FORT LAUDERDALE -- Not so long ago, in the late 1980s, this was
still a sleepy town, with one high-rise bank building serving as
its "skyline." Now, there's major office and condominium
construction under way all along trendy Las Olas Boulevard,
creating a flourishing downtown metropolis.
Three miles east of the city center and a 10-minute cab ride
from Fort Lauderdale Airport there is an honest-to-goodness
hideaway, located on the only private stretch of beach in a city
noted for "beaching it."
Known mainly to insiders and private beach club members, it's a
10-acre, family-owned hotel and private beach club property called
Word of mouth has been the operative term for reservations since
the inception of this elegant hotel and club in 1959.
Reservations have been made by those in the know, high-end
travel agents and tour operators, and marketing has been handled
through low-key advertising, with some trade show exposure on the
national and international level.
For 45 years, this resort, tucked inside a landscape of palm
trees, hibiscus, bougainvillaea and tropical greenery, has been a
return destination for three generations of families.
The Mediterranean-style, low-rise hotel buildings (three and
five stories high) are located in an upscale Fort Lauderdale
residential area known as Harbor Beach.
At the entrance to the Venetian-style lobby is a large mosaic
seascape, created from stained glass with touches of 24-karat gold
leaf and showcasing a variety of exotic ocean life. The unusual art
form was designed and implemented by Luciano Alfaro, who has
created pieces for the homes of Gloria Estefan and the South Beach
estate of the late designer Gianni Versace.
The theme is carried seaward into a sunlight corridor leading to
the oceanview dining room.
The hotel itself is horseshoe-shaped, which offers excellent
lagoon pool and oceanfront room views.
Most rooms in the main reception building have been refurbished
with the resort's signature Tommy Bahama (island-style)
The fixtures and soft furnishings are in sea-tone colors, the
vanities and floors are granite, and the carpeting is mauve and
teal with tiny interwoven sea themes.
Accommodations in the Oceanview South and North buildings are in
the process of a changeover.
A word to the wise: Should your clients desire oceanfront rooms,
ask for the "guaranteed oceanfront view plan." Also, there are
packages worth noting: the Beringer Blass Winery Reserve Wine
Package and the Spa Getaway Package.
The Renaissance-inspired European spa at Lago Mar has some
interesting expansion news, according to Patti Madden, director of
"The spa is the first in the U.S. to offer a wet room with a
specially built chromotherapy Swiss shower," she said.
"Chromotherapy features a number of functions, such as color light
therapy, multiple water jets (positioned to reach different areas
of the body) and a therapeutic music sound system."
Another special treatment is Chocolate Indulgence, consisting of
a chocolate scrub with a chocolate massage or chocolate facial. The
spa also added Indian-themed Ayurveda treatment rooms and a
manicure/pedicure salon with a water wall.
Not to be missed is the meditation room overlooking Lake
The lagoon pool
Lago Mar's 9,000-square-foot lagoon swimming pool is a beauty,
with a center island planted with tall tropical palms for
It has a shallow depth of four feet, which is popular with
families with young children. Another pool, which is nine feet
deep, is closer to the beach.
For beach lovers, the 500-foot-wide private beach offers a palm
tree-shaded pathway, rental cabanas, umbrellas, beach chairs and
plenty of room to roam.
There is an easy walk along the beach to a jetty next to the
entrance channel of Port Everglades. This is a great spot to view
the cruise ships arriving and departing. Your clients may just be
able to see the new Queen Mary 2 arriving in port during her winter
The aquarium pool
The most recent announcement in the aquatic world of Lago Mar is
that of an interactive swimming lagoon.
This multimillion-dollar, saltwater "aquarium" pool will include
an artificial reef and a soft-touch petting pool containing
tropical fish and invertebrate species. Here, hotel guests will be
able to swim among the fish.
Nearby is a soft sand area for lounge chairs and walk paths with
park benches and wooden bridges with rope handrails. The saltwater
pool is expected to be completed in December.
Walter Banks, son of Florida and Virginia hotelier Sidney Banks,
is Lago Mar's guiding hand. During his college years, he operated
the hotel's beach concession.
Later, following in his father's footsteps, he entered the
marketing sector of the resort and club, developing the resort into
what it has become.
A rarity among hotel owners, Banks arrives promptly at 9 a.m.,
even on weekends, and is present throughout the day.
In addition to the everyday management of the beachfront
property, he is the incoming chairman of Visit Florida and is the
recipient of the Florida Hotel Motel Association's Hotelier of the
Year award for 2003.
