An abiding hallmark of ‘up-scale’ hotel service in America is that nothing is ever too much trouble – the guest is a god.
Make that a rather special boutique hotel in the heart of downtown St Petersburg, Florida, and you begin to feel distinctly privileged to be there at all, before, in turn, being made to feel completely at ease and happy to accept all the pampering as if to the manner born.
As soon as you walk through the front door of The Hollander, a restored historic gem from the 1930s only a short ride by free hotel shuttle from the waterfront, you are met by welcoming smiles and offers of help from front desk managers and any number of friendly staff who happen to be around.
There was no shortage of staff, either, to keep the place bustling along, with a determination to keep busy and with no demarcation if something needed doing – a smudge on a beveled glass panel in the front door showed up as the sunlight streamed into the lobby and it was not beneath a duty manager to grab a cloth and deal with it, rather than summon a cleaner who might have been busy elsewhere.
The work ethic permeated the whole place and it was no surprise to find that an affable chap in shirtsleeves helping to sort out a problem window one day turned out to be the owner, Mike Andoniades, known to everyone his employees and, I soon found, also commanding universal respect among them. It was no real surprise to find that with a surname like his, Mike had close family links near Thessaloniki in northern Greece, and we had already detected tasty hints to his Greek heritage in the restaurant menu.
Menus always figure high on any trip to the States and the Hollander’s was no exception, with its Tap House and Grill reflecting the fact that there’s an abundance of top quality ingredients in the area, from both land and sea, and a determination in the kitchen to take full advantage.
Breakfast was a suitably-impressive launch pad for a celebration of wholesome fare which continues through lunch and dinner, touching all the reliable American bases with excellent sandwiches, wraps and hand-made burgers on offer as well as more refined choices, backed up by a rather nice wine list. Maybe not fine dining in the Michelin star bracket we have in this country, but nothing like the stuff-your-face over-indulgence you can often encounter even in top class hotels in US tourist centres – and bearing in mind that this is Downtown St Petersburg and not St Pete Beach, which is miles away physically and a world away culturally.
Having said that, there’s a heck of a temptation on offer with the Big Breakfast at weekends (oh, the breakfasts!), featuring an ‘all-you-care-to-eat’ buffet.
Those of us lucky enough to have visited the States know that with a good old-fashioned American breakfast inside you, lunch can often be left off the day’s agenda, and that was certainly the case one day when I slipped up slightly with my order for a what I thought was going to be a ‘short stack’ of pancakes and ended up with a brekkie that Desperate Dan would have been proud of, with a pile of fluffy golden cushions covering my whole plate.
I told myself that I really needed the whole jugful of maple syrup just to help me cope, but I had to call it quits about half an hour and three mugs of coffee later.
Mrs G fared better by being more realistic with her selection from the vast choice on offer, having a couple of easy-over eggs, crispy bacon and home fries (a delicious version of well-seasoned saute potatoes) along with toast and real marmalade as a treat, sourced from a secret, personal stash in the kitchen by our delightful server Fiona, who hailed from Edinburgh!
Breakfast – and our dinner after a great day out Downtown – was enjoyed on the 130ft outdoor terrace of the Hollander, alongside the sidewalk on 4th Avenue North, a great spot to enjoy the balmy weather and watch the world go by with a coffee or a glass of wine in hand, either at your table or from the comfort of a squashy armchair or sofa.
Sofas on offer, too, in the hotel lobby with its period fireplace, where you can also enjoy a coffee or a drink from the Tap Room, before maybe heading through the bar to the coffee shop to pick from one of the most tempting displays of cakes and pastries I’ve seen in a long time, including an intriguing baklava cake and what was judged to be the best tiramisu yet.
Did I mention that they had 20-odd craft beers on offer in the bar as well, with a Tuesday special? Couple that with an extended daily happy hour, Martini Monday and Margarita Thursday, plus a burger, fries and beer on Wednesday and that’s a top-value stopping off point sorted for pretty well every day of the week, with the option of sitting by the rather nice and surprisingly-large HH2O pool, complete with its own Cabana Club bar and menu just through the hotel lobby.
On days when you might want to give restaurants a miss, or maybe have an informal snack or feed the family with a ready-meal or boxed-up ‘remainders’ from the previous day, there’s no need to stray from the hotel.
As well as the now-expected free WiFi and a huge bed and flat-screen TV, rooms at the Hollander also have a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker, and suites also have everything including the kitchen sink, so you can even do the washing up if you feel that way inclined.
After all that effort, you might well feel like a dip in the new pool, but if you really want to feel pampered, there’s the full-service Harmony Eco Spa to put you in the mood for a glass of fizz, maybe, while you gaze at the stars in the cloudless sky.
Ah well, maybe next time. Soon.
David Graham flew from Manchester to Tampa, via Atlanta, with Virgin Atlantic, and stayed at the Hollander as part of an extended trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida, taking in St Petersburg/Clearwater, Bradenton, and long-time favourite Sarasota, with its delightful refuge of Siesta Key.