What do you get when you renovate a hurricane-ravaged Caribbean beach mansion?
A choice, trendy new beach mansion on Grand Cayman? Normally yes, but take a closer look at the palatial estate that took “more than a month of Sundays to bring it to where it is today,” says Padraic Linnane, managing director for The White House.
Not to be confused with the one in Washington, The White House in Grand Cayman is equally unique – a residence of splendor. The original occupant was Ralph Englestad, former owner of Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He used to fly in friends aboard his matching 727s, reconfigured to seat only 16 guests. Upon arrival, he would entertain them in this sprawling, oceanfront 5 bedroom/6 bath house.
“Hurricane Ivan paid Cayman a visit in 2004 and left the place in disrepair,” says Linnane. Then Jamaican entrepreneurial Ernie Smatt acquired the 21,000 sq. ft. estate. For those who need reminding, Smatt’s legacy in hospitality includes operating the Shaw Park Hotel in Ocho Rios and entertaining the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher.
The White House could have been repaired and restored as an elegant seaside residence or even a boutique hotel. Both are in demand. But Smatt and longtime colleague Linnane had a different idea.
Over the last eight years they have meticulously implemented their vision, not only refurbishing a stately home, but creating a new hospitality venue in Grand Cayman – specifically courting groups. Corporate groups, incentive groups, weddings.
If you are in charge of a group visiting Cayman, you must bring them here for an elegant beachfront bash like no other. Just reserve what you want.
Both Smatt and Linnane are no strangers when it comes to hospitality. They operated the famed Beach Club Colony and Spanish Reef Resort in the early 1990s – well-remembered hotels that attracted the type of clientele for which Cayman is known today.
“The Beach Club has a big part of my heart,” says Linnane. “It was the staff and authenticity of the experience. It’s hard to come across an environment that is so engaging for guests. We want to bring back memories of when the Caribbean was the location of choice for celebrities.”
Traditional has given way to contemporary. The resort was torn down in favor of Water Colours, an ultra-upmarket condo development set to open next year.
The locals are still buzzing about the “Wedding of the Year” staged at The White House when the facility first opened its doors. Linnane points to The White House Facebook page that shows the night staff dressed in tuxedos.
While it could certainly serve as a choice boutique hotel (there are two well-appointed bedroom suites) or even an opulent rental home, complete with garage and two kitchens, the intent is to be a unique platform for groups to eat, drink and enjoy the Gatsby-like existence. The target market is groups staying at hotels like Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Westin along Seven Mile Beach.
The White House in Washington has its Rose Garden. Here a functional 6,000 sq. ft. wooden deck (with two gazebos) covers the surf. Toast the moment and have a moonlight dance. The formidable bar is a gathering spot which came from the Beach Club. It was in storage, refinished and placed here to serve a new generation.
“Nobody else would have paid for it what we did,” says Linnane. The interior features chandeliers from the former Hyatt Regency ballroom and lobby of the Courtyard Marriott. Room divider windows etched with orchids were added, priced at $30,000.
There is a customer service room, like a concierge level check-in. Asian motif furniture accents the glossy tiled house. One of the wooden framed beds in the host suites is so heavy that 12 people are required to move it. One could describe the entire ambiance as Gatsby-esque. So it only makes sense that one of the property’s three bar lounges was is named Gatsby’s.
While several impressive special events have taken place, the grand opening is yet to come. “We’d rather wait a little longer to take it to the level we want it to be, “says Linnane. “It’s about being first class.”
See what’s new
Not part of a big group? No worries, have a day at Tiki Beach, a stylish beachfront restaurant along Seven Mile Beach. It’s on these lists like Caribbean’s Top 5 Beach Bars. Now in its fourth year, casual waterfront dining and tropical drinks make this trip to the beach more than a lounge chair on the sand.
Padraic Linnane oversees Tiki, primarily catering to cruise passengers. He remembers when the initial plans were sketched on a knapkin. Grand Cayman receives 1.6 million cruise passengers annually. At night when crowds return to their ships, tables are set and torches lit. Then the evening unfolds for a corporate party or private dinner.
Grand Cayman lives up to its name. Grandeur comes from visions, developments like The White House and Tiki Beach. From its shopping to its beaches, superlatives abound.
If you haven’t been back to Cayman in a few years, be sure to visit Dolphin Cove operated by the Burrowes family from Jamaica. Another attraction is the Cayman Motor Museum, owned by shipping magnate Andreas Ugland. It houses the first car driven on Grand Cayman (1905 Cadillac). Fans of the Caped Crusader will be in awe when they look into the cockpit of the original Batmobile, featured in the 1960s American comic strip television show.
When you go
American Airlines and Cayman Airways have nonstop flights to Grand Cayman from Miami International Airport. From Fort Lauderdale, Spirit Airlines has daily departures. Tiki Beach is open seven days a week. The White House is located in near Bodden Town, about 30 minutes from capital George Town. To reserve for a corporate event or special function www.thewhitehousecayman.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.