A Multi-Faceted and Many Splendored Place:
Longboat Key Club and Resort
It was all about tennis at Longboat Key Club and Resort
this Sunday afternoon in March. Tennis Gardens had just
opened, and the excitement was palpable. In a few months, the 20
clay-court, $4.5 million facility with a below-ground irrigation system
and state-of-the-art stadium court with seating for anywhere
between 500 and 2,500, would host
the 2009 All-Star Children's Foundation Sarasota Open. Some of the
nation's up and coming mens players would be on the courts for the USTA
Challenger before moving on to Paris for the French Open. That event
would prove to be a memorable time in the Sarasota annals. But this
beautiful afternoon was marking the debut of Longboat Key Club and
Resort's world-class tennis center and reason enough for all the
We had just returned to our seats from Court 21, the
casual restaurant in Tennis Gardens' Clubhouse -- a sleek, low-slung
7,200-square foot structure of white stone and glass that overlooks the
stadium court -- as head pro John Langer aced his opponent to the
crowd's delight. But Bob Weil, F&B director of the Club and Resort who
was seated beside us, seemed more interested in the tall, rose-pink
"smoothies" we had brought back from Court 21 and were now sipping
contentedly. "Those are a blend of fresh strawberries and blueberries
with a touch of apple juice and açai -- a tremendous anti-oxidant that
attacks negative stuff in your body," he told us. "We serve food that
promotes a healthier lifestyle -- an essential, given the kind of place
Longboat Key Club and Resort is."
Just what kind of place Longboat Key Club and Resort
is we were to discover over the next few days. That the name is long and
the property sizeable we already knew. Spread out across 410 acres on
two sides of the slender barrier island just north of Sarasota -- "Islandside"
which faces the Gulf of Mexico and "Harbourside" which faces Sarasota
Bay -- it is a private country club for 2,000 residents of the larger
Sarasota community and, at the same time, a full-service resort that
attracts visitors from all over the country and abroad. All told, the
property comprises seven condominium towers that house 218 terraced
suites with spectacular views; the largest deepwater marina on
Florida's west coast, 45 holes of championship golf; 25 tennis courts, a
spa and fitness complex; a children's center, conference areas, jogging
and bicycle paths; six distinctive restaurants, and a swimming pool in a
gardened setting that leads to miles of a magnificent beach of pure
white sand overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
over the Gulf from an apartment terrace
|A $400 million "Enhancement Plan" promises to
add to Islandside an 18-hole Rees Jones golf course and
clubhouse, a luxury hotel, a 28,000-square foot spa and wellness
complex, a 10,000-square foot ballroom, a meeting center geared
to small groups like boards of directors, and a pair of
condominium towers and townhouse villas.
If Longboat Key Club and Resort is quite a
place today, it promises to be even more of a place tomorrow
when a new chapter is added to a legendary chronology that had
its beginnings when the circus came to town.
John and Mable Ringling had begun wintering in
Sarasota -- along with their animals, clowns, and high-wire
performers -- in the years preceding the First World War. During
the 1920s, the couple was part of the dizzying Florida land
boom. They bought property throughout the area including a swath
on the southern end of largely undeveloped Longboat Key where
they began building their Ritz Carlton Hotel. It was nearly
completed when the stock market crashed, and construction was
Unquestionably the Ringlings have left their
mark on the region. Their eponymous Museum of Art (filled with
masterworks by such as Rubens, Velàzquez, Pousssin, and van Dyck);
their Circus Museum and Venetian-styled mansion Cà d'Zan -- now
all part of Florida State University -- lend the Sarasota
community a cultural dimension unmatched in Florida, one might
venture to say in any resort area in the world. But the couple's
dream hotel never came to be.
For nearly half a century, the building languished.
Surrounded by weeds, the "Ghost Hotel," as it came to be called, stood
abandoned save for impulsive youthful forays. Then in 1959, real estate
entrepreneur Arthur Vining Davis purchased 2,000 acres in the region
from the Ringling interests. Some years later, his company Arvida (an
acronym formed by letters of his name) began the massive development
program that brought infrastructure, along with home sites,
condominiums, hotels, golf courses, and shopping centers to Longboat
Key. Included in Arvida's purchase was the land on which the ruin of the
Ritz Carlton sat. The hotel was finally demolished in the early 1960s.
