If you grew up in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area in Florida as I did, then you no doubt have fond memories of the Kapok Tree restaurant in Clearwater. This fabulous restaurant was as over the top as it comes, complete with its own garden of earthly delights. Sadly, the restaurant passed into culinary oblivion many, many years ago, but the ghosts of the past still remain…and I have the photos to prove it.
For those of you from New York, the Kapok Tree was a little bit like Tavern on the Green in Central Park at its height of popularity. Built in 1958 by Richard Baumgardner, the Kapok Tree was at one time one of the top 100 restaurants in the United States. There were three locations (Clearwater, Davie, and Madeira Beach), but of the three, the Clearwater location was the best known and, of course, the most ostentatious. In addition to the magnificent gardens, complete with fountains and waterfalls, the restaurant had 12 dining rooms that featured stunning chandeliers worthy of the grandest ballrooms in Europe and a grand staircase that would look great on the Titanic.
Speaking of the Titanic, the restaurant closed its doors in 1991 due to mismanagement. Seeing the building during its heyday, it is clear that another restaurant on the scale of the Kapok Tree will never again see the light of day. It is with a nostalgic tear in my eye that I decided to spontaneously visit what remains of the structure. I am happy to report most of the original restaurant and gardens have been preserved: the main restaurant has been turned into a special events venue and music school, and what used to be the shopping galleria is now a Sam Ash music store. As a quick comparison, you can view photos of the original Kapok Tree restaurant here.
Shirley, at the Kapok Tree Event Center and Gardens, was kind enough to give me a tour of the building and grounds. My memory of the Kapok Tree comes from a family wedding that was held at the restaurant when I was just a little kid. The restaurant originally had shops on the lower level, tropical plants everywhere, and even birds in cages. For a kid in Florida, a visit to the Kapok Tree was a visit to another world, and I loved every minute of it. It is a bit surreal to now see guitars and percussion equipment side-by-side with the Grecian statues, but it brings an extravagant twist to the usual musical instrument shopping experience, which I am sure would have made Richard Baumgardner smile.
For anyone in the Clearwater area looking for a great wedding or party venue, the Kapok Tree is a decadent option not to be missed. (This video shows a wedding at the Kapok Tree in all of its glory.) Aside from the close proximity of the venue to the traffic nightmare that is McMullan Booth Road and US Highway 19, you can still escape to a magical dreamland in the Kapok Tree’s garden. If you are in the area, take a minute to get off the highway and check out this gem of Florida history.For more history on the Kapok Tree restaurant, please visit this site.
To find out more about the Kapok Tree Events Center and Gardens, please contact Shirley at 727.725.8733 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view more of my travel photos, please visit my personal website – Kelly-Williams.com.