Sarasota Modern breathes fresh life into Florida's southwestern coast

View of the guestroom balconies and pool deck at the Sarasota Modern.
View of the guestroom balconies and pool deck at the Sarasota Modern.

Chic, contemporary, cutting-edge; it's not often those words are used to describe Sarasota, whose reputation as a posh retiree haven is perfectly accurate. But the new, 89-room Sarasota Modern, which opened in mid-December, is bursting with youth and verve.

I had the opportunity to experience Sarasota's hot new digs recently as a guest of the hotel and found the thoughtful design and too-cool touches exciting and energizing. The Modern's sexy, millennial-minimalist design makes the Gulf Coast city's old-money opulence look passe and breathes new life into its lodging options.

The Sarasota Modern is the first in a new brand of hotels from Marriott's Tribute Portfolio  the next Modern hotel will be built in Boston  and while it's the newest kid on the block, it joins several other new hotels within walking distance. The 19-floor Embassy Suites, just down the block, opened last May, while another Marriott branded hotel, the Art Ovation opened last fall.

But this hotel is markedly different, something that's evident from the moment you drive up. The entrance is understated to the point that we weren't sure we'd reached it. The valet stand was our only clue. We walked past the textured concrete entryway and past a wall packed with live greenery, the sounds of live music wafting from the hotel's restaurant, Rudolph's.

The front desk looks more like a co-working space with staff sitting behind shiny new MacBooks rather than standing behind a lectern-like counter. This hotel is clearly too cool to follow the rules. A nod to the city's history as an art center -- the Ringling Museum is just a couple of miles up the road -- all of the Sarasota Modern-branded items, including the room keys and in-room coffee packs, feature Picasso-like line drawings depicting vacation scenes. Hallways leading to the guestrooms are painted pitch-black with simple, frosted, rectangular wall sconces on one side and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other, the city's skyline serving as wall art.

The Apartment Suite room category we stayed in (starting at $349 per night) might as well have come straight out of a West Elm catalog; it featured an open-concept full living and dining area, a complete galley kitchen, large bedroom and spacious bathroom. A partition served as both storage and stand for TVs on both sides of the great room.

The room's finishes were sleek and shiny, but the clawfoot tub with outdoor shower stopped us in our tracks. On a site tour, I asked Paul Romero, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, about the tub. He said, "Our owner and developer wanted to find something that would get people talking and set us apart. He loved the idea of a clawfoot tub but thought it would be a cool twist to put it outside." I can't disagree. It was chilly and rainy the weekend we visited, but on a clear, warm day, a bath on a balcony overlooking the bay would be dreamy.

Jennifer Salhoff, a finalist on season 13 of the TV cooking competition show "Hell's Kitchen," is showing all her modernist cuisine cards as the executive chef at signature restaurant, Rudolph's. The restaurant is divided into three sections: a patio for dining, which flows from the mixology bar and lounge, and a quieter indoor dining room. We sat out on the patio and dined on architecturally presented charred octopus with squid ink risotto and seared duck breast with Brussels sprouts and cherry-shallot gastrique. Wine lovers will swoon over the list, which features more than the usual suspects: wines from Greece, Mexico and Macedonia alongside French and California vintages.

The Sarasota Modern's current build-out is just the first phase, according to Romero. A second and third phase will include an event lawn and additional guestrooms and meetings space. Loft rooms, which lead out to the pools and feature two queen beds, one on the floor and one above it with a dozen stairs leading up to it, can be connected for traveling groups of friends or family.

Had we stayed longer and the weather been better, we would have taken advantage of the hotel's cute-as-a-button VW bus, which shuttles guests to and from the beaches (within a three-mile radius) or participated in one of the morning fitness classes, including yoga, Zumba, Pilates and cardio capoeira, offered Wednesdays, Thursdays and weekends. We also might have spent some time in one of the hotel's three pools -- maybe the one with classical music playing through the underwater speakers -- or lounged on the 70-foot daybed, signaling distance to the bartender at the juice bar, which opens at 4 p.m. each day.

I'm ready to return, and Romero said that's been the overwhelming feedback from other guests, as well. "We know our target market is looking for something different, something cool and Instagrammable with luxury, boutique service," he said. "Our aim was to provide an accommodations experience unique in Sarasota but also give a nod to the city's art and design heritage."

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