It is possible sometimes to find cigar friendly venues in unlikely places. A tennis resort, for instance, doesn't readily spring to mind when you're seeking a cigar haven. But The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Sarasota's Longboat Key is one such place.
There's a simple explanation: Murray Klauber, who has owned the Colony since 1969, is a cigar lover. "We're trying to create a place where you can have a fine meal and enjoy a good cigar afterwards," says Klauber, sitting in the soft mellow sun of a mid-fall afternoon in Florida. He says the hotel has just put in doors to separate the bar area--which also has tables--from the dining room, allowing diners to smoke in the bar. On warmer evenings, cigars can be enjoyed under the stars on the protected patio area.
Fine dining has been one of the Colony's trademarks for years. The restaurant serves an outstanding menu of innovative American cuisine. A recent meal included a pastry shell with escargots and wild mushrooms; it was a delight of earthy flavors. The roast Colorado rack of lamb with a rosemary mint sauce was almost perfectly prepared--rare, as it should be--and the seared breast of duckling was perfectly cooked, too. One of the restaurant's other specialties is baked American red snapper, which was absolutely fresh, served with lump crabmeat and sun-dried tomatoes.
The wine list is extensive and the winner of Wine Spectator's Grand Award every year since 1982. The cellar includes an exceptionally strong selection of Champagnes and California sparkling wines, California Cabernets such as Robert Mondavi Reserves, verticals of Heitz Martha's Vineyard and a long list of Chardonnays. France is judiciously represented with an impressive list of classified growth Bordeaux and top wines from Burgundy.
In addition, the resort hosts one of the best fine dining festivals in the country, built around the local stone crab season. It is called the The Colony's Stone Crab, Seafood and Wine Festival. Last year, the participants included chefs David Burke and Kerry Simon and one of America's leading restaurateurs, Drew Nieporent, as well as a dozen vintners from around the world.
The resort's real attractions, however, lie outdoors. The Colony has been named by Tennis Magazine as one of the top two tennis resorts in America (the other is Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island). The Colony has 21 courts, including 10 soft courts. A full range of instruction is available, from beginner to advanced players. The resort makes sure you have a class or a playing partner who matches your ability.
Other sporting activities are available as well, if you have only one tennis player in your group. The resort will arrange for you to play golf in any of eight country clubs in the Sarasota area. Figure on driving at least 20 minutes to get to most of these courses, but they include some of the best in Florida.
The rooms at the Colony are located in condominium-style buildings on the grounds and in the main hotel. Ask for a suite with a view over the Gulf of Mexico. The decor is solid Floridian, with soft pastel colors and white wood. The rooms are spacious and the gulf view is breathtaking.
When the end of the day approaches, there's really only one place to be at the Colony--on the beach, watching the sun dip into the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches in west Florida are some of the most spectacular in America, with wide expanses of soft, white shell sand that stretch for miles. Longboat Key has one of those beaches, and even though the hotels and condominiums are unavoidable, they don't intrude into the sunset view. So, sit back in a lounge chair, light up a favorite smoke, maybe feel the tingle of muscles that have been worked out on the court all day and relax as the sun falls into the sea.
-- Gordon Mott
The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort
1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive
Phone: (941) 383-6464; fax (941) 383-7549
Rates: One-bedroom suite, $280 to $375, two-bedroom suite, $400 to $495, presidential penthouse suites, $575 to $880. Children under 18 free in the same room. (Rates change after April 14.)