How Sweet It Was

Lido Spa's sale to a hip hotelier is not just the end of an era -- it's a death in the family

Gone will be the salt-free, sugar-free meals ordered one day ahead with stubby pencils set on long communal tables and deposited by familiar waiters at each lady's assigned seat. In their place will be the whimsical inventions of a young star chef, more than likely recruited from one of those resto-lounges on Lincoln Road. Gone will be the bridge games, nature walks, cash-n-carry bingo -- all replaced by video installations, performance art, and cocktail lounges.

No more will Terry Ross sing Broadway hits or Hebrew blessings in the third-floor auditorium, her soaring soprano suddenly swerving into a sing-song rasp. No more will Hy Siegel's Orchestra play big band standards on Saturday nights while hired host dancers invite ladies with walkers out on the floor. Instead there will be DJs spinning in the lobby and maybe even a series of CDs capturing the spa's new youthful vibe. Out with Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra; in with Ursula 1000 and Groove Armada. Out with the old, in with retro.

Over the course of the past decade, Balazs has redefined the overnight stay by catering to hip young travelers with a strong sense of style. Over the course of four decades, Mr. Edelstein has refined the nostalgic seasonal stay by catering to elderly ladies with intense demands for service ("Fifty goyish women in rooms, no problem; fifty Jews, everybody wants a room change!" he jokes). But so well does Edelstein satisfy his guests that the Lido's season has grown steadily longer, from six months in the early years to an almost completely sold-out seven-and-a-half months this year.

Millie Schiller, fit at 92 (top); Juci Horsky, lucky at bingo (above left); Betty Grynwald won't let the Lido go (above right)
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Millie Schiller, fit at 92 (top); Juci Horsky, lucky at bingo (above left); Betty Grynwald won't let the Lido go (above right)
Terry Ross (left) will survive; Hy Siegel blows his sax for one of the boyes
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Terry Ross (left) will survive; Hy Siegel blows his sax for one of the boyes

When the Edelstein family bought the 2.5-acre property tucked away on Belle Isle at the eastern end of the Venetian Causeway in 1963, the Lido had already gone bankrupt twice in the two years since opening. "It is very easy not to run a business well," observes Edelstein. "You have to be dedicated and passionate about what you do."

Although he has about 80 employees, Edelstein's hand is in everything. The Lido does not have what is known as a food and beverage manager; the owner himself is out every day to buy exactly the provisions the kitchen needs to fill its orders checked off by guests one day ahead. And when he sits in his office overseeing operational details, he's not above answering phones, checking in guests, even lugging bags to rooms.

Chuck thinks his older brother Bernie, who runs the family's other hotel, a Best Western up in Surfside, has it easy. If guests drop in for a week, and something goes wrong, you're not necessarily going to hear about it. But when guests come for months, they make their gripes known.

"A spa business is very service-oriented," Edelstein points out. "You're dealing with women who are very demanding." Without dropping the serious tone, he can't resist a joke at the expense of the mysterious creatures he serves. "You have a woman and you're not feeding her," he says, as if this is the source of all his woes. "She's on a diet!"

The ladies at the Lido may have asked for a lot over the years, but they never asked for luxury. Although meticulously clean, the rooms offer fewer amenities than you might expect. There is a television, a queen-size bed, and an extra-large walk-in closet. There are freshly washed towels and turned-down sheets, but no hair dryer, no little soaps, no tiny bottles of shampoo. There is no décor to speak of, either; but step outside and there is a breeze wafting in from the bay, sun shimmering on the water, the smell of the sea.

And there is Chuck Edelstein, seeing to it that the staff gives each guest what she needs. "I think it's very interesting I've had help for so long," says Edelstein. Many employees have worked at his hotel for ten, twenty, even thirty years despite what he calls "average pay" and the "uncertainty" of seasonal work. To say nothing of the owner's personality. "It's my way or the highway," he boasts.

Driver Gary Alimo has been at the Lido for ten years too, even though his favorite phrase is "I can't take it anymore!" He takes the ladies sightseeing, shopping, to doctor's appointments, and the drugstore. No one needs to tell Gary twice what has to be picked up from Walgreens. If he's going out to get face cream for this one, he'll remember that he got adult diapers last week for that one, so she could probably use another pack by now. And not only does he know who needs diapers, but who likes her diapers with those little tabs at the crotch called "wings."

Likewise, after twenty years in the dining room, no one has to tell Ernie Fernandez what a woman wants, either. Even when a first-time visitor, like me, quietly picks the olives from her salad at lunch and builds a discreet pile on the saucer beneath her coffee cup, Ernie notices. She will never, from that meal forward, find another olive among her greens.

And Ernie knows better than to clear the plate of Mrs. Juci (pronounced Yoot-see) Horsky of Montreal, a winter resident at the Lido for 21 years. Instead he indulges her by helping wrap leftover food, even though the hotel rate includes three meals and a late-night snack every day. Mrs. Horsky packs dinner rolls and grapefruit and the remains of a chicken hamburger in the basket seat attached to her deluxe walker, careful, always careful not to stain the white envelope she keeps there; it's stuffed with black-and-white photographs taken in Budapest in the late 1930s.

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