2012 Republican Convention: Where TV Stars Like Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow Will Eat, Stay and Play

2:13 PM PST 08/27/2012 by Jon Palmer Claridge, Paul Bond
Conventions Jackson's Bistro

Famous steak and Spanish restaurants and the restored Floridian Palace are draws for high-profile journalists covering the rain-soaked GOP confab.

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 23-Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION
Tampa, Fla. (Aug. 27-30)

Who's Going: Delegates include reality and food TV stars such as The Bachelor's Andrew Firestone and Out to Eat's Cliff Young and top bundlers like Koch Industries' David Koch, not to mention Rudy Giuliani. Plus Clint Eastwood, Adam Sandler and Jessica Simpson might join those milling around the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

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Who's Playing: Kid Rock will perform on Aug. 29 and Journey on Aug. 30 at downtown's Liberty Plaza. The unlikely Wyclef Jean, replacing the recently arrested Randy Travis, will rap at Glazer Children's Museum for Got Your 6, a nonpartisan military group. Blues Traveler and Gregg Allman & Friends will jam at the Ritz Ybor. Gavin DeGraw headlines the Presidential Convention Charity Benefit on Aug. 28. The Busch Gardens acrobats and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders will open the convention Aug. 26 at Tropicana Field.

Where to Nosh: CNN producer Emily Rust says her photojournalist father, David (both are covering the convention), will be "taking me to Columbia Restaurant (2117 E. 7th Ave.), a famous Spanish restaurant with flamenco shows." Built in 1905 in the historic Ybor City neighborhood, it's billed as the nation's largest Spanish restaurant, taking up an entire tile-lined city block. And Bern's Steak House (1208 S. Howard Ave.) has the world's largest wine cellar (500,000+ mind-boggling bottles including a $10K 1851 Ch. Gruaud-Larose magnum) and a secret VIP entrance. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a fan of its hand-cut, dry-aged beef and knows to request the Andre Tchelistcheff room, named after the Napa wine icon.

Don’t miss Zagat’s #1 Cafe Ponte (13505 Icot Blvd., Clearwater) that wowed Martha Stewart, the highly rated Armani's (high atop the Grand Hyatt, 2900 Bayport Dr.), whose gourmet Italian fare comes with the Bay area’s best view, or Restaurant BT's (2507 South MacDill Avenue) which serves up innovative Vietnamese surprises.

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End your day at Jackson's Bistro (601 S. Harbour Island Blvd.), party central for Paris Hilton, Playboy Playmates, and TB Rays' All-Star pitcher David Price. Sip something top-shelf as you look back toward the convention site from the waterfront patio.

Where to Stay: The restored Floridan Palace (905 N. Florida Ave.), where Elvis Presley and Gary Cooper slept, is housing much of Team MSNBC, which includes the network's convention co-anchors, Hardball's Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, as well as The Last Word's Lawrence O'Donnell.

As the Bay narrows into Garrison Channel just north of Harbor Island, the Marriott Waterside (700 S. Florida Ave.) rises like a lego Xanadu into the downtown skyline. If proximity is your Holy Grail, its luxurious modern suites (from $319) with killer views hover directly over the RNC site. If old-world opulence floats your boat, the clear choice is the stunning two-story penthouse at Loews Don Cesar Hotel (from $2950, 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach), fondly known as the Pink Palace, a 1928 Mediterranean-style castle facing the white sands of the Gulf. Guests read like an Oscars who’s who: Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Charlton Heston, Glenda Jackson, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor. The hotel is home to the saltwater fish tank-lined Maritana Grille and its succulent Florida seafood.

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Where's the Fun: When not discussing the Constitution over cocktails at a Citizens United documentary fest (Aug. 27-29), do like Piers Morgan and go canoeing in the "alligator-infested mangroves of Hillsborough River." He jokes, "It will sharpen me up for the primetime interviews I'm doing throughout the convention."

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