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Traveler's Diary

A Play-by-Play Visit to Vero Beach

April 06, 1986|HORACE SUTTON | Sutton is editor of Signature magazine.

VERO BEACH, Fla. — They almost called this haven Venice, but the name was already taken so they decided on Vero, which means truth. Besides, the postmaster general said the name should only have four letters.

That was back in 1889, two years before the post office here was established and some years after the government began offering 160 acres of high land here for $50.

Prices have gone up a bit since then. At a new hideaway called Sea Oaks, a two-bedroom pad, with a full kitchen opening on the living room and the living room opening onto a terrace and the terrace within a lob's distance from the tennis courts, is yours for $165,000.

A version with one bedroom but two baths is yours for the weekend for $450, or $650 a week, which is $90 a night. Figured that way it beats the price of beach-side motels the likes of the one I stayed in which, the night I got there, had sprung a leak in the roof that was dripping into a trash can in the middle of the lobby.

Sea Oaks Scene

Sea Oaks, six miles north of Vero Beach proper, wouldn't tolerate such a scene. Its 125 acres are trim and manicured, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian River and dotted with plantation-style houses trimmed with white lattice. Live oaks drip with Spanish moss and spiky sable palms provide the greenery.

Winding paths of cypress mulch are threaded under the trees, past swimming pools sprinkled here and there. One might live at the corner of Fern Court and Oak Lane, or down near the Atlantic, or soon in the still-being-built units on the Indian River.

The peach-tinted beach club rises in Bahamian style at the Atlantic's edge where, they tell you, it is possible to pick a lobster out of the water. Hopefully, not at the end of one's toe. An exercise room and informal snack shop are downstairs, but upstairs the dining room is done in soft rose and pastel green--Florida colors--set against pale turquoise walls.

New York and California may have graduated to Southwestern cuisine, but down here they still blacken everything, Cajun style. In surroundings as elegant as this it is refreshing to find the prices holding at $11 to $16 for entrees, and while a bottle of Roederer Crystal costs $100, you can still get a white Zinfandel for $10.

Costumed in Colors

What is considered sartorial splendor in quarters such as these? Well, say, a pink shirt, green trousers, a tie of many colors and Gucci loafers. Thus outfitted, one might stroll along boulevards called Painted Bunting Lane or Mockingbird Drive or Indian Lilac Lane.

That would be a likely get-up, too, for an excursion to the new agora (you're not going to get me to call it a shopping center), which is known as Village Shops. Here all the emporia have hug-a-bunny names such as Needle Nicely (for needlepoint), Best Wishes (for gifts) and Toute Sweets (ice cream and such).

A restaurant among the shops, called Coco, with tables on a terrace under bottle-brush trees, is only open for lunch because the town council of Indian River Shores won't let them open for dinner. Too many smells, too many crowds and all that. Yuk.

So Vero veterans have to make do with the Sea Oaks Club, or less formally, with the Ocean Grill where you can get deep-fried frog legs or a "mountain" of "our marvelous onion rings" for $2.75. A "hill" costs only $1.95. But then there are Indian River crab fingers sauteed or fried, or a flounder roll stuffed with crab meat.

French With Subtitles

The Black Pearl has just opened on South Beach and is offering handsome dinners, tip to toe at $11.50. It's open seven nights a week. Across the street Charley Brown's does steaks and prime ribs. A restaurant called Forty-One does a French menu with English subtitles that come out as lobster tail, salmon or sweetbreads. Cocktails on the pier terrace, rather like a Fort Lauderdale scene.

The super swells are ensconced in a super private preserve called John's Island--assorted CEOs, Donald Regan of the White House, Harold McGraw the publisher, and such. If you had the jack to buy a house here, you'd still have to get by the admissions committee.

The Dodgers are in training in winter at a great spread on the edge of town. Marriott was refused permission to drop a decent hotel here, but Pickett's has just