Visitors are lured to Lake City, Florida, for the abundant outdoor recreational opportunities. The trails, springs and lakes for fishing, and campgrounds are popular with residents and guests alike, but downtown has an identity of its own that is worth exploring. The Blanche, a property that began its life as a lavish hotel and completed a massive renovation in early 2020, is perfectly situated for meeting some of the locals and mingling for eating, shopping, and passing some leisure time.
Even though there are a number of chain hotels where Interstate 10 and Interstate 75 cross in Florida, it is well worth a few extra miles and minutes to drive into Lake City in order to experience The Blanche and meet the people of this exceptional town. Frank Pierce Milburn was the architect for the hotel, built in 1902, and also for the Lake City Courthouse located in the next block. From the beginning, the hotel was thought to be among the best in the South. The three-story structure was the first in the entire state of Florida to have an elevator.
The Blanche is a multi-use space and on top of being a hotel, it has retail stores, apartments, offices and event spaces. Over the years, The Blanche has had a number of residents in the apartments, such as school teachers, bus drivers, and naval officers, but also several notable short-term guests, including country singer Johnny Cash and notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone. By 1990, The Blanche had earned a place on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Address: 212 N Marion Ave, Lake City, FL (see map)
Utilizing a keyless entry system, guests walk into a lobby with an eye-popping chandelier and numerous seating spaces. With its tile floors, soothing color scheme, convenient restrooms, and comfortable furniture, the large room invites you to sit and stay awhile.
14 guest rooms are available and are located in a separate section of the building. They have plenty of security and are away from the long-term apartments and retail spaces. Each room is arranged differently, but all include a private bathroom, comfortable bedding and chairs, wireless internet, and access to a washer and dryer. Several rooms also have a kitchen area. Booking can be arranged through Airbnb.
Address: 212 N Marion Ave, Lake City, FL (see map)
Beautiful event space
Those wanting to host small weddings, reunions, parties, and business meetings will find The Blanche well-equipped to provide a beautiful, versatile, and useful setting. When I visited, the ballroom was set up for a wedding reception, and everything was gleaming and ready for the happy occasion.
An added plus for guests and residents are the retail shops at The Blanche. Presently, there is a coffee shop, a hair salon, and a wine shop with more businesses coming soon.
Parking for the hotel is on the street, but there are also a couple of lots available nearby.
Shops and interesting places within a short walk
The shops on Marion Street offer plenty for those in search of unique finds, rather than the usual fare of big box stores. Blue Goose Studios is a must-visit location. It is owned by Janet Moses, a recycle artist who is delightful to meet and well-known in Lake City and beyond. Her canvases are most likely to be salvaged windows, doors, boards, or objects people bring to her with special significance.
Lake Desoto is a couple of blocks away and is a great place to enjoy the sunset, people watch, or observe the ducks from one of the well-placed benches.
Be sure to spot the 86-feet long (26.2 meters) mural on the side of the Kuykendall Building a few steps from The Blanche. It was painted by Keith Goodson in 2008, and the details will mesmerize you.
The Lake City Courthouse has a tastefully landscaped walking plaza in front that is also a nice place to get some exercise and soak up the feel of Lake City.
Dining suggestions near The Blanche
After you check in to The Blanche and spend a few hours browsing the shops, you’ll start thinking about a place for dinner. Marion Street Bistro & Brewhouse is an excellent option. Steaks, chops, flatbreads, and seafood are menu headliners. The vibe is local and casual, and the food is great.
After checking out the next morning, a very popular spot for breakfast is Shirley’s on East Duval Street. It is actually quite easy to walk to Shirley’s, if you prefer. All of the normal breakfast options are offered with the somewhat surprising additions of corned beef hash or cane syrup also listed. If you sleep later and want lunch instead of breakfast, the menu of meats and vegetables changes daily. Expect Southern comfort foods. This is the kind of place where the servers have been working for decades and are exceptionally friendly.
Live music or nightly entertainment
Halpatter Brewing Company is located between the hotel and Lake Desoto. It is designed to be a gathering spot with cornhole games going regularly, beers brewed on site, and food options such as charcuterie boards, sandwich baskets, pretzels, and pizza. Beer and Bingo on Monday nights, Team Trivia on Tuesdays, a ping pong table and board games combine with live music on weekends to make this a hit with all ages. The building which houses Halpatter’s was built in 1940 and served as the headquarters for the State Road Department of Florida.
Downtown Lake City synonymous with The Blanche
All that downtown Lake City offers coupled with The Blanche which has been beautifully restored, give great reasons to spend time in this city and make it worthwhile to get off the beaten path and look around. The hotel is comfortable and unique, and you can park once and find all you need for a great evening or weekend.
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