His wife, Debbie, is responsible for design ideas in the
furnishings of the public space, the guest accommodations, the
gourmet Soda Shop and the tony women's, men's and children's
The boutique carries such top lines as Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph
Lauren, Tommy Bahama, Eric Javits, Sassy Tootsies, Trish of Capri,
Gottex swimsuits, Kaminski hats, Bobby Jones and Tori Richards.
The Banks' daughter, Debbie Banks Snyder, and their son, Lee,
are involved with the resort's operations.
Snyder handles foreign sales, tour operators and several of the
trade shows, and her brother is engaged in developments within this
property and in foreign developments, as well.
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .
• • •
Room key: LAGO MAR
Address: 1700 S. Ocean Lane, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Phone: (954) 523-6511
Reservations: (800) 524-6627
Owner/president: Walter Banks
General manager: Steve Van Hemert
Rates: $165 to $750 per room, per night
Suites: Total room count, 204; 164 suites.
Facilities: Acquario/Palm Garden, Seagrape
Terrace, Gourmet Soda Shop, Ocean Grill restaurants; poolside
Promenade Bar; new European spa;manicure and pedicure salon; lagoon
swimming pool; beachside pool; conference and business center.
Also, tennis courts; fitness center; poolside lounges; private
beach; hammocks; volleyball courts; nine-hole putting course;
outdoor chess board; interactive, aquarium lagoon pool (opening in
December); upscale boutique.
Amenities: Complimentary self and valet parking.
One- and two-bedroom suites offer private balconies, kitchen
facilities and wet bars.
Noteworthy: Lago Mar offers top-of-the-line
accommodations. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and
accommodating. Many have been with the resort for 25 years or
Not worthy: Rental charge for the cabanas with
umbrellas and two chairs is $20 per day, which is somewhat steep, I
What's 'in' and haute? It's Fort Lauderdale
FORT LAUDERDALE -- There's an elegant dining and shopping locale
on Las Olas Boulevard here, between the Atlantic Ocean and, to the
west, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The Boulevard, as it's known locally, has become one of south
Florida's most happening places. Las Olas chic is not actually new,
however; it has been home to the elegant, 110-room Riverside Hotel,
a destination landmark, since 1936.
From early morning until the wee hours visitors of all ages,
from the capitals of Europe, the Caribbean and small-town America,
can be spotted enjoying the boulevard's European-style al fresco
Clients stroll the broad avenue, which is divided by a
landscaped median of tropical flowers and tall shade trees, while
shopping in hip boutiques offering the latest in men's and women's
fashions. There also are furniture stores, trendy beauty salons and
gourmet markets, all housed in Spanish-and Mediterranean-style
Art galleries, featuring collectible and investment-quality
pieces, abound in this setting.
Located just east of the heart of the downtown business center,
the boulevard runs almost parallel to Fort Lauderdale's New River.
A mile-and-a-half directly east of the boulevard is Fort
Lauderdale's dressed-up beachfront and Beach Place, an on-the-ocean
The most western point of Las Olas is anchored by the Broward
Center, which offers first-run Broadway road shows. It's the
gateway to a downtown area of cultural activity known as the
Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District: Himmarshee Village/Olde
Town, Las Olas Riverwalk, the Museum of Discovery & Science and
the Blockbuster Imax 3D Theatre.
Las Olas Boulevard also offers restaurants to satisfy any
It is home to Mark's Las Olas, featuring cuisine by the
award-winning south Florida chef Mark Militello.
Contributing to the ambience are Jackson's 450, Le Cafe de
Paris, La Bonne Crepe, the Cheesecake Factory, the French Quarter
and the Grill Room, located in the Riverside Hotel.
Sophisticated nightly action pulsates along Las Olas Boulevard's
sidewalk bistros; many are decked out at sidewalk level with
handrails and canopies alight with tiny, twinkling white
Live jazz and blues are performed seven nights a week at
O'Hara's Pub & Jazz Cafe.
Mango's Restaurant features top local groups performing R&B,
soul and classic rock. Plan to dance until dawn? Visit the Samba
Room, a Latin cafe.
Off West Las Olas, in the downtown area, Second Street, also
known as Himmarshee Village and Olde Town, presents a low-key venue
for dining and entertainment with nifty little pubs and
Solos Trattoria, a memorable and fashionable dining stop located
in what was once an old south Florida house, has been converted
into a diminutive restaurant offering superb Italian cuisine
(reservations highly recommended). Next door is the popular
Himmarshee Village Restaurant, offering an eclectic menu.
The Boulevard is a few minutes from most hotels by car or water
For more information on Fort Lauderdale, contact the Greater
Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or
go to www.sunny.org. -- S.D.