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Florida Keys Business
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Make yourself at home
Casual comfort makes Alexander Palms Court a repeat retreat

Comfortably ensconced on South Street amid a towering oasis of green, sits Alexander Palms Court, a 12-room hideaway where the only meeting room is the heated pool; check-in resembles a family reunion and shoes are always optional.

Three low, concrete buildings surround the oversized pool, dug decades ago into what was the circular driveway of a '60s-style motor court.

"This property was built in the '50s as navy housing," manager Carol Botwinik explained while printing airline boarding passes for two guests who were dreading their return to Chicago. "Then in the '60s it became one of those motor courts, where you'd drive around to your room. Then, eventually, the pool was dug into the driveway/courtyard."

The "court" part of Alexander Palms Court still pays tribute to its past, but don't expect to meet an owner named Alexander upon check-in. That comes from the type of palm tree that envelopes the Old Town retreat - Alexander palms.

"We get a really nice, eclectic mix of people here," Botwinik said. "Families, couples, groups of friends, retirees. And we get an amazing number of repeat guests. One couple will meet another couple at the pool, hang out all week, and then before they leave, they'll make reservations together for the same week the following year."

She described one regular family who comes each year in October.

"They own a restaurant in South Carolina, so they show up with a ton of food, and will grill out for everyone around the pool in the evening," Botwinik said, showing the computer screen of reservations for that week, which was filled in entirely. "Everyone wants to come back when they're here, so it's turned into one big group from all over."

The casual atmosphere is a source of pride for the owners and staff, who emphasize that Alexander Palms Court is not a corporate-flagged hotel.

First names are used, but not because anyone's wearing a name tag.

"People say they stay here, over and over again, because they feel like they're part of a family," said Botwinik, who has worked for the guesthouse's owners for more than a decade.

The same couple, who savor their privacy, also own Author's guesthouse on White Street and the Blue Parrot Inn on Elizabeth Street.

"But this one's my personal favorite," the owner whispered last month while tinkering in the gardens of the South Street oasis.

While some are attracted to the welcoming atmosphere, others come back for the location in the 700 block of South Street, just a block or so from Simonton Street,

"It's very easy to go out, join the craziness of Duval Street, but then come back 'home' to your garden oasis. Look, you can even see the ocean from here," Botwinik said with a sigh, pointing out the window of the small front office and down Alberta Street.

The affordability is another attraction of the property. Rates range from $125 to $250 per night, and units include standard hotel rooms, suites with kitchenettes and one-bedroom units with a full kitchen.

All linens and towels are included, as is daily housekeeping and a continental breakfast is served every morning poolside, where guests help themselves to coffee, bagels, yogurt and fresh fruit.

"For so many people, this place really is a home away from home," Botwinik said.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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