Dunedin, On Florida’s Gulf Coast

These days, when I am at “home,” it means I am in Florida, staying in a short-term “friends and family” vacation rental in Dunedin, about a mile from my daughter’s house in Clearwater.

Dunedin is a great place. It’s one of the picturesque beach towns along the Gulf Coast of Florida, just north of Clearwater and due west of Tampa (which makes it convenient to Tampa International Airport.) It’s heritage is Scottish – there’s a Dunedin in Scotland, too – and the local culture reflects that. The high school team is named “The Highlanders,” and some of the place names are Scottish in origin.

Every time that I’m here, I discover something new about Dunedin. This time, it was Eli’s Bar*B*Que, a tiny, home-grown operation next to the intersection of Skinner Boulevard and the Pinellas Trail. (Skinner Boulevard is the continuation of Main Street as you drive toward Alt 19.) My son-in-law’s mother, Julie, was the person who told me about this place and I became a regular customer. Unfortunately, I will miss the St. Patrick’s Day party this year!

Eli is, sadly, no longer with us, but his wife, Roni, and her son carry it on, and I notice there is a changing cast of helpers from weekend to weekend, who seem to be a mix of family and friends and friends of family and friends. It has been there, on that spot, since 2000, which says something about the support it gets from the community.

It sits on a mostly-vacant lot on the corner there, a tiny building that houses the customer service area, a shed out back where the cooking is done, and a shady area with picnic tables and benches, so if you can’t wait to sink your teeth into your barbecued meal, they can accommodate you. Most people order and take away. It’s great stuff – chicken, beef, and pork – with sides of baked beans and cole slaw and a selection of drinks – iced tea, Gatorade, soda, or water.

I recommend it when you are in town, just don’t wait until too late in the day because sometimes they run out! Weekends – Friday and Saturday only – 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Cash ONLY, no credit cards or checks. 727-738-4856.

This year, I was in Dunedin when the Toronto Blue Jays arrived for their spring training sessions. Southern Florida is a winter home for people from the northern United States and Canadians, and some of them were at the stadium on Saturday, waiting for the Blue Jay players to appear after their morning training meeting.

Their patience was rewarded when several players stopped to say hello and sign scrapbook entries, shirts, and baseballs for the waiting fans:

Happy kids of all ages!

Dunedin’s relaxed atmosphere has generated a lot of artistic activity. It’s hard to be surrounded by the beautiful scenery without being inspired. During my last visit, I re-connected with my friend from grade school, Ann Byal Feldshue, who has opened her own gallery. “Ann’s Monroe Street Gallery” houses Ann’s studio and several other artists’ workspaces, and there is also gallery space where their work is displayed. The artists represent different styles, and it was very hard for me to resist the temptation to take “one of each!” In the end, I bought one of Ann’s paintings. It has a special meaning for me – lovely work by my friend showing a real and beautiful scenic spot in Dunedin. I can’t show you (darn it!) because I didn’t think to take a photo before she wrapped it up for safe-keeping until I settle down again, but I am looking forward to finding a spot for it in my house when I do settle down.

The artist who paints the oranges, Steve Spathelf, is one of the resident artists, and you can see his work around town. At the last count in 2011, there were over 92 buildings. “The oranges” have become a thing among businesses and residents, and the subject of some controversy as his success has generated imitators.

Another well-known artwork on a building is the “Dogedin” mural in downtown Dunedin, a tribute to various dogs, sponsored by their owners. In recent years, the mural has begun to include a section for cats, and there are several other non-dog species included. The collection is ongoing.

Sunsets are a special time in Dunedin. The “Marker 8” restaurant/bar features a spectacular view and a free shot (no choices – you get what you get) at sunset. It is a very relaxing place to sit and watch the boats, birds, sea creatures, and clouds go by, converse with friends, and meditate on what a beautiful world we live in.

The Fenway has recently re-opened as part of the Marriott “Autograph” series of unique hotels. Built in 1924, it housed a speakeasy in the basement, and the door still exists today, down a short flight of stairs. The bar itself, called “Hi-Fi” as a nod to the Fenway’s renown as a jazz center and radio station, has been re-located to the rooftop and provides a different and beautiful venue to watch sunsets, and enjoy warm, relaxed evenings looking over the water:

From the roof of The Fenway. That’s downtown Clearwater across the St. Joseph Sound.

The Fenway sat derelict, surrounded by temporary chain link fencing, as the Tao Tai-Chi organization, located next door, tried to make it into a conference center, but was never quite able to access the financing they needed. The Marriott chain reached an agreement with the Taoist Society, took over ownership, and opened the hotel in the last couple of years. You can find out more at fenwayhotel.com if you desire.

Even the humble beachside benches provide beautiful sunset views:

It is tempting to stay here, and maybe someday I will, when my desire to “explore the world at my own pace” is assuaged, and I am ready to settle down again and stop living out of a suitcase. But that moment has not yet arrived, and I will soon be off to Africa.

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