On-site restaurant 1919 serves contemporary dishes made with local and organic ingredients. // © 2015 Condado Vanderbilt Hotel
Feature image (above): Condado Vanderbilt reopened in December after a $220 million renovation. // © 2015 Condado Vanderbilt Hotel
If Jay Gatsby had a home in the Caribbean, I imagine it would look similar to Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, a stately beachfront property that opened in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last December after a $220 million makeover. Even Gatsby would be impressed with the hotel’s opulent design — from its grand, curved staircase in the center of the lobby to the white Carrara marble floors.
After a few generations as a boutique hotel and then as an event space, Condado Vanderbilt recently opened as a 319-guestroom luxury hotel, complete with two modern guestroom towers that flank the original building. The property was founded by aristocrat Frederick William Vanderbilt in 1919, and its recent rebirth marks a return to the old-world sophistication and service for which the property was originally known.
Set on the hip and happening Condado Beach, the hotel manages to maintain a quiet grandeur, even next to the revelers and partygoers on nearby shores. It channeled an easygoing yet sophisticated service that I could easily get used to. Staff members greet guests by name, and attendants stroll the premise in three-piece suits — no easy feat in the humid, tropical Puerto Rican weather.
All guestrooms evoke a beachside elegance, thanks to neutral hues and fabrics inspired by the ocean tides. Most of the 108 suites have balconies and direct views of the Atlantic Ocean. All suites have a butler available 24 hours per day.
The hotel has five restaurants and bars, with a sixth concept in the works. For casual cuisine, there’s Ola, a second-floor spot that overlooks the ocean. Ola infuses traditionally Latin flavors into its menu and offers breakfast, lunch or dinner service.
The hotel’s crown jewel is 1919, its name a nod to the hotel’s roots. Headed by chef Juan Jose Cuevas — a native son who returned to Puerto Rico after earning a Michelin Star while serving as the executive chef at Blue Hill in New York City — 1919 presents a chef-driven menu with locally sourced ingredients and flavors. It’s the quintessential Puerto Rico restaurant without being distinctly Puerto Rican.
For example, you won’t find mofongo, a traditional island specialty of fried plantains with garlic, olive oil and pork, on this menu; instead, you’ll find braised rabbit with carrucho, a Puerto Rican version of conch salad, or cochinillo ravioli, a traditional pasta stuffed with suckling pig, an island favorite.
Another must-do at Condado Vanderbilt is a treatment at the spa. Spread across 10,000 square feet, the spa features exclusive beauty services in its seven treatment rooms. Perhaps the most unique is the hammam ritual, the first ever offered in Puerto Rico. The service, which utilizes ancient Middle Eastern purification techniques, features a heated marble-slab massage bed, marble benches and walls of mosaic marble.
Condado Vanderbilt has also capitalized on the region’s near year-round sunshine by offering its guests direct beach access and two pools, all of which are serviced by butlers. The pool area features a 200-square-foot mirrored pool with a waterfall, and an infinity-edge pool is perched on the edge of the Atlantic. No doubt Jay Gatsby would have approved of these amenities, as well.