Mr. Chatterbox

By staff June 1, 2004

Yes, perhaps I do on occasion "overdo" my feminine side, the sherry-sipping, opera-loving intellectual who's a little too interested in Joan Rivers jewelry and those fabulous new Louis Vuitton purses in the bright pastel colors. But believe me, I have a masculine side, too. I like long moody silences and I wear my underpants until they literally fall apart. I only clean the house before the bug man comes. I spit. But perhaps the most masculine aspect of my character is my deep respect for the phrase Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll.

I've never been a snob about rock 'n' roll. Even in my cradle I can remember listening to-and loving-The Great Pretender being played on my nanny's transistor radio. And later, at boarding school, no one took Bob Dylan and the Beatles more seriously than I. And who can deny the dangerous allure of drugs? Yes, like Al Gore, President Bush, Sen. Connie Mack and the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, I experimented. And as far as sex goes, well, let's not get into that. As Machiavelli once said, "The flesh, it is so powerful."

I think this is the reason I am so taken with the new Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino up in Tampa. It takes the whole thing even more seriously than I do. Rock permeates the place. What in another hotel would be Muzak is here rock, and played a little too loud, as rock should be. Rock memorabilia is everywhere, some of it quite impressive and revealing. They display the only guitar that Elvis ever willingly gave away. And a "set list" written by Bob Dylan in which he includes, if I am reading it correctly, six encores.

For those of us who remember the old Seminole Casino, the new version is quite a pleasant shock. The old one was one of the first Indian casinos in the country and looked the part. There was a sign over the door that said "No Knives or Firearms Allowed," and you got the feeling that it was really necessary. The lighting was atrocious; it looked like a bus station at 3 a.m., and there was a haze of smoke so thick you couldn't see across the room.

That's all history now. The new one is something else entirely: a much enlarged and improved casino with a surprisingly elegant and sophisticated hotel attached, all managed by the Hard Rock organization. I only know this group from their ubiquitous T-shirts and admit I had never set foot in one of their establishments before. But after a night spent there, "Now I'm a believer." (One of the cleverer things about the place is all the rock lyrics on the walls and signage; when you exit the lobby it says, "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." At last, I thought. A hotel with attitude.)

It's the hotel that makes Hard Rock so special. From the outside it looks pretty generic-a 12-story building towering over the flat semi-rural East Tampa landscape, overlooking an interstate highway and the fairgrounds. Inside, it's a whole different story. The brochure says it's art deco but it's not. It's that new style which as far as I know has no name but is best exemplified by the set of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Lots of blond wood, frosted glass and polished chrome, with cool, elegant colors accented by greens and blues.

My favorite part was my room. The management cleverly made sure I got one of the corner rooms; and I must say, they are extraordinary (well, extraordinary for East Tampa, anyway). First of all, it was big, so big you really thought twice about how badly you had to go the bathroom because it was such a long walk. Once you got to the bathroom you didn't want to leave, though. It had a big Jacuzzi tub for two, with glass doors that slid back and opened to the bedroom and the view. It was the perfect atmosphere for some intimate time alone with a spouse, lover, or just somebody you picked up down in the bar. The bedding and towels, so important in such a situation, were of the highest quality and the selection of adult movies excellent.

So much for the sex. Let's move on to drugs. In this case, of course, I am referring to the legal, society-approved drugs that the casino dispenses, as does any casino: alcohol, nicotine and gambling. There are plenty of bars for your alcoholic needs, to be sure, but it's the smoking situation that is the most interesting. It's allowed. After seeing place after place succumb to anti-smoking laws, the Seminoles are asserting their right as a sovereign nation to allow smoking in the casino, lobby, bars, etc. (There's no smoking in the restaurants, though.)

If smoking bothers you, you may be uncomfortable. If you're like me-I don't like it but don't freak about it-you won't have any problem. In fact, it has become such an anachronism that it's sort of interesting. I actually saw a man smoking a cigar. When was the last time you saw a man smoking a cigar indoors in public? It was such an astonishing sight that I wasn't the least bit offended. I stood there in awe. I even moved a little closer, just to get a whiff. And in the bingo parlor, there was a woman smoking a cigar. Well, just a Tiparillo, but still . . .

Because of the Florida gambling laws, the casino is missing some of the better games, like blackjack and roulette. Everything here is some sort of electronic slot machine-type game, with the exception of bingo and poker. And it's the poker room that's most reminiscent of the old casino. At midnight on a Tuesday it was packed, full of men- and a few women-smoking and drinking and bluffing. They ran the gamut, all races and economic positions represented, but the tone and atmosphere were charged with a jolt of testosterone that made for superior people-watching. You could see the melting pot that is Tampa, with all its hopes and dreams and failures.

Because the Seminole Hard Rock is so close (less than an hour, right off I-75), it's a great new option if you're considering an affair- either kind. There's a ballroom and all sorts of interesting party places. And who wouldn't want to go to a party in a gambling casino? If the party's a dog, you can sneak out and play the slots. And don't forget the chickee huts out by the pool. For $100 a day you can rent one and hang out in shaded luxury, with a TV, your own music system, soft drinks, fruit and a butler to bring you food from one of the restaurants or the spa. And, yes, the huts have canvas sides that roll down for, well, let's just say, a little privacy. It's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it.

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