Food News

The Pillars Hotel in Fort Lauderdale Voted Tops in Florida by Conde Nast Traveller; Only Members Can Eat at Its Secret Garden Restaurant

Fort Lauderdale may have been known as the dirty spring break capital years ago, but the hard-partying sleazy teenager has since grown up. Over the past few decades, the city has kicked out the sleaze and has embraced a more mature, and might we say luxurious lifestyle.

Our fair city may not be as hip as Miami or as sophisticated as Palm Beach, but with a glut of swanky new hotels and upscale restaurants, the city is has found itself as a different kind of luxury destination in and of itself. And now the 25th annual Conde Nast Traveller Reader's Choice poll named the Pillars Hotel in Fort Lauderdale the number one hotel in Florida. We sat down to dinner with Michael Landry, proprietor of the Pillars Hotel, to find out more about the hotel, restaurant, and the reasons for the readers pick.

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The hotel, which is situated directly on the intracoastal waterway caters to guests looking to guests looking for a very high-level of service. The overall Conde Nast Traveller score of 93.9 was based on reader's marks on location (100), service (95.7), rooms (91.3), design (91.3), and food (90.9).

According to Landry, service has been the primary focus since the beginning. "People who frequent our hotel tended to go this way high expectations for truly personal service," he says. "While it's true that the physical assets such as the rooms, the dining room or the food is all very important. But this only the starting point. You need that regardless. What separates us and the other hotels on the short list is service."

The Pillars has 18 guest rooms, five of which are suites, a three-bedroom private villa with a pool, and a custom luxury yacht charter service. During the summer, rooms and suites range between $215 and $429 a night. And $349 to $599 in the winter. The villa starts at $3200 a week during the summer. Suffice it to say, the Pillars is not catering to the crowds of the Holiday Inn.

Landry, a former high-school teacher turned investment manager, purchased the property in December of 1998. As an investor, he could see the market going down a bad path. He decided to invest in the hotel as a means to avoid some of that volatility. "My wife Barbara and I were both going to managers investing primarily in stocks. We found that the level of prices in the stock market was becoming very expensive. The market is being driven by emotion rather than fundamentals. We looked for other alternative investments to diversify our portfolio away from what we believed was a dangerous situation. The Pillars was one of these alternative investments," says Landry. Remember the dot-com bubble and the stock market collapse of 2000? You could probably say he made a wise choice.

After purchasing the property, Landry brought in Miami-based designer Zeke Fernandez to oversee the design changes needed to update the hotel. According to Landry, "It was in a very sad state and had we not bought it probably would've been torn down. We closed it for about a year and reopened in February 1999." Landry has been updating and improving the hotel every year since.

In 2005, the hotel restaurant opened up for evening dining. Known as the Secret Garden, the restaurant is open to hotel guests or members of the Secret Dining Club. Membership to the club can be obtained by either staying at the hotel or by referral of a current member. There is an application fee of $50 to $100. Dinner is served in the hotel dining room, poolside, or on the dock directly on the intracoastal. 

About two and a half years ago, Moroccan born and New York trained--think L'Absinthe and Picholine--Chef Youssef Hammi took over the kitchen. With his classic training and Moroccan roots, Chef Hammi combines his diverse background into classic dishes like the $12 gorgonzola stuffed dates appetizer with arugula, applewood smoked bacon, and maple vinaigrette, the $27 seared loch duart salmon with roasted baby sweet potatoes, bacon, brussel sprouts, and fig compote, or the $36 filet mignon with shallot potato cake, balsamic marinated mushrooms, gorgonzola stuffed vine ripe tomato, and red wine sauce. As it is a small restaurant, Chef Hammi does change the menu frequently. Entrees generally run around the high twenty to forty dollar range.

With this kind of privacy and service the Pillars is obviously catering to an exclusive crowd, but then again, in Conde Nast Traveller, that's kind of the point.  

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Sara Ventiera