Casa Monica is So Fancy
Even though it boasts small-town appeal, St. Augustine actually began as a luxury resort location for the rich and famous. There were three luxury resorts that first put St. Augustine on the map: the Ponce de Leon Hotel, the Hotel Alcazar, and the Casa Monica.
Today, the Casa Monica is the only one of these three hotels that still serves its original function. The Ponce de Leon Hotel is now home to Flagler College, and the Hotel Alcazar houses a museum, shops, a restaurant, and the government offices of the City of St. Augustine. While these buildings also serve visitors by offering tours and amenities, the Casa Monica offers a chance to experience pure luxury. This Kessler Collection hotel, restored to its original glory, has earned a Four Diamond rating from AAA. With 138 rooms designed for every sort of vacation budget, it's the only one of the three famous resorts where guests can stay and experience a pampered vacation the same way visitors to the Sunshine State did in the late 1800s. Casa Monica is so fancy, as you probably already know. But if you don't, here are a few reasons why:
Franklin Smith built the Casa Monica around the time Flagler was building his hotels and is part of the reason that Flagler began investing in Florida. The Casa Monica is one of the oldest hotels in the country and is even listed in the "Historic Hotels of America" National Trust. It’s named after St. Monica, the mother of the city’s namesake, St. Augustine of Hippo. Shortly after the hotel opened, Franklin Smith ran into financial difficulties, and unfortunately had to sell the hotel and everything inside to his friend Henry Flagler. Flagler changed the name of the hotel to the Cordova Hotel.
During the 1960s, the hotel was turned into the offices for the St. Johns County Courthouse. The iconic window above the Casa Monica lettering was decorated with a stained glass window portraying the scales of justice. It served as a courthouse for years, until it was purchased by Richard Kessler for $1.2 million. Kessler had previously been involved with the Days Inn chain and was looking to bring the hotel back to its former glory. Construction and renovations took less than two years, and the hotel was reopened in 1999.
2. The architecture is inspired.
The Casa Monica was built by Franklin Smith, who also built the Villa Zorayda just down the street and had a deep admiration for Moorish and Spanish Revival architecture. Even though the hotel has changed a lot since its heyday, you can see the influence of Franklin Smith's Middle Eastern style throughout the interior, in the archways and other details. Tina Guarano Davis was commissioned to hand-paint the trimmings and decor in the main lobby.
When it comes to the rooms, they truly reflect the style of the original Casa Monica. Some window frames are placed low to the floor -- an architectural feature that was part of the original hotel. These windows may provide a little less lighting, but children will love to gaze out them, and the unique placement still provides a gorgeous view.
3. You can eat like a king.
Casa Monica is home to three dining areas. Their full-service restaurant is Casa Brava, an elegant on-site dining room where guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the year. The Casa Brava menu includes such mouth-watering entrees as Braised Pork Osso Bucco, Savannah Style Shrimp & Grits, and Bahamian Lobster Tail and Crab Risotto, as well as Black Angus steaks from the Kessler's Chophouse menu.
4. And drink like one too.
The Cobalt Lounge has a stocked liquor bar with wine, beer, mixed drinks, and a refined martini menu. They have drink specials every day of the week. The Cobalt Lounge menu is available everyday from 11 a.m. Bloody Marys to 11 p.m. Scotch, and everything in between, including $1 off happy hour Monday through Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m.
5. Valet parking is the greatest creature comfort.
While vacationers and locals downtown are stressing about where to park, the Casa Monica offers a private garage and valet parking for around $24 a day. That’s a fine fee for convenient, covered parking within the hotel.
6. You can live the Suite Life.
There are five suites at the Casa Monica hotel: the Anastasia Suite, the Ponce de Leon Suite, the St. Francis Suite, the Flagler Suite, and the Kessler Suite. The Kessler Suite is the largest, taking up four stories of the hotel’s tallest tower. These suites are great for wedding parties and family reunions. They provide stunning views of the city, and one suite even has colored glass work from the original hotel, while another has the only walkout balcony at the resort. Even the iconic window above the main entrance peeks out from a suite.
7. Gorgeous attractions are steps away.
Casa Monica is right next door to some of the city’s most beautiful attractions, including the Lightner Museum and Flagler Legacy Tours, both housed in former Flagler St. Augustine hotels. There’s also shopping and restaurants a block away on St. George Street, and art galleries on Aviles Street.
8. Famous people have called Casa Monica their home away from home.
By Estonian Foreign Ministry [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This hotel is quite literally fit for royalty, with even the King and Queen of Spain as past guests. Former President Bill Clinton stayed here, as has former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, rested his head at the Casa Monica. When the Gentlemen of the Road Tour came to St. Augustine, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes shacked up at Casa Monica along with John Fogerty and members of the Billboard-topping band, Fun.
9. In-room and outdoor amenities
Amenities at the hotel include a gym on an upper floor and a swimming pool squared off in the inner courtyard by four walls of the hotel. Inside the rooms, guests can find tea and coffee, a safe, bathrobes, and a wet bar. Some rooms have a mini-fridge, and rollaway beds and cribs are available upon request.
10. Classy entertainment and amusements are available on-site.
The Cobalt Lounge hosts live music every Friday and Saturday night from 8 p.m. to midnight, featuring local musicians, jazz, soul music, and more. It brings to life the lounge atmosphere prevalent in the original hotel, minus all the smoke (Casa Monica is a smoke-free hotel). There is also an art gallery in the hotel complex, the Grand Bohemian Gallery, which offers works by internationally renowned artists like Stefano Cecchini, and paintings of local scenery.
11. You can experience every romantic milestone of your life at Casa Monica, from a first coffee date, to a wedding, to a golden anniversary.
Cafe Cordova is a great spot for a coffee date. This coffee shop is the only part of the Casa Monica hotel that has served its original function continually since the hotel's beginning. It has also been a casual dining spot, even when the hotel served as a courthouse.
For weddings, Casa Monica offers venue space for a classy reception, accommodations for groups, and even a Honeymoon special. Newlyweds will get a free night at any of the Kessler Collection hotels across the country for every $5,000 spent on a wedding.
12. You can combine business with pleasure.
At premium resorts around St. Augustine, including the Casa Monica, guests can enjoy workspaces in rooms, WiFi, meeting rooms with connection (including wireless), and express check-out so an out-of-town business trip can end as smoothly as it begins. The people at Casa Monica will also help organize reservations for meals, an ideal convenience after a day of business meetings, and retreats in any of the Casa Monica's eight meeting spaces (maximum of 10 breakout meeting rooms).
St. Augustine has so much to offer in the way of luxury accommodations. Don't forget to check out these other premium resorts, spas, and restaurants in the nation's oldest city.
Visitors can take the pampering to another level at these other St. Augustine spots...
- Hilton Historic Bayfront: The Hilton Historic on the Bayfront provides waterfront suites and the Aviles Restaurant for fine dining.
- Debbie's Day Spa: This local spa pampers vacationers and locals with massages, pedicures, manicures and more. It's a great option for a romantic getaway or bridal weekend.
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