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The Diplomat Hotel - Then And Now
By Ron Kapon, Travel Contributor

A diplomat's life is made up of three ingredients: protocol, Geritol and alcohol.- Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

By way of some early and introductory historical background, The Diplomat hotel began in 1953 as the 150-room Envoy, erected by Samuel Friedland, the founder of the Pantry Pride supermarket chain. In 1954 he expanded the hotel to 370 rooms and it was renamed The Diplomat. It was then run by Irving and Marjorie Cowan, Mr. Friedland's daughter and son-in-law and there was very little between Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale to entertain people until The Diplomat opened, but entertain they did with Bing Crosby, Xavier Cugat, Milton Berle, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Lena Horne, Joan Rivers, Sammy Davis Jr. and Judy Garland appearing over the years in either the Cafe Crystal or the Tack Room Lounge. At that time, other "on their way stars," like Jay Leno and Billy Crystal were opening acts for the then bigger names.

On a personal note, I stayed at the old Diplomat many times during the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's and 1990's. Yes, it was, and is, the sort of place to which one returns with regularity.

Front view of Diplomat Hotel.

Lawrence Welk filmed his first TV show from the hotel in 1962, as did the Jackie Gleason Show, and Arthur Godfrey taped his radio show there starting in 1965. Harry Truman, as well as every U.S. president since 1974, has addressed labor unions at the hotel. In a 2002 article for Travel + Leisure Magazine The Diplomat was described as "A playground for rich Northerners down for the season in their fur coats and string bikinis." On New Year's Eve, 1974, Frank Sinatra returned from retirement and was paid $200,000 for an hour-long performance. The question is, was he ever really retired? Does anyone in show business truly retire at any time?

Over the year, The Diplomat Resort continued to add rooms, topping off at 1,170 with two golf courses and 19 tennis courts. But, the hotel floundered economically, especially after a series of arson fires in 1983. It reopened in 1984 and the hotel welcomed President Reagan, who addressed the International Longshoreman's Association, as well as Bob Hope, who hosted the New Year's Eve Gala. In 1987 Cowan ceded control of the hotel to a group of labor union pension funds that sold it in 1997 to the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipe Fitting Industry. Life, and hotel ownership, does take strange twists through the years.

Finally, in 1998, in a structural coup d'etat of sorts, the original hotel was imploded with 500 pounds of dynamite in less than 25 seconds.

Fort-Lauderdale Beach
But, resurrection occurred and, in March of 2000, the 155-acre Country Club at The Diplomat opened to the public with an 18-hole golf course, 10-clay tennis courts, pro shops and 60-luxury guestrooms. In September of 2000 the 30,000-square foot Spa at The Diplomat was introduced featuring 20 treatment rooms and complete fitness facilities although both are a mile away by hotel shuttle. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide was appointed management company for the renamed Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, along with The Diplomat Country Club & Spa.

In January, 2002, the 39-story hotel opened with 998 rooms and was the tallest and most expensive building in Broward County. The lobby features a five-story, 60-foot atrium surrounded by waterfalls with the water motif continuing in an outdoor infinity-edged pool with waterfalls splashing into a 240-foot lagoon pool below. Nice, very nice and very up to date. All rooms, by the way, offer views of either the ocean or the Intracoastal Waterways.

Another personal note- I have stayed at the new Diplomat in 2003, 2009 and 2011. It still beckons.

The 209,000-square-foot convention center is adjacent to the hotel and features four ballrooms as well as a full fitness center while, across the skywalk, over Ocean Drive A1A, is Diplomat Landing, a 60,000-square-foot area of restaurants with a 14 slip marina. Outstanding!! I had the occasion, and desire, to spend one entire day on The Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi, which stops there, followed by dinner in both Rivals Waterfront Sports Grille this trip and AiZiA Restaurant (Asian cuisine) while staying at the hotel in 2011. The same chef, Mauricio Gutierrez, is still there but the restaurant, located in the main building in 2009, had been moved to Diplomat Landing in December of that year, giving it more room with both indoor and outdoor dining. At 11 p.m. it converts to a nightclub. On the ultimate ego trip, believe it or not, I had the same server who said she remembered me from an earlier trip because I reminded her of Ernest Hemingway. True story.

Water Taxi that docks at the Diplomat Marina & plies the intracoastal from Hollywood to Fort Lauderdaletn.

The Westin Diplomat is a short taxi ride from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood or Miami International Airports as well as the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal. There were seven cruise ships in port while I was there recently and, if you are a passenger on Holland American, Royal Caribbean or Celebrity and your return trip home is in the late afternoon or evening the Hollywood folks have a great deal for you - for $35 or $40 (depending on which airport) they will send your luggage ahead to either Miami or Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airports and then transport you to a private room on the beach where you can relax, eat, swim or shop before they return you to your chosen airport. Wednesdays through Sundays the Hollywood Trolley stops at the hotel entrance (one of a dozen stops) and, for $1, you can take it throughout the city of Hollywood from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. I used it to have dinner at Sugar Reef Tropical Grill on the Hollywood Broadwalk. When it opened in 1994 it was the first white tablecloth restaurant to appear on the Broadwalk. For those watching their waistlines it is worth noting that they do specialize in fish dishes. When you get there, ask for a table from which you can view the 56th Annual Hollywood Beach Candy Cane Parade if it happens to be taking place during your visit. This event, along the 2 1/2 mile Broadwalk, facing the Atlantic, has a real local feeling with floats, marching bands, dancers and fire and police vehicles.

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