Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

The Floridan Hotel, now the Floridan Palace, serves a historic cocktail

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA

History goes down strong at the Floridan Palace. It's served in a cocktail glass with a color that's somewhere between a Florida orange and the sun. It has a name, "Between the Sheets," that foreshadows what might happen to the imbiber if he drank more than the bartender's recommended limit. • Like the elegant 85-year-old landmark, originally called the Floridan Hotel, painstakingly restored and reopened in all its historic luster this summer after nearly a quarter century, the recipe for its signature cocktail was also dusted off and put back into play.

Guests who walk up N Florida Avenue and into the lobby of the Floridan — the city's tallest building until 1960 — can get a true sense of Tampa's streetcar and cigar heyday. They can crane their necks at the original ornate tiled lobby ceiling and stare at the gleaming brass mailboxes behind the front desk. They can smell the same wood columns and touch the wrought iron caging in the Crystal Dining Room. They can hear Ella Fitzgerald croon "I'm beginning to see the light" through the speakers.

And, for $12 in the hotel's restored Sapphire Room lounge, they can taste the same elixir the bar famously served for decades. The concoction, tracing back to Prohibition, serves up a stiff 3 ounces of liquor that rarely swim together in modern drinks, giving today's Tampa residents a taste of the city's tony past.

• • •

Gus Arencibia was the type of bartender who wiped down your spot at the bar, put down a napkin and asked for your order. A martini came with gin, vermouth, olives or a lemon twist and nothing else. He served them stirred, never shaken. He tended bar at the Floridan for almost 20 years beginning in the mid 1940s.

The Sapphire Room was downtown's exclusive power center, a first-floor club just off the street with a strict jacket-and-tie dress code. Women wore dresses and needed a male escort to sit at the bar. Actor Gary Cooper, boxer Jack Dempsey, Elvis Presley ­— they all had a drink there.

"Everyone wanted to be seen here," Arencibia told Brad Massey, who penned a 2009 article for Tampa Bay History, an annual Tampa Bay History Center and University of South Florida Library journal.

It was where businessmen and mobsters told tall tales and made silly macho bets over sandwiches and a drink, and where GIs and the hotel's celebrity guests danced with eligible bachelorettes looking for Mr. Right ­— or at least someone that night.

"There were so many women dancing that the Sapphire Room was renamed the Surefire Room by some of the local GIs," Arencibia told local author Paul Guzzo in 2009 for Cigar City magazine.

"Between the Sheets" was the "Surefire Room's" aptly named signature drink, containing enough punch to knock out anyone's inhibitions. It included ¾ ounce of brandy, ¾ ounce of light rum, ¾ ounce of triple sec, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice and a lemon twist garnish.

Though local lore credits Arencibia with creating the drink, it was common during Prohibition. The drink even preceded Arencibia's Floridan tenure, according to local writer Raubi Perilli, who profiled the bartender in 2009 for New Heights magazine.

As the Floridan shifted from regal to ruin in the 1970s and '80s, the drink disappeared from downtown. Over the last few years, Arencibia heard about a businessman, Antonios Markopoulos, who was rehabilitating the hotel, and he looked forward to setting foot in the reopened hotel. But he died in May at 97, three months before the ribbon cutting.

• • •

Bartender Margie Dmetroshko had just started working at the Floridan when customers came began regaling her with colorful stories of the hotel's storied past. One woman said she turned down a persistent man at the bar who turned out to be Elvis. Other natives told Dmetroshko that their parents told them they had been conceived there.

And one customer told Dmetroshko how Between the Sheets was as much a part of the Floridan as its vintage red rooftop sign.

Dmetroshko, 57, had been a bartender for 30 years in Long Island and Tampa but had never heard of such a drink. She told the Markopoulos family, and Antonios' granddaughter, Angela Vasilopoulos, came across the Floridan's recipe for the drink in an old magazine profile on Arencibia.

They asked Dmetroshko to bring the drink back, and she shook one up. It reminded her of a top-shelf margarita, with rum standing in for tequila.

She put it back on the menu but soon the feedback was that it was too strong.

So Dmetroshko tweaked it for modern palates. It still includes all the same ingredients ­— just one more to smooth it over, which may or may not be a tinge of orange juice. She refuses to say.

Instead of a lemon twist, the Sapphire Room now serves up the cocktail with an orange wedge, which if squeezed, makes it less puckery.

"It's refreshing," Dmetroshko said, noting that it's best sipped after work or at happy hour but certainly not with any meal.

Two, she said, should be the potent drink's limit.

"We sell a lot of them," Dmetroshko said.

Sonia Gomez, a Sapphire Room cocktail server, said the drink is already helping the hotel make new regulars. One couple, in their 20s who live downtown, stop by the Floridan for just one "Between the Sheets" every weekend.

Then they go home.

Justin George can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3368 or on Twitter at @justingeorge.

Comments
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

As economists predicted, the tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long-lived. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Friday...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Apple will postpone release of  HomePod

Apple will postpone release of HomePod

The Washington PostApple said Friday that it’s pushing back its plans for a Siri-powered smart speaker until sometime early next year.The HomePod speaker was announced in June, with an initial launch date set for December. Apple said that its smart s...
Updated: 8 hours ago
HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

ST. PETERSBURG — Good Housekeeping and St. Petersburg-based HSN have chosen five finalists for their entrepreneur competition. The partners are searching for a novel item to promote as endorsed by the Good Housekeeping Seal, denoting reliability and ...
Published: 11/17/17
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Published: 11/17/17
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Published: 11/17/17
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Published: 11/17/17
Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Plotting a shopping strategy for the holiday weekend? Here’s a look at holiday store opening hours for some major retailers:Thanksgiving8 a.m.: Kmart1 p.m.: JCPenney4 p.m.: GameStop5 p.m.: Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, Kohl’s6 p.m.: Old Navy, Target...
Published: 11/17/17
Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

TAMPA — The two biggest trends in the automotive space are ones you’ve likely heard of: electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Both will feature prominently at the Tampa Bay International Auto Show today through Sunday. The event at the ...
Published: 11/17/17
Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

LARGO — Driving down West Bay Drive, you may notice some changes to downtown Largo.A new 29-unit apartment complex on Ridge Road stands finished and ready for residents. South of the complex, land that was formerly home to a community of rundown cott...
Published: 11/17/17
Want to travel solo? Local enthusiasts share stories, tips for holidays trips

Want to travel solo? Local enthusiasts share stories, tips for holidays trips

Stephanie Maisonneuve visited the walled city of Cartagena, a port city off the Caribbean coast of Colombia. She rode horseback down the city’s cobbled streets clucking past flower-filled balconies and massive, wooden arched doors. The travel enthusi...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17