most unique boutique hotels. Each one is chosen for its founder’s passion, the thoughtfulness of its design, its inherent craft, and its connection with the locale. Our aim is to showcase some of the most beautifully orchestrated hotel experiences the world has to offer.
There was one problem – apparently that passion, thoughtfulness and craft come with a price tag to match all those adjectives. Here’s what they were asking for a single night stay:
Apparently those prices, while higher that usual, are not that uncommon for this property. I checked the prices for April (with an AAA discount) and they ranged from $208 to $474 per night, before taxes.
Fortunately, there were rooms available to book with Marriott Rewards points. This hotel is a category 7 property and costs 35,000 points a night. That’s a whole lot of points but considering the cash price, it was definitely the better deal.
We arrived at the hotel around 6:45PM, after sitting in over two hours of traffic getting there from Orlando. After leaving our car with the valet (as this property has no self parking available) we headed into the lobby. Before we were able to turn to the check in desks off to the right, we were met by a hotel associate with an iPad. He looked up our reservation and started to apologize that they had a large wedding party leave that day and they had asked for late checkout for the entire room block so our room was not ready yet. OK. He was very proactive and asked what our plans were for the evening. We explained that we had dinner reservations at Bern’s, across the street, at 8PM and we still needed to change clothes. He said that they would be glad to let us use the spa area to freshen up and change and they would bring our bags up to our room so they were there when we got back from dinner. I would rather have a room but OK, things happen and we tend to roll with it.
As it turned out, when he went to get claim checks for our bags, he said that housekeeping just released a room and we could head upstairs. He escorted us directly to the room where we completed the check in process. He thanked us for our understanding and provided us with two drink coupons good for either the Elevage bar downstairs or at EDGE, the rooftop bar (or as they call it a “Social Drinkery”). That was a nice gesture since we didn’t really have to wait at all to get our room.
Exiting the elevator, we made a right at the huge picture of the cheese and headed down the hallway.
The hotel does have a upscale feel with food related art along the hallways. They were scenes with miniature people on top of fruits and vegetables. Interesting to say the least.
Our room was located at the end of the hallway, just around the corner of the building. It connected to a larger corner room possibly to make the pair of rooms a junior suite.
The hotel has a wonderful decor and reminded us of the MOXY in Phoenix (minus the LoveSac…oh, that LoveSac!)
There were distinctive design touches like the old style telephone and the ice bucket that fit into a hole in the counter (in front of the split bottles of champagne that started at $50). From this angle you can see the odd placement of the connecting door and how they just placed a small end table in front of it. That meant there was no light source in that part of the room. I had a table and a plug so I was happy, but it was just a strange room layout.
The bathroom looked wonderful, with white tiles that really stood out. The shower had both a normal and rain shower head. More importantly, there were directions outside the shower for how to turn the water on, how to change the water flow between the shower heads and the water controls were on the back wall of the shower. Wonderful design and I wish every hotel was this thoughtful.
The soap and shampoo were Damana brand, which I’ve used before and really like.
One thing about the room that was bothersome was the noise. I’m not sure if it was because we were on a corner but we could hear EVERYONE in the hallway. Also the room doors tended to SLAM shut. It was fortunate that the rooms around us didn’t wake up too early but once we were up, there was no going back to sleep.
The hotel has a nice pool area and they’ve tried to hide the garage on the right, apartment building on the left and freeway directly behind it the best they could. You are staying in a residential neighborhood and this isn’t a resort property. When checking in, we were reminded that the pool was heated but we’re Floridians and you just don’t go out and sit by the pool in February.
For lunch we ate at the Elevage restaurant. It’s a very nice room and the food was wonderful. They also have a 50 cent martini special with the purchase of any lunch entree.
We did manage to use our drink vouchers at the EDGE rooftop bar on the second day of our stay. The drinks were wonderful. Note the view – while it’s a rooftop there’s not much to see in the general area around the hotel.
Thoughts about the Epicurean
So, what’s my feeling about the hotel. I like it. The problem being that I want to love it. It’s a wonderful hotel with a great theme and they execute it well. Both of our stays there have been totally acceptable. The lack of soundproofing and the slamming doors admittedly detracted from the entire experience.
My biggest problem with the hotel is the price point. No way is this hotel worth $250 or up to $500 a night. This is the same impression I came away with when we stayed at the Hyatt Centric Key West. I have to consider the price when I judge the hotel. When you’re pricing higher than the flagship Marriott Tampa Waterside Hotel and Marina, which is right downtown near the Amalie Arena and Convention Center, but you don’t have the view or location of that hotel, you better over deliver on service and quality. Despite trying really hard, the Epicurean just isn’t that level.
For us, it will be a once every few years splurge. We still like staying here. It makes going to Bern’s an experience, even more than it is by itself. Otherwise, we’ll just make the drive back from from Tampa after dinner and that’s fine for us.
Oh, remember when I said we needed to stay in Tampa because of plans the next day? We had tickets to see Billy Joel. The show ROCKED!
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