Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa unveils expansion


By Philip Potempa


It’s always exciting to write about something attached with a Tampa, Fla. dateline.

Shortly after Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa opened in March 2004, I flew in with other journalists from around the country to cover the grand opening festivities.

One of the Sunshine State‘s premier entertainment oasis places, in 2013 it unveiled a $75 million expansion, earning it the title of world’s sixth-largest casino, based on gaming positions or number of seats at a table or slot.

The new Mezzanine Level Casino gaming space at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened in February 2018.   (Photo Credit: Seminole Hard Rock Casino & Hotel)

 Soon, guests will enjoy a new pool area and even more varied restaurants joining the Hard Rock Cafe Tampa‘s  award-winning Council Oak Steaks & Seafood Restaurant, the Rise Kitchen & Bakery, and my always favorite Fresh Harvest Buffet.
While visiting Florida in March, I witnessed the latest excitement of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s newest renovation phase. It was unveiled in May 2017 with the Hard Rock’s signature staged a traditional “guitar smash” commemorating the completion of its phase one expansion. Doing the honors were attendees such as Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola; Jim Allen, Chairman of Hard Rock International and Chief Executive Officer of Seminole Gaming; Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Council Members; and Joe Lupo, President of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa.As for what’s new, it’s an impressive and expansive landscape with the property’s new Poker Room, new Mezzanine Level Casino, a new Smoke-Free Gaming area and new Orient Road Garage.

“This is certainly exciting for our property,” Lupo said. “We’re ecstatic that we now have these terrific venues to offer our guests which ultimately enhances their experience.”

Mezzanine Level Casino Gaming include the latest themes slots at Seminole Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Tampa, which unveiled a new phase one expansion in May 2017.                                             (Photo Credit: Seminole Hard Rock Casino & Hotel)

The state-of-the art, 46-table, non-smoking poker room features Wi-Fi throughout and has the sports fan in mind (the room offers 40 TV’s, including six 75-inch TV’s and four 65-inch TV’s). High-stakes players now have a new high-limit lounge featuring two VIP tables. Other offerings include a bar with seating to accommodate 15, as well as a “hidden gem” of a snack bar with seating for more than 20. There’s also an outdoor covered area for smoking.

The high-end, art deco inspired, Mezzanine Level Casino covers more than 26,000-square-feet and offers 500 of the newest slot machines featuring the latest technology as well as 15 live-action table games including Blackjack, Double Deck Blackjack, 3 Card Poker, Casino War, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em and Crazy 4 Poker. The new space contains approximately 14,000-square-feet of Italian marble which is meant to provide a luxurious atmosphere for guests.

The Smoke-Free Gaming area features over 850 of the newest and most popular slot machines. Located on the bottom floor of the Mezzanine Level Casino, it has doubled in size and has a dedicated smoke free entrance, smoke free bar with video poker, dedicated cage and Player’s Club, as well as a dedicated Uber drop-off and pick-up area with direct access from the surface parking lot.  Additionally, it contains over 20 big screen TV’s for sports enthusiasts. Memorabilia items include a jacket from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and a leather shirt from The Who’s John Entwistle.

Cher’s gown displayed at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is among the rare and unusual concert costumes welcoming gaming guests in the new expanded entertainment space.            (Photo credit: Phil Potempa)

Pat Boone’s White Buck Shoes are displayed at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa as a fun contrast to the rock concert wardrobes featured throughout the gaming property for guests to explore. (Photo credit: Phil Potempa)

The new 700-space Orient Road Garage allows for easy access from Hillsborough Road and Orient Road. It also has a walkway where guests can take a self-guided memorabilia “rock walk” tour, which  showcases over 100 of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa’s prized memorabilia pieces, including new items from artists such as Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi, Nicki Minaj and many more.

There’s also new enshrined attire from Cher, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper and Eric Clapton. My ranking favorite is a glass-encased display of Pat Boone‘s signature white buck shoes.

With the recent re-opening of nearly 500 parking spaces on a surface lot and the 700 parking spaces in the Orient Road Garage, it boosts overall parking capacity at the property to more than 5,000 spaces.

The extra parking is important since Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa has become a favored fine dining destination.

In December 2017, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa opened The Rez Grill, a 120-seat American grill concept with newly appointed Creative Culinary Director Frank Anderson, whose pedigree includes running the kitchens at James Beard-awarded, Los Angeles-based restaurants, Animal and Son of a Gun.

“This restaurant sets the culinary tone for Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and we’re so excited Frank Anderson is at the helm,” said Dawn Lazo, vice president of food & beverage. “Frank cooks from the heart, has worked alongside some of the best in the industry and his food is delicious, yet unpretentious. His addition to the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa team further cements Tampa Bay as a true foodie destination.”

The Rez Grill at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is a new 120-seat dining experience that opened in December 2017.                                  (Photo credit: Architectural Photography Inc.)

Anderson and his team have curated a thoughtful menu that offers diners a wide variety of elevated comfort food favorites. From a classic lobster roll to an all-American burger, the menu is simple in its approach with locally-sourced and sustainably farmed ingredients acting as the star.

“My cooking style is straight forward and approachable,” says Anderson. “Classic technique, done right by using seasonal, high-quality ingredients.”

Additional menu highlights include Grilled King Crab Legs brushed with garlic butter and served with a grainy mustard butter sauce, chimichurri and grilled bread; Lobster Thermidor with sherry béchamel, shiitake mushrooms, fontina cheese and served with a watercress salad and grilled lemon; house-made Cavatelli Bolognese topped with an herb ricotta and rapini; and Chicken Liver Pâté served with a lingonberry compote, radish-herb salad and grilled bread.

Equal dedication is shown to the beverage program with four micro-breweries on tap, three of which are local to Tampa. Mixologists will create made-to-order drinks using house-made syrups and juices.

The 5,000-square-foot interior is a creative collaboration between designer Lawrence Lee Associates and architect Klai Juba Wald. Modern and rustic details juxtaposed with design features including driftwood beams and of-the-moment mosaic tiles. Banquets and communal tables give way to an open kitchen that features a Jade wood-burning grill with burning cherry wood coming directly from Florida.

The Rez Grill is open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. FYI: 813-627-7625

Even with the addition of the new dining options, all of the restaurant favorites on the existing property are still going strong.

My favorite, as well as my parents’ pick, is always the Fresh Harvest Buffet, which opened in 2009 with seven “live-action kitchen dining experiences,” including pizza and Asian area specialties.

From fresh soups, a lush salad bar and even lobster tails and fantastic steaks to an ever-expanding

Fresh Harvest Buffet’s Asian Menu Action Station at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is a favorite culinary draw for gaming guests.   (Photo credit: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa)

dessert array, there’s something for everyone.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is rated among the country’s top five casinos, as ranked by the number of gaming positions available to casino guests. It occupies 37 acres of the Tampa Seminole Reservation, located east of downtown Tampa near the Intersection of I-4 and I-75.  I’m told players come from throughout Tampa Bay and Central Florida, including residents of Greater Orlando and other communities in the region.

Valet and more than 5,000 free, self-parking spaces are available. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is just 10 minutes east of downtown Tampa. FYI: 800-937-0010 or seminolehardrocktampa.com

Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached philip@ofnotoriety.com.