But it was not until some twenty years later when Longboat Key Club and
Resort came up that the sound of tennis balls could be heard bouncing on
clay courts built on the site of the former "Ghost Hotel."
"The concept behind Longboat Key Club and Resort is
unique," says Katherine Songster, the young, dynamic public relations
manager for the property that opened in 1982. "Guests can hop out of bed
in their Islandside suite, play a few rounds of golf, spend some time at
the spa, have a wrap-sandwich poolside at Barefoot's and go for a swim,
take the complimentary shuttle -- it's always available -- across
to Harbourside. Once there, they can walk the docks of the marina, play
some more golf on the Harbourside course or maybe a game of tennis at
Tennis Gardens. Then they can take the shuttle back to Islandside,
relax on the beach for a few hours, shower, dress, and have a seafood
dinner at Sands Pointe in Resort Center or go back to Harbourside
for Northern Italian in Portofino. All of this in a single day on a
tropical island adjacent to a beautiful, artistic city. They might even
be able to spot a manatee from their terrace. They're these big
mammals, who frolic in our waters during winter."
Katherine paused, took a deep breath, smiled, and
added: "We have it all."
Barbara Michel has seen it all. One of the first
American women to be admitted to the Clef d'Or, the Club and Resort's
chief concierge has been a fixture at the Resort Center since the mid
1980s. She has lovely fair skin (a miracle in southern Florida), blonde
hair worn in an old fashioned upsweep, and a voice gentle enough to
please King Lear.
"I've been here for 26 years, and I can tell you when
our guests leave, they leave their heart-prints behind," she told us.
"We become very involved. I feel sad when they say goodbye. I've
become emotionally attached to them."
Barbara, like Katherine, stresses the
comprehensiveness of this destination property albeit from a different
perspective. "Where else can you spend the day on the beach and in 15
minutes be at the opera or a concert?" she asked. "Sarasota has one of
the richest national opera companies in the country. The Boston Symphony
was in town a short while ago; the Boston Pops will be here in a few
weeks. We have excellent theater. Our museums are of great caliber; the
Reubens collection is one of the finest in the world. And we are here to
get the tickets for our guests, to make their dinner reservations. There
are 35 quality restaurants in the area."
Relations Director Katherine Songster
Concierge Barbara Michel
Six of them are right on the premises and these
private dining amenities, along with room service and an extensive
catering service, fall under the direction of the fellow who commented
on the açai in our "smoothies" at the Tennis Gardens.
Bob Weil is tall and burly with a head full of dark
hair and a chin covered with a wisp of a beard. We met him on a day when
five events would be going on, typical for the F&B director who has been
with the property since 2001. "We are so spread out; we act like an
outside caterer," he said.
We were having lunch with Bob at the Grille at
Harbourside alongside the golf course. The clubhouse dining room is warm
and woody, and vintage photos of Sarasota and Longboat Key, including
the ill-fated Ritz Carlton, decorate the walls. But it was too lovely an
afternoon to spend indoors. Instead, we opted for an outdoor table
where the décor matches the blue of the sky and the white of the egrets
spotted every so often. Here you can get a frank, burger, or salmon
steak hot off the grill, a chicken breast or slice of pizza right from
the oven, or you can select your greens from an organic salad bar while
at the grill, the cook prepares your grouper wrap.
In the dappled shade of wild oaks, we watched golfers
at their game and checked out what appeared to be an iridescent crow who
was checking us out from a perfectly oval window in his tree-trunk home.
We also checked out a lunch menu that included matzoh ball soup(!) as
well as a spicy gazpacho, a range of salads -- including a great salmon
Niçoise, sandwiches, grilled grouper tacos and chicken quesadillas (for
dinner, prime cuts of beef and lamb and fresh seafood are among the
offerings), while over some Bloody Marys, perfectly seasoned with just
the right touch of horseradish, Bob told us how he got into the business
in the first place.
