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Rooms with a queue

A Beach Drive hotel lines up European sojourners with a combination of 1920s charm and modern conveniences.

By JOANNE B. WALKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Mention development on Beach Drive, and luxury condominiums probably come to mind before Grayl's Lantern Lane Hotel. Owner Dale Grayl isn't concerned.

Word-of-mouth advertising and a Web site are attracting European customers. People are e-mailing from Poland and England for reservations in this 12-room historic hotel facing Tampa Bay.

"Americans come in and ask, "What is this place?' " said general manager Robert Kay.

Grayl's is at 340 Beach Drive NE. Europeans refer to it as a boutique hotel, a small themed inn. It's a mixture of 1920s nostalgia and new millennium technology, including remote security cameras, data ports and management available by cell phones around the clock. Laptop computers are available upon request.

The hotel has 16 occupied apartments in addition to the dozen rooms. The building was completed in 1924. Grayl claims it is the only consistently operating building in downtown St. Petersburg. In the 1920s, craftsmen stayed in the hotel while building the nearby Vinoy Park Hotel, he said. The luxury hotel now is the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

"Each room addresses its own personality," said Kay, explaining how a certain feature in each room was picked and emphasized in the decorations.

Poster beds, reading chairs, refinished original tubs and wood floors are prevalent. Grayl focuses on recapturing the ambiance of the Roaring Twenties in his renovations. He has added gold-plated crystal chandeliers in hallways and preserved wall cupboards once used to store ice blocks.

Kay attributes their success to custom packaging and service.

On short notice, he converted a room to a computer operations center with eight desktop computers. It was requested by Army Corps of Engineers during a visit to inspect waterways. Another time, management scattered rose petals along hallways to guide a bridal couple to their room.

"The courtesy is unexceled, and you feel like you're home," said guest Sam Gentile of Brooklyn, N.Y. He's especially fond of the brick front porch with piped music and leisure chairs. Guests can register by e-mail and receive access keys and room assignments in the mail before arrival. Seasonal rates are $150 to $300 daily.

A rooftop promenade overlooking Tampa Bay is wired for laptop use and equipped for receptions. A large, gated garden patio is also available.

Grayl is no stranger to hotel management. He has owned a restaurant and club in his home state of Wisconsin and is the former assistant manager of the Clearwater Hilton. Experience told him he needed a banquet facility to survive.

This month, Grayl's Executive Suites/Seminar Center opened at 145 Fifth Ave. N. It accommodates corporate meetings, reunions and private parties. Twelve phone lines and Internet access allow video conferencing.

The 1934 building, with polished hardwood floors and a working brick fireplace, complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Six remote cameras add security.

Grayl and his wife, Mary, bought the Lantern Lane in 1994. They also own and operate Wave Pool and Spa Supply Store, 5500 Fourth St. N.

Expansion could be in the future, Grayl said. For now, he is content to sit on his porch with the waterfront view, listen to music and watch people pass his "Grand Old Lady."

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