Casa Monica Hotel in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida offers an inspiring, illustrious history and was fated with a fresh beginning when it joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection in 2010.
Initially opened in 1888 by its builder, Franklin W. Smith, the hotel struggled to survive and was purchased shortly thereafter by Henry Flagler who re-named it Hotel Cordova. The hotel thrived for years and was a social epicenter of the region but closed in 1932 due to the Depression. After basically having been boarded up, it was finally resurrected in 1962 as the St. Johns County Courthouse – a role it would have for 30 years. It was then purchased in 1997 by The Kessler Collection and given a $10 million facelift, re-emerging once again as a lavish and alluring hideaway, as she had been some 125 years earlier.
The Autograph Collection is currently making quite a splash in the hotel industry, with each independently-operated luxury hotel possessing “bold originality, rich character and uncommon details.”
I could certainly envision how Casa Monica would be a perfect match with the Autograph Collection, as a tangible sense of history swept over me upon entering the hotel lobby on a breezy April afternoon. Dramatic chandeliers, stunning tapestries and frescoes, rich, velvety furnishings and intriguing works of art abound, not to mention the gold leaf-painted ceilings that give the hotel its unmistakable Moroccan flair. A friendly greeting upon check-in and we were off to our third floor room.
Our room was thoughtfully appointed with everything one could possibly need for a weekend. Soothing music on a Bose sound system was gently playing as we entered and the red velvet tufted headboard on the bed also got my attention rather quickly, as did the in-room coffee maker – always a plus for this caffeine junkie’s list of “must haves.” The scenic view overlooking stately Flagler College and the Lightner Museum also added a relaxing touch.
Following a quick change of clothes, we dashed down to the action-packed and oh-so-cool Cobalt Lounge to peruse their impressive drink menu, which is chock full of inspiring cocktails and specialty martinis. Creations such as the Monica Mai Tai piqued my interest, with both BACARDI and Myers’s Rum, a plethora of freshly-squeezed juices including lime, and fresh mint as well. So refreshing!
And as we learned from an impromptu meeting with Food and Beverage Director Diego Anea, libations are fashioned to fit perfectly with the Florida coastal lifestyle, which includes incorporating a fresh citrus theme of Florida grapefruit and orange juices. Quite apropos also is the Spanish influence that is present, given the hotel’s rich history and décor. This all seemed a natural pairing and a rather stirring one at that.
Adding to the intrigue of Casa Monica is The Kessler Collection’s “K” private wine label. In collaboration with Winemaker Marc Mondavi, this portfolio “is a natural extension of the goal to inspire through indulgent pleasures of the Kessler experience – wine, food, art and music.”
Produced by the oldest Napa Valley winery, Charles Krug/CK Mondavi, the Kessler wines are a blend of appellations from California and include a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Dinner at 95 Cordova was far from just another ho-hum Friday night. How brilliant to dress up a bit and dine with my husband in such an exquisite space surrounded by artwork, the perfect lighting and that overall richness once again. Following the Amuse-bouche, we were delighted to sample the “K” Collection’s Sauvignon Blanc. It was crisp and light – just perfect for a balmy spring evening. The rest of our meal was dazzling and included a heavenly sea bass and robust osso bucco. We experienced a memorable date night, thanks to Executive Chef Harlan Walden and his exceptionally thoughtful team.
Simply being in St. Augustine and the sense of history you feel coupled with the storied history of Casa Monica itself is overwhelming. Adding to that, the story of how Casa Monica somehow managed to survive after being dormant for many years, and how she rose to glory once again in this charming city by the sea, is far too fascinating a combination to pass up.