Food & Beverage Director Bob Weil
"When I was 15, I worked in a friend's family
restaurant in North Carolina" he began. "Then, while in college, I
supported myself washing dishes, cooking; I already had decided the
restaurant business was where I belonged. I was a history major, never
went to culinary school. But I had great summer and after-school jobs,
learned by working, watching, studied when I got home at night. Also, my
grandfather was a professional chef so I guess it's in the DNA.
"I think a lot about the act of dining as a human
activity, as a ceremony that binds us as human beings," he said. "And I
like to incorporate into our dining experiences a lot of different
cuisines and cultures."
Bob is clearly smitten with the cuisine and culture of
northern Italy, and in Portofino's, the property's newest dining room,
he's had the opportunity to exercise his creative gifts. It's set off
the dock in the marina clubhouse whose red-tiled roof, yellow canopies,
Renaissance-styled fountain, and stone pathways bordered with cypresses
give one the feeling of being in Italy. The dining room itself comes
straight out of a Tuscan farmhouse with tiled floors, stone, and earth
tones. Except the walls are lined with windows that nearly reach the
ceiling, and they look out to a sea of white boats docked at Longboat
Key Club Moorings and Sarasota Bay.
A sizeable bar on one side of the room wraps around a
wood-burning oven where pizzas are baked. Diners have a choice of view:
Sarasota Bay or pizza-making. The cooks actually put on a show of
tossing the dough in the air.
|"The pastas and breads, the
sauces are all home-made, always fresh," Bob said. "Crushed
tomatoes in olive oil, stocks are at the ready. You place an
order; the cook starts making the sauce. The ambience is casual.
You can order one of our eight pizzas, an antipasto and a cold
beer on draft, while at the next table, they can be having a
fantastic Italian meal with a great bottle of Barello."
Portofino is one of Longboat Key Club and
Resort's signature restaurants. Sands Pointe, which specializes
in local seafood, is the other. Located in the Resort Center on
Islandside, the contemporary split-level dining room, a study
in cool shades of lime, pale avocado and yellow, is poised like
the prow of a ship overlooking the beach and Gulf of Mexico.
"At Sands Pointe, you never lose the sense of
being in Florida. No matter where you're seated, you have that
view of the Gulf," says restaurant manager David Hood. It's
Bob had told us the nighttime atmosphere at Sands
Pointe is completely different from the one it has during the day. And
that's true too. Not because the level of formality goes up once the sun
goes down; an easy-going, casual spirit prevails be it at the lavish
Sunday brunch, lunch or dinner time. The difference lies in an
enhancement of the diners. In addition to resort guests, the dinner
crowd routinely includes club members and the friends and relatives
they've brought along, often guests from out of town. Their presence
lends to the dining experience the quality of a special occasion.
"Many of the club members and their
guests belong to clubs up north" David said, "so they have that
expectation. Also we are one of the best, most exciting restaurants in
the Sarasota area. The location is beautiful. The dining room is fine
cuisine. There's entertainment five nights a week, al fresco dining on
the patio outside. Club members have high standards; they're accustomed
to excellent food, fine service. And we keep them happy."
It's not too hard to keep guests
happy when they're dining on crab profiteroles with white truffles and
asparagus; arugula salad with pears dressed with a slightly sweet
mélange of mangos, white balsamic vinegar and a bit of egg yolk, honey
and mustard; duck confit (made in the house, cured for two days); and
Steak Delmonico served with creamy mashed potatoes in a red wine
reduction, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce. Especially when such dishes
are accompanied by a favorite Burgundy: Corton from the Domain of Louis
The wine list is very strong,
perhaps four hundred wines are available (many by the glass); among
them, the delicate white Bordeaux: Margaux, another favorite. In one of
his many guises, Bob travels the world selecting wines. "I have a mix,
but there are many Californian and French. The reserve list is heavily
Bordeaux and Burgundy." Figures.
|Bob oversees an accomplished team. Jose
Cuarta, Sands Pointe's sous chef, is one of them. He tells us
he's been influenced by the great chefs he's worked with at the
Breakers and the Ritz Carlton of Palm Beach. "I like to keep it
simple, accent the main ingredient whatever it may be.
Everything that comes with it: the sauce, the vegetables should
be there to lift it up."
