by Ron Bernthal
Long known for its Spring Break pandemonium during the March and April college vacation periods, Fort Lauderdale, which turned 100 years old in 2011, is now focusing on the more upscale vacation and business traveler, while not entirely giving up on its traditional end-of-winter revenue producing student groups.
When I visited the city in August, after a 15 year absence, I was pleasantly surprised at the change of scenery along the beachfront and in downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has blossomed into a thriving and vibrant city, complete with beautifully designed office and residential towers, new entertainment venues, and parks, and exciting cultural centers.
Many of the 1960′s-era hotels and motels along the Boulevard have been demolished, making room for high-end brand name properties, with residents and visitors crowding into the new hotel bars and restaurants overlooking the ocean. Hotel companies have certainly shown that they are ready to invest in Fort Lauderdale’s growing upscale tourism market. A deluxe Ritz Carlton is on the beach now, and its Full Moon parties have become legendary among Fort Lauderdale’s swinging singles. A trendy W Hotel has also opened along the beachfront, with its pricy Steak 954 restaurant attracting a steady stream of expense-account visitors, even during August, traditionally a slow month for business travelers.
On the Intracoastal Waterway, just across the 17th Street Bridge, and within walking distance of the Broward County Convention Center, is the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina hotel, with views of a modern city skyline and a yacht-filled marina at the base of the property that shows no sign of a recession-era slowdown.
But the newest hotel to open along Fort Lauderdale’s beachfront boulevard is called B Ocean Fort Lauderdale, part of the expanding B Hotels and Resorts brand. Formerly a Holiday Inn property, (and the 1950′s-era Schraffts Motor Inn before that), this completely refurbished hotel, where all 240 deluxe guest rooms have ocean views, perhaps best symbolizes the city’s efforts to reinvent itself. By convincing private developers and investors that the city is serious about revitalization and upscale growth, business leaders in Fort Lauderdale have seen a plethora of new urban commercial and residential projects in the city that have injected new life into formerly neglected neighborhoods.
B Ocean, facing the Atlantic a little north of most of the beachfront properties, and overlooking the green expanse of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, is helping to revitalize this part of the beach, where new boutiques and cafes are replacing the older Spring Break-era t-shirt shops and pizza joints.
B Ocean sits on the busy corner of Sunrise Avenue and Route A1A (Fort Lauderdale Boulevard), set-back from the street corner in a green patch of cypress and palm trees. The lobby is white and spare, and an interesting, ever-changing, pop-art style, wall lighting behind the front desk offers guests a shimmering array of fluorescent blues, pinks, and reds. At first glance the lobby is somewhat sterile, as if you were entering the reception area in a doctor’s office or trendy spa, but the friendliness of the front desk staff more than makes up for the impersonal look of the lobby.
The hotel’s location, shoe-horned into a corner lot, means that there is little room for its three main activity areas…the swimming pool, the casual B’stro on the Beach restaurant, and its signature SAIA Asian eatery. All venues are located directly off the lobby.
The swimming pool, with its outdoor bar, is surrounded by high walls, with the usual assortment of lounge chairs and umbrella tables. At night it makes for a nice, private oasis where guests can have drinks, swim, and listen to jazzy piped-in music. An indoor fitness center is nearby.
SAIA has received rave reviews from the local press, and its casual, family style ambience is perfectly suited to the restaurant’s location, where the Atlantic Ocean can be seen through the large windows. The Japanese/Thai-inspired menu items, including Tamari or Miso Scallops, Thai Curry Lobster, Tempura Shrimp, Siam Chicken, and the spicy Hamachi Jalapeno are served family style, meaning the food comes to the table throughout the meal, with plates set down at the center of the table.
The hotel’s other restaurant, B’stro on the Beach, is on the other side of the lobby, and offers a wonderful breakfast, with a creative lunch and dinner menu as well. The nicely designed bistro-style interior provides individual café tables or a larger, dark wood communal table where hotel guests and local residents mix in a casual and friendly setting. The take-out bakery counter provides fresh-baked, organic breads, delicious pastries, and gourmet coffee. A unique feature of the restaurant is the self-service, 24-bottle, temperature-controlled, Italian-manufactured Enomatic wine dispensing system, where customers can sample tasting wines, or purchase larger glasses to go along with dinner or snacks and artisanal cheeses.
My corner room was comfortable, bright, and offered an ocean view from one window, and a view overlooking the green expanse of the state park from the second window. A 37″ flat-screen HDTV, two phones (but not one in the bathroom), and free Wi-Fi were nice amenities, but I was not able to locate the radio buttons on the night table electronic device, which seemed to be some type of combination docking station and clock. Room furnishings were summery and casual, with white walls and furniture, white and tan window drapery, and a transparent shower curtain that offers guests a view of the Atlantic while showing.
The hotel’s location is perfect for guests, with or without vehicles. All the other beachfront hotels and restaurants along Fort Lauderdale Boulevard are within walking distance, or easily accessed by the city’s convenient Sun Trolley, a visitor-friendly bus service that runs along several routes throughout the city. Rides are free, or 50 cents, depending on the route. The hotel also offers valet parking in a nearby garage.
Fort Lauderdale’s revitalized downtown is now known for its Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District. With the New River as its central focus, visitors can bike, walk, or take water taxis among a growing number of upscale shops and restaurants, as well as to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts Center, the Museum of Art, the Museum of Discovery and Science, andHimmarshee Village, with its collection of restaurants, clubs and bars. The Parker Playhouse, and the Fort Lauderdale History Center are also within the downtown area.
B Ocean Fort Lauderdale
999 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
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