The Gulf-side café that was once a bathhouse is in its 88th year.
CLEARWATER BEACH — The owners of the Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar marked their semi-centennial Tuesday among family.
“We're quite proud and thrilled to reach this milestone,” said Hoyt Hamilton, who owns the restaurant with brothers Ken, Dale and Wade. “The family was kicking around whether to host a celebration, but we're not really into self-promotion.”
Instead, they've set their sights set on an even bigger milestone that encompasses an earlier incarnation of the property.
“In 12 years, the Palm Pavilion will turn 100 years old,” he said.
The Hamiltons' anniversary fell on April Fools' — widely recognized as a day when people play practical jokes and other tricks on each other.
“My mother thought my dad was a fool to buy the restaurant,” Hamilton, who was sworn in as a city council member last week, recalled with a laugh. “It was one of the only times my mother was wrong.”
The beachside café has become a favorite of tourists and locals based on rankings in popular online travel review websites like TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon and Fodor's Travel.
The Palm Pavilion started out in 1926 as a bathhouse where beachgoers could change out of their street clothes into swimming attire. By the late 1940s, the business was expanded to include a snack bar and a sportswear shop.
Through the 1980s, beachgoers rented space in the bathhouse to change into swimsuits and store their street or work clothes until it was time to go home.
His parents, Howard, who died in 2012, and Jean purchased the business on April 1, 1964.
“Society and dress codes were much more formal then. Wearing a bathing suit anyplace other than the beach or pool was, well, something you just didn't do,” according to an online historical account by Jean Hamilton. “Beach pavilions were just a way of life.”
By the early 1980s, they removed the bathhouse after it became more acceptable for people to wear beach attire in public places away from the sand and surf.
Later that decade, the Hamiltons bought the adjacent 1950s-era Sea View Hotel, which was renovated in art deco style and named the Palm Pavilion Inn. It was recognized by The Tampa Tribune's Travel section in 2007 as one of “Florida's best beach getaways that won't break the wallet.”
By the 1990s, the Palm Pavilion operation had been passed down to the second generation of Hamiltons. The four brothers completed a major renovation of the restaurant in 1995, updating the kitchen, expanding the outside deck and adding a room to host large groups. The inn recently underwent another interior renovation.
“My family is very proud of this milestone,” Hoyt Hamilton said, “and we're thankful that the business speaks for itself.”