In the immortal words of Ed Sullivan, we're proud to bring you a "really big shew"-er, issue-this month. At 319 pages, it's our largest Visitor's Annual ever; and if you ask me-okay, I admit I'm slightly prejudiced-it just may be our all-time best. Published at the peak of the tourist season, the annual reaches thousands of new readers, who buy it on the newsstand or pick it up while visiting Sarasota friends, as well as all our regular subscribers. This year we've included a special section that we think will appeal to both those groups: On the Beach, a splashy tourist guide we also publish in hardcover form for guests at the region's best resorts. Edited by Kay Kipling, it covers the Sarasota waterfront and more, with lots of suggestions for vacation diversions along with comprehensive listings of beaches, attractions, arts, entertainment and sports and recreation. It's a wonderful resource for newcomers, while old-timers can use it the way I do: Place it, along with fluffy towels and a vase full of bougainvillea, on the nightstand in your guest room every time a new shipment of friends and relatives arrives from the North.
The rest of the magazine also explores Sarasota, in ways that we hope will give even longtime residents fresh insights and perspective. Tim Ohr, author of a number of books about the Florida outdoors, follows the Myakka River down its 60-mile course, from long stretches that wind through land as wild and beautiful as it was thousands of years ago to quirky outposts like Snook Haven, where banjo pickers and bikers share mellow afternoons. The article and accompanying pictures paint a portrait of a rich reservoir of water, life and natural history, a lifeline to the past-and future-right in the middle of one of the country's fastest-growing regions.
For a more personal view of Sarasota's natural attractions, turn to "Faces" on the last page, where photographer J.B. McCourtney takes as his subject Harry Luther. Unassuming and gentle, Luther went to work for Selby Gardens after he graduated from high school in St. Petersburg, and, like so many others, soon fell under the spell of bromeliads. Now 50 and living alone in a tiny apartment above the museum bookshop, this completely self-taught scientist has become the world's leading expert on these mysterious and exotic plants.
If Luther and Selby Gardens set a world-class standard for botanical research, we all know who's the new standard-bearer for Sarasota glitz and glamour: our very own Ritz-Carlton. Ritz-o-mania has kept Sarasota spinning all year, elevating everything from downtown condo prices to the dreams and aspirations of local socialites and retailers. At the heart of the Ritz mystique lies its legendary service, so we asked editor Susan Burns to boldly go where no magazine reporter has ever gone before: to employee training school at the Ritz. After a short course in "glow training," Susan realized there is much, much more to customer service than she ever dreamed of; her lighthearted report begins on page 66.
Like mothers with their children, magazine editors aren't supposed to have favorites, but we are allowed to admire certain "special" qualities in each of our creations; and I must admit to doting on novelist Tim Dorsey's articles for their hyperactive humor and affection for Florida's weird and wild side. This month we gave Dorsey free rein to indulge that affection, asking him to name his 10 favorite Florida bars. He came up with a memorable list, from No. 1, the No-Name Pub in the Keys, which strikes "the perfect level of seediness-that pitch of excitement that doesn't slide off the scale into personal danger and head lice," to No. 10, The Fox. That South Miami dive-which happens, by the way, to also be a favorite of illustrator Regan Dunnick, who created the perfect wacky images for the article-is a smoky joint bathed in dark-red light, "where beer won't do; you have to order something on the rocks." Dorsey's article not only left me laughing; it inspired me with a new life's ambition: to somehow, before it's all over, personally visit each and every one of those places.
Whether this is your first plunge into SARASOTA or a regular monthly habit, we hope you'll enjoy exploring this issue; maybe it will even inspire some ambitions and expeditions of your own.