The Second Capitol
The story had all the trappings of a John Grisham novel. In the early 1950's, the Hotel Duval in Tallahassee had a secret lounge among its upper floors, accessible only by those that held a special golden key. The members of the "Gold Key Club" were the power brokers of the state capitol, located just down the street from the hotel. The secret lounge served up smuggled booze to legislators - Leon County was dry - and was no doubt the site of many "back room deals." Today, the secret lounge is no more, although a few golden keys are rumored to still exist, but the story of the Hotel Duval continues on.
|The Hotel Duval at Sunrise|
After a few transitions which included, among other things, serving as student housing for Florida State University, the Hotel Duval reemerged in 2009. New ownership poured millions of dollars into a top down renovation of the property, and put Tallahassee on the hotel map by partnering with Marriott's Autograph Collection. The return of the Duval was a much needed shot in the arm of Tallahassee's hotel scene, and they set out to prove that this version was better than ever.
As a professional lobbyist - someone passionate about hotel lobbies - to me, the Duval embodied everything there is to love about great hotels. Polished travertine floors, sleek furnishings, and floor to ceiling windows create a bright and airy feeling to the lobby. In addition, the gentle sound of water cascading down a pebble covered wall helps to create a soothing environment, which carries on throughout the entire hotel.
|Waterfall in the lobby|
In its former life, the piano lounge at the Duval was the place to "see and be seen" in Tallahassee. The modern day version of the property saw this space converted into Le Roc Bistro, the hotel's casual dining outlet. Le Roc hosts an excellent breakfast buffet in the morning, but more importantly, is also home to the hotel's coffee bar. Perfect for those like yours truly that can hardly survive without a twice daily serving of iced coffee.
|Le Roc Bistro|
While the piano bar is no more, the Hotel Duval is still very much the hot spot in Tallahassee. The hotel is home to two unique experiences for those in search of a little nightlife. First, the Duval plays host to Shula's 347, the only upscale steakhouse in Tallahassee, not to mention one of the more unique restaurant dining rooms around.
|Shula's 347 - 5000 wine bottles in the ceiling|
Perhaps the biggest structural change during the hotel's renovation took place on the roof. The old Hotel Duval topped out at seven stories, however the renovation brought with it a rooftop lounge appropriately dubbed Level 8. The lounge serves up signature cocktails and perhaps the best view in Tallahassee. Taking in the sunset with a "Cucumber Collins," followed by a Shula's Cut steak, is a combination that's definitely tough to beat.
|The awesome deck at Level 8|
The soothing atmosphere of the lobby continues upstairs to the guest rooms, where each floor has its own color and scent. What the room lacked in natural lighting - thanks to the original 1950 design - was more than offset by numerous fixtures and the beloved white duvet. The chaise lounge in the corner was also responsible for the best afternoon nap in recent history.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the guestroom was the bath, which was like having a private mini-spa right in the room. The shower featured a river rock floor and rainmaker shower head, as well as Rusk Sensories toiletries that might find their way into your bag before heading home. On accident of course...
A fair warning on the bath... The walls are actually frosted glass, which is a common trend among modern hotels. The only downside is a fairly low level of privacy, which might make your visit to the Hotel Duval far more interesting, depending on the relationship status with your travel companion.
|See what I mean?|
In terms of technology, the rooms at the Hotel Duval are as modern as they come. Each room features an iPhone dock, flat screen TV, and enough accessible outlets to power Clark Griswold's Christmas light display. In addition, the desk is home to the interactive concierge called ICE, where just about anything your heart could desire is just a few touches away. Last but certainly not least, the Hotel Duval has the most important amenity for us 21st century travelers...free WiFi.
|The room's gadgets|
At first glance, the Hotel Duval might seem a little out of Tallahassee's league. Look a little closer, however, and it's clear that the two actually go together quite well. Before the reemergence of the Duval, visitors to the capital had virtually no options on the upper end of the hotel spectrum. The Hotel Duval not only filled that void, but their success helped spur an influx of investment into a city that sorely needed it. Between the hotel's rich history, and the impact its return has brought to the city, the fate of both the Hotel Duval and Tallahassee are inextricably linked.
|Vintage photo of the hotel|
Still, there is no such thing as built in success in the world of hotels. A compelling story, beautiful facilities, and popular nightlife are only three small pieces of the puzzle. The most important piece of all is of course service, and the Duval has been hugely successful at getting their staff to buy in to what the hotel is selling. All of these pieces come together to ensure that the story of Florida's "Second Capitol" has many more chapters ahead.
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to the Hotel Duval for hosting this edition of Check-In Florida. All opinions, including that of white duvets, are always my own.