At the Fenway Hotel, there’s no baseball, but plenty of hits
There’s a Fenway hotel that’s not in Boston? Yep. Named after the geographic definition of the name (“fen” = marshland), the Fenway Hotel opened in November in Dunedin, Fla. Although there is baseball nearby, there is absolutely no connection to Fenway Park — in fact, the city of Dunedin is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training camp. The Tampa Bay Rays are based a few miles away in St. Pete.
The sign out front looks suspiciously like a baseball pennant — but no. It’s meant to resemble a megaphone. You’ll hear music as you enter the bay-facing hotel; in our case, it was “Lollipop” by the Chordettes. “We’re trying to re-create the music and the feel of the 1920s, with a twist of modern hospitality,” says general manager Shawn Routten. This isn’t a fake theme: The circa 1927 stucco building once served as the region’s first radio station. (It has also been a school and a hotel, but music is a more fun concept.) They broadcast their own play list, “Live from the Fenway.” You may hear live music in the lobby as you enter this 83-room property and sip your welcome drink (a Kir Royale); the Fenway hosts local acts seven days a week, in the evenings and during brunch on weekends. You’ll notice beach bikes, free for guests’ use, and the sleek Parlor Bar.
It’s hard to believe that this jazzy, 10,000-square-foot modern hotel was boarded up, covered in graffiti, and in foreclosure just a couple of years ago. That’s always sad, but it was especially hard to fathom here, since the rolling lawn faces the Gulf of Mexico, with lovely views of nearby islands, the Clearwater skyline, and a historic pier favored by pelicans. Developers wanted to demolish it and build condominiums.
In 2016, Mainsail Lodging & Development partnered with the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA, and brought the property back to life. Some $11 million later, the “new” Fenway hotel sits on the footprint of the old building. They added a rooftop bar, Hi-Fi, that has quickly become a primo place to watch the sun set over the Gulf in a comfy banquette. That sprawling lawn will become the site of croquet and badminton games and Taoist Tai Chi lessons. The hotel will also work with the Society to offer health and wellness packages.
Just a few weeks after its grand opening, the Fenway is a welcoming space. While the hotel has a contemporary feel, designers worked with the Dunedin History Museum, hanging old photos of the property on the walls and retaining the 1920s speakeasy located below the main floor. (It is closed off, but it’s there.) “You can have the hospitality, but without a story and a purpose, it doesn’t amount to much,” Routten notes. “We’re trying to bring the vibe back,” he adds.
A story and a purpose are well and good, but a decent restaurant never hurt. Happily, they’ve got that covered with HEW Parlor & Chophouse. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, HEW feels like a steakhouse. Popular dinner items include a hangar steak, rack of lamb, and a pork porterhouse, with side dishes ordered a la carte. Some dishes will change with the season, as will the fish. We tried sea scallops with pork belly and a medley of sides to share and were quite happy; the crispy Brussels sprouts were a favorite at the table. Dunedin locals are showing up to check it out, angling for a table facing the open kitchen (a benefit: sampling special treats proffered by the chefs.) “People come and make a night of it, having dinner here and a drink at the rooftop bar,” a server told us.
Guests who spend the night will be comfortably ensconced in rooms with one king or two queen beds that face flat-screen TVs and ocean views (some), done up in white and gray with blue accents. Bathrooms offer lots of countertop space — a rarity even in new hotels, but much appreciated. A fun feature: Each room has an Amazon Alexa, pre-loaded with commands. If you’d like, say, a pot of fresh coffee or a toothbrush delivered to your room, just ask Alexa. She’s also handy for wakeup calls.
Hop on one of those Fenway-emblazoned beach cruisers to tour Dunedin’s downtown. No worries about traffic, since you can ride a segment of the 47-mile Pinellas Trail, a converted rail trail. Main Street is just a couple of blocks away. This city of 35,000 has a Celtic feel; its name comes from Dun Eideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. The Highland Games in April and the Celtic Festival in November are major events, and children have the option of learning to play bagpipes in school. Fun places to check out include the Dunedin Brewery (www.dunedinbrewery.com), Florida’s oldest craft brewery, Olde Bay Fish Camp (www.oldebaycafe.com), a fish shack-slash-fish market on the dock with tasty seafood and a friendly vibe, and the Restorative (www.restorativerestaurant.com), a tiny eatery located in a strip mall owned by a husband-wife team who create tasty, creative cuisine. (Order the spaghetti in black garlic puree if it’s on the ever-changing menu when you visit. It is messy but amazing.)
So — there are lots of reasons to come to the Fenway Hotel, but none of them is baseball. That is, unless you happen to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan.
FENWAY HOTEL, 453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin, Fla. Rooms from $199. 727-683-5999; www.fenwayhotel.com