If the walls of the recently opened Floridan Palace Hotel could talk, they’d probably ask why the hand-painted ceilings get all the attention. This masterfully restored 85-year-old, 19-story landmark hotel was reopened in July, resurrecting what was easily the most opulent and elegant in downtown Tampa during its heyday.
Originally opened in 1927, the hotel sat dormant for nearly 25 years until Antonios Markopoulos purchased the dilapidated building in 2005 with hopes of restoring it to its former glory. His son Angelo thought he father was having delusions of grandeur when the family stepped into the hotel for the first time to assess the damages.
“My father is a challenge junkie,” he says. “When he presented the idea to the family, we didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Seven years later however, the family reopened the newly renamed Floridan Palace Hotel in July and sold out all 213 rooms just weeks later to an enthusiastic Republican National Convention crowd. According to the Tampa Tribune, when it was all said and done the restoration cost $11 million. And it’s hard to imagine the original hotel was as elegant as it is today.
We searched the Hillsborough County Library System for some historic photos of Hotel Floridan during its heyday and re-photographed the same iconic images to show how the new Floridan Palace Hotel stacks up.
As you enter the grandiose lobby, the first thing that catches your eyes is the hand-painted ceiling tile. Shimmering gold borders around blossoming flowers are framed to create a mesmerizing setting. Angelo Markopoulos says it took two painters on scaffolding several years to hand airbrush the scene. Huge crystal chandeliers are complemented by furniture that was handpicked to replicate how the hotel looked in the 20s.
Rewind to 2005 when Antonio Markopoulos purchased the hotel and the welcome desk was an absolute disaster. Vultures inhabited the top floors and water was trickling 19 floors down onto the key cubbies and the entire lobby had a horrid stench, Angelo says. The family worked with the city’s architectural review commission to painstakingly revitalize what once was, restoring the original granite floors and columns, sandblasting the wrought iron railings and repainting them, and updating the plumbing system to eliminate leaks.
One of the most intriguing parts of the new Floridan Palace Hotel didn’t even exist in 1927. This area used to be a sitting/smoking room but the Markopoulos family saw a chance to modernize the facility and give its guests a great place to hang out, take in the scene and people watch. The original cedar ceiling was refinished to maintain the area’s vintage appeal. The full-service bar has every libation you could ask for, including Tampa’s own Florida Avenue draft beer and the famous Between the Sheets martini.
The Crystal Dining Room
Next to the lobby, no room is more extravagant than the Crystal Dining Room. With seating for up to 150, it’s grand in both stature and décor. The hand-painted ceiling is continued here with scenes of angels at the top of the windows. The menu has a Mediterranean flavor that pays homage to the heritage of the new owners.
Standing amidst the many high rises in downtown it’s hard to imagine this used to be the tallest building in the city. Some of the country’s biggest stars walked through these doors, including Elvis Pressley, Babe Ruth and Jimmy Stewart. It was undoubtedly the place to see and be seen. Very little has changed on the outside of the building. The terracotta exterior was sandblasted to clean up the bricks and new canopies were installed, but it’s very much the same as the days when stars like Elvis came to Hotel Floridan to see what all the fuss was about.
Between the Sheets Martini
Floridan Palace Hotel’s Cocktail is a Spin on What Was Once Tampa’s Signature Drink
Odds are if you were heading into Hotel Floridan, it was to visit the Sapphire Room. Nicknamed the Surefire Room because of its stiff drinks and the amount of women who frequented the bar, the Sapphire Room was home to the Between the Sheets martini. The drink was first made popular during Prohibition but seemed to stick around for years even after the ban on alcohol was lifted.
The Markopoulos family decided to resurrect the historic drink and put a little southern spin on it by adding a touch of lemon juice and serving it with an orange slice. Here’s what’s in it:
¾ ounce light rum
¾ ounce cointreau
¾ ounce brandy
squeeze of lemon juice
1 orange wedge to garnish