More often than not, the main ingredient is a
fish from local waters. "We do pay a handsome price for grouper
-- fourteen to fifteen dollars a pound," Bob had mentioned,
"especially in season when there are restrictions on catches.
But my preference is salmon and snapper, both of which are
"Once we had a client who said he only eats
fish with a certain salt," he told us. "'No problem,' I said,
and we brought out a little bamboo tray with smoked Danish sea
salt, Hawaiian salt, etc. I think he was impressed. But then, so
were we to learn he owns the Buckingham in Greenwich Village."
Restaurant Manager David Hood
Like a classic French dinner, Sands Pointe's concludes
with a cheese plate before dessert. The presentation included a
Californian triple cream brie, an Australian blue cheese, a French sheep
milk cheese with a sweet and sour cranberry compote, apricot jam,
pickled grapes, and strawberry rhubarb jam.
There you have it: the Grille at Harbourside,
Portofino's, Sands Pointe. Also Court 21 at Tennis Gardens where, in
addition to the "smoothies," sliders, salads, curried chicken satay are
available along with wine by the glass. ("Some interesting varietals
expressive of the food," Bob had said, "Malbecs and Tempranillas.") And
Spike 'n Tees on Islandside's golf course where the buffet lunch of
salads, seafood and grilled items is 80% organic, and Barefoot for
casual poolside fare dining.
We had yet to encounter an F&B director with a reach
as large as Bob Weil's. Beyond the restaurants and room service, there's
a substantial catering component in his domain: weddings and rehearsal
dinners, fundraisers, special events, as many as thirty a month during
season, and held, as a rule, in the ballroom of the Harbourside Golf
Clubhouse and out on the course itself.
orchestrated gala receptions with imaginative setups of stations,
sit-down dinners, buffets for such events as the Sarasota Film Festival,
a tribute dinner to the film star Kevin Bacon, the Fall Wine Makers'
Dinner (recently the honoree was Louis Latour; a different Burgundy from
his famed vineyard accompanied each course of the six-course dinner, one
being the Corton we had at Sands Pointe), the regular Friday night
buffet, and a Passover Seder for the Jewish community of the Club. The
scope of creating and directing so many and such different kinds of
events leaves one breathless.
beauty of this property," Bob said. "There are so many options. We meet
weekly for three hours to go over the week's events. We know exactly
what's going on in every outlet. I have a great job because I have such
a great staff. When you get the right people in place it's a charm for
exciting to be a chef of the 21st century," he added. "There's so much
out there, such fantastic products and ways of preparation. What I'm
beginning to see is greater attention paid to health. People are
increasingly aware of what they're eating; where the food came from. We
are meeting this interest with vegetarian menus, with organic products,
with beef that is certified humane."
|"That's one of the directions we are going
in," said Michael Welly "and when we get into things, we go all
the way." Suntanned and silver haired, the general manager of
Longboat Key Club has been in the business for yearly thirty years
having worked in resorts out west and in Puerto Rico before
coming to southwest Florida. He stresses the multi-faceted
aspects of the property. "How diverse we are with the tennis,
golf, wellness, marina, beach, the green stuff," he told us.
"Longboat Key Club was the first resort and private club to
become certified in Sarasota. Instead of plastic, we use utensils, cups,
even straws made from corn. They're 100% biodegradable, would
melt if left in the sun. A great deal of attention is paid to
are lots of copies of our concept: a combination destination
resort and country club. But this was one of the first. And then
we are very private, very exclusive, beautifully maintained,
with a wonderful open beach."
It was a
beautiful evening. We were standing on the edge of the wooden walkway
that leads from the swimming pool area to the beach. All through our
time here, the moon had been getting rounder. Now, our last night, a
full moon had formed at last. It had risen high in the sky. The waters
of the Gulf were illuminated and shimmering.
In the few days, we had spent here, we had discovered
what kind of a place Longboat Key Club and Resort is, and it is indeed a
multi-faceted, many-splendored thing.
Longboat Key Club and Resort
301 Gulf of Mexico Drive
Longboat Key, Florida 34228
Phone: 941-383 8821
Photographs by Harvey Frommer
# # #
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights