St. Pete, No Beach
World-class art, locally sourced food, a walkable city. If this doesn’t sound like the St. Petersburg you know, it’s time to revisit.
The bleachers are loaded, all eyes on the two men working silently in tandem at the mouth of a furnace heated to 2,500-degrees.
Artist David Spurgeon is blowing, rolling, torching and shaping a bubble of molten glass at the end of a pipe. An assistant narrates the process throughout the hour-long glass-blowing demonstration that results in a conch shell-shaped object d’art to be sold in the adjacent gift shop of the Morean Arts Center Glass Studio & Hot Shop. This gallery and working studio are an outpost of the nearby Chihuly Collection museum, whose new building and garden—the first in the world designed to showcase the work of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly—opened to the public in October 2016.
Explore the colorful murals of St. Pete’s Central Arts District at stpetemuraltour.com (COURTESY VIST ST. PETERSBURG CLEARWATER)
Across the alley from the Hot Shop are edgy, large-scale murals that adorn the rear walls of every building in sight. More than 70 have sprung up in St. Petersburg, on surfaces largely along Central Avenue in what is now called the Central Arts District. It’s an area so funky, vibrant and creative that it’s given birth to blocks of unique, Etsy-type shops, studio galleries, chef-owned restaurants, breweries and more.
It’s a different side of St. Pete—without the beach. Through April 17, come for the wonderfully curated Frida Kahlo exhibit at The Dali Museum. While there are only 15 paintings by the Mexican Surrealist whose iconic flower headdresses have made their way into pop culture, the other 45-plus pieces include drawings, photos and visual journal entries. Each combine to inform the viewer of Kahlo’s biography and work as an expression of her inner life, sharp intellect and physical pain, which she suffered as a result of a horrific bus accident when she was 18. Kahlo died in 1954 at the age of 47.
Experience LOCALE Market on First Fridays with a tasting of all the chef stations, localemarket.tocktix.com (RODRIGO MENDEZ)
Even if you don’t have time for a full-scale museum visit, pop in to Café Gala (named for Dali’s adored wife) for a light lunch of tortilla Española and a glass of Rioja. Dine beneath the sun-drenched triangular panes of the freeform geodesic structure that wraps the hurricane-proof museum as though a sea goddess is embracing it, or dine in the garden, which includes an installation that pays homage to Kahlo’s courtyard garden at her home, Casa Azul, in Mexico.
If you’re ready to imbibe some modern creativity, head to FarmTable Kitchen in the new Sundial entertainment and shopping complex less than a mile away on foot (you’ll pass the Museum of Fine Arts along the way, a much quieter museum experience, but every bit as nourishing to your soul). At FarmTable, the bartenders collaborate on a drink menu inspired by the current exhibit at the Dali. Today you’ll see “Tree of Life,” “Flower Crown,” and “Love and War.”
FarmTable Kitchen is the upstairs bar and restaurant to LOCALE Market below. The 20,000-square-foot food hall and restaurant concept is unique in that it is under the umbrella of founding chefs, Michael Mina, a recipient of the James Beard award for Best Chef, and Don Pintabona. Go here for fish tacos, ramen, charcuterie, dry aged meat, seasonal ravioli, vegan and raw food and more. Everything is made in-house and cooked to order. “We have people who come for coffee, bring a book, and stay for hours just grazing,” says Rachele Winkelmann, the market manager.
Catch the Frida Kahlo exhibit at The Dali Museum through April 17 (DANA HOFF).
Something special is the Chef’s Table: an 8-course tasting menu designed to showcase the best of LOCALE Market’s ingredients and served at a communal table in the private dining room Thursday-Saturday. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with a champagne tour of the market. Tickets are sold online at FarmTable.tocktix.com
For the full St. Pete experience that merges old with new, stay at the landmark Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, the 1925 pink palace that hugs the marina and defines the downtown skyline. The hotel fell into disuse for 18 years, and reopened in 1992. The rooms were renovated in 2012 and the lobby in 2014, but you’ll still see the lobby’s original vaulted ceilings and tile floors. The lobby bar and library offer intimate spaces to socialize, read or play a board game—as was intended by the hotel’s founder Aymer Vinoy Laughner, who expected guests to relax in public, not in their rooms. Claim a seat on the long verandah and watch the glittering marina or the comings and goings of guests, and you’ll see that the tradition still stands.
Get Set… Go!
There’s plenty to experience in St. Pete beyond the beach: good food, outdoor activities, art and history. Plan your trip at visitstpeteclearwater.com
A Look Back
Docents lead a tour of the Vinoy Thursday-Sunday mornings. Book in advance at the Navigator desk in the lobby. Hotel guests have exclusive access to Fred’s Cellar, a speakeasy-style restaurant, Thursday-Saturday nights. Call for reservations and the password. 727-824-8005.
The Vinoy connects to 9 miles of jogging routes on a map provided at the Navigator desk. Bring your bicycles or borrow from the Coast bike-share rack across the street. Between walking, biking and the 50-cents-a-ride trolley that stops in front, you’ll never need your car. coastbikeshare.com
Did you know that you can take a ferry from the downtown Tampa Convention Center directly into the heart of St. Pete on a new, 149-seat catamaran? The pilot project is running for a limited time, with crossings 7-days a week (there are additional runs on the weekends). crossbayferry.com
Salt of the Earth
Personifying the resurgence of St. Pete is Sea Salt by Chef/Owner Fabrizio Aielli, whose seafood flagship is in Naples. See a huge black grouper in today’s case? Tomorrow it’s on the menu. The oyster program changes daily, and the 2,500-label wine list ensures you’ll find something special. Insider tip: don’t miss Happy Hour. seasaltstpete.com