Tampa’s hip, happening Oxford House, literally a small, self-contained “SoHo-esque” city within the city of Tampa has brought a dose of big city trendy to an historic building located across the street from the beautiful University of Tampa, known for its Russian minarets. Originally built in 1891 as a stable for the Plant Hotel, the Oxford Exchangebuilding has gone through several transformations in its 122-year history. In the 1920’s an arcade of shops ran through the center of the building from Kennedy Blvd. to Grand Central Ave, a feature that is echoed in the current design, in which an arcade runs through the building, from the home decor section, past the bustling restaurant and beautiful glass-enclosed, sun drenched atrium with fountain and greenery, the gargantuan two story central area, like a “mini Grand Central” with busy gourmet coffee and tea bars and lots of sofas, stools, and lounge chairs where locals, students, and visitors come to socialize, unwind, plug in their laptops, etc–this is truly the Manhattan-esque “living room” of Tampa. Step inside, even on the most sultry summer day, and you’ll immediately feel the cool vibe and forget you are in hot, humid Florida. The full service restaurant is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, and brunch among those in the know, with a full cocktail bar and well-appointed wine list, accommodating staff, and beautiful surroundings.
The cool seating areas, home decor items, and walls of historic photos make for a fascinating “museum-esque” experience that locals and visitors will appreciate.
Oxford Exchange is really two buildings: the original four walls of Number 420, and a new structure that took the place of an older building next door. Painstaking restoration of the older elements, most notably the brickwork, was done alongside the creation of new features, such as the many skylights and the glass-roofed conservatory. It is hard to tell the new from the old, which underscores Oxford Exchange’s mission to showcase the best of the contemporary and the classic.
The Inspiration for the design and restoration came when Tampa businessman Blake Casper was visiting London and found himself drawn to the architecture, feel, and use of English shops and clubs. Sensing the potential for these kinds of multi-use spaces in his hometown of Tampa, Casper began to conceive a place where people could meet, mingle, work in solitude, or simply escape for a few moments from their hectic lives.
Casper assembled a team of architects, engineers, designers, and craftsmen to transform the old building into a state-of-the-art complex: a team of architects and Interior Designer Mary Beth Courier. Then came the team that would bring the building to life: Dave and Susan Ward of Buddy Brew Coffee, and Abigail St. Clair of TeBella Tea Company. Executive Chef Erin Guggino began to develop the menu for the Restaurant; Allison Casper Adams created the Shop, Alison Powell devised the Bookstore, and both started filling a warehouse with finds.
And so, in 2011 Oxford Exchange began to take shape. The story begins at the front door and continues throughout the building every day. Depending on how you look at it, Oxford Exchange is either a large house, or a small town. Each area offers its own feel and personality, and yet each contributes to the whole, which is designed to fulfill a diverse range of needs, including coffee and conversation. Oxford Exchange was hand-built, using materials from over a dozen countries and features Italian marble, reclaimed white oak, leather panels on the walls and ceilings, and brass fittings.
Specific buildings that inspired the Oxford Exchange include:
The Wolseley on Piccadilly, London
Andrew Martin, UK
The Shaw Library at the London School of Economics
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The Dining Halls at Oxford University
The Garrick Club
Oxford Exchange opened its doors at 6:30AM on September 24, 2012. Nearly three years later, the place is an intricate and much-celebrated part of the fabric of the Tampa community, it is clear a great deal of thought went into the activities and products offered—the spirit of the place. Curation is a key concept behind the food, goods, and programmed events. It reminds me a bit of ABC Home (and ABC Kitchen) in New York City, except the space is much more elegant and less hectic. The bookstore and decor items are displayed more as you might find them in an elegant European store, they are arranged and showcased, there is room to move around and enjoy the surroundings–it is filled with people, but it is not cramped.
Whether you live in the Tampa area or are just visiting, you owe yourself a visit to this inspirational, transforming piece of this community–go experience the vibe, have lunch, grab a coffee, linger a while–when you step back outside into Tampa, you feel refreshed, revitalized, like you had been on a mini vacation!
Pictured above: Organic Kale Salad with Salmon, Pictured Below, the popular Chicken Burger with avocado. The restaurant features many “healthy-gourmet” options in addition to traditional brunch fare (omelets, French Toast, Pancakes, Eggs Benedict, Club Sandwiches, etc). Oxford Exchange executive chef, Erin Guggino has created a menu of fresh, simple meals that feature the best seasonal, local and organic ingredients. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and weekend brunch.
An Excerpt from a recent lunch menu reflects the diverse offerings:
Chili three beans, ground chicken 8
Gazpacho yellow heirloom tomatoes, poblano relish 8
Crispy Chick Peas sweet, spicy, salty 7
Hummus hemp seed pesto, oil cured olives, fresh pita & celery 11
Tuna Tar Tar ginger, chili, soy, cilantro, crispy shallots, butternut squash & black quinoa 15
Crispy Kalettes parmesan, red chili flakes, capers, local honey mignonette 13
Fried Brussel Sprouts preserved Meyer lemon vinaigrette, shaved ricotta salata, smoked sea salt 11
Summer Kale nectarine, blueberries, almond, basil, feta, lime maple vinaigrette 13
Grilled Chicken Paillard arugula, truffle vinaigrette, shaved parmesan, crispy fries 17
Super Green kale, romaine, spinach, Napa, avocado, feta, pickled carrots, chia-lime vinaigrette 13
OE Chopped romaine, spinach, arugula, grilled chicken, dates, goat cheese, avocado, corn, spicy pumpkin seeds, citrus cilantro vinaigrette 17
Add: grilled chicken 6; chicken salad 6; salmon 8
SANDWICHES & MORE
Choose One: crispy fries or spicy sweet potato fries; additional charge for OE slaw or gluten free roll 2
Burger bibb, tomato, white cheddar, toasted bun 15
Today’s Chicken Salad bibb, tomato, toasted bread 13
Lobster BLT Maine lobster tarragon citrus salad, bacon, romaine, tomato, toasted bread 18
Chicken Burger avocado, jalapeño, tomato, feta, cumin aioli, toasted bun 14
Club roasted turkey, avocado, bacon, tomato, bibb, Swiss, garlic aioli, toasted bread 14
Crispy Brussel Sprout manchego, crispy chick peas, arugula, citrus vinaigrette, pressed ciabatta roll 13
Grilled Chicken tomato, arugula, parmesan, hemp seed pesto, garlic aioli, pressed ciabatta roll 15
Green Chile Pork Tacos spicy pickled cabbage, feta, avocado, flour tortillas 14
Black & Blue Burger chili dusted burger, blue cheese, fried egg, bacon, spicy date preserves, arugula, toasted bun 17
Gluten free flatbread available upon request
Pear & Blue basil & caramelized onion 14
Tomato & Mozzarella basil, olive oil, sea salt 13
Green Chili Pork corn, feta, tomato, pickled jalapeño, cilantro 15
Oxford Exchange has been named a Fred Bollaci Enterprises Preferred Destination–it is definitely worth the visit and is a lot more than a restaurant, bookstore, or cafe–it is a total sensory experience that should be enjoyed and is a part of the City of Tampa and the Tampa Bay area’s history that area residents can be proud of! Plan to come for a meal and spend a couple hours wandering around or relaxing with a beverage of your choice. See you in Tampa, and tell the folks at Oxford Exchange that Fred Bollaci sent you!
420 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606