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26-story luxury hotel, JW Marriott, opens in Downtown Tampa

The 26-story, $200 million, luxury JW Marriott Hotel soft opened Christmas week to acclaim. In the time since, it has become the HQ for the visiting Toronto Raptors as they play out the start of the NBA season at Amalie Arena. In February, the hotel will serve as the home base for Super Bowl 55.

So, what’s it like inside Tampa’s newest luxury destination?

A futuristic oasis in Downtown Tampa

The JW Marriott offers guests an enriching, immersive escape right in the heart of Tampa’s Water Street neighborhood. Complete with sweeping views, sparkling pools, and a striking atrium lobby, this center-city getaway is the Bay’s first genuine luxury destination. Last week, enticed by the prospect of a good pampering, I decided to pay the property a visit.

I arrived on site during the early glow of the day’s impending golden hour. As the automatic doors slid apart, fleeting rays from the setting sun illuminated a contemporary, cleverly designed lobby. On the left of the space, a young barista poured milky froth over a cappuccino, while, towards the back, a middle-aged mixologist polished the counter of a rose-gold atrium bar. Surrounded by 360 degrees of towering windows, I felt as if I’d stepped into a futuristic oasis.

After quickly realizing the magnitude of the structure—and worrying that I’d get lost in it—I recruited the help of an eager Marriott employee, Brittany, to help guide me through the JW’s extensive list of offerings and amenities. Munching on truffle-infused Manchego and pepper crusted charcuterie, we ascended the floors one by one, conversing as the elevator rose.

World-class, resort-style amenities

“We have an incredible spa,” she told me, “a terrace restaurant with cocktails, a great gym and sauna…” The floor numbers on the screen changed quickly. Brittany continued.

“And just wait until you see our presidential suite.”

With great anticipation, I followed her into the JW’s 2,230 square-foot, crowning gem of a room. Now, I don’t know if it was the private balcony under the stars, oversized spa bathroom, or floor-to-ceiling windows, but I pretty much decided that I wanted to live there. Seriously—it was like the Pretty Woman mansion on steroids.

Cocktails on the 6th floor

As our tour began to wind down, we stopped for cocktails at the sixth-floor terrace restaurant (which is appropriately named SiX). Sipping on a hand-crafted rosé concoction, I caught the seared scent of dayboat scallops wafting in from the kitchen. Immediately hungry, I reached for a nearby menu. When I glanced up from the page, my gaze met Executive Chef Joseph Pankrath’s. I set down my glass, and we struck up a conversation.

He explained the concept behind SiX, detailing it as a smart-casual, indoor-outdoor bistro where diners can enjoy anything from elevated bar snacks to elegant seafood. The hotel’s other restaurant, Driftlight, is set to open in March, and was described as slightly more upscale with an emphasis on farm/ocean-to-table cuisine.

Just then, a waiter walked by with that aromatic scallop dish—and I vowed that I would be back.

Fine dining with sweeping, riverfront views

Always true to my word, and a hardcore foodie, I returned to SiX shortly after with my Dad (and a ravenous appetite). Though Joseph was out for the night, we were greeted by Chef de Cuisine, Roy, who was just as lovely. With a warm smile and charming wit, he made us feel right at home while simultaneously whipping up a delicious meal.

To begin the night, we were presented with a stellar amusé-bouche of those long-awaited scallops. Citrus-glazed over a butternut squash purée, they certainly set the bar high for the courses to come.

Next, the Chef sent a number of SiX’s most popular appetizers. The “Shrimp Humphrey,” which are wrapped in bacon, are best-sellers, while our waitress swore by the duck confit bruschetta. When it came down to it, however, our favorite was the vegetable croquettes. Similar in concept to arancini, these bite-sized treats feature arborio rice, mushrooms, and finely chopped peppers held together by a delicious blend of melty cheese. If that doesn’t sound irresistible enough, the hand-rolled balls are then doused in panko, flash-fried, and served over a generous dollop of house-made herb aioli. I’d recommend at least two orders (and extra sauce).

Following our starters, we tasted a variety of mains and desserts—but one powerhouse dish deserves special recognition. Tender, innovative, and the pinnacle representation of what a fine meal should be, the Chef’s braised lamb shank was hands-down our favorite plate of the night. Try as you may to hold it together, I can guarantee that the medium rare meat will fall off the bone into the creamy celery root purée beneath it. Don’t worry, though, because as you scoop up the lost lamb, you’ll bring crispy brussel sprout leaves and kumquat gremolata with it, both of which play key roles in creating the perfect bite.

Tampa’s urban escape

With 100,000 square feet of event space, exquisite guest rooms, and mouthwatering culinary options, the JW Marriott claimed it would become Tampa’s most sought-after wedding venue and coveted event space.

Floating 26 stories above the ground, eyes fixed on the magnetic sunset over the river, I realized they were absolutely right.

The JW Marriott is located at 505 Water St. in Tampa. Potential guests can explore the property through its official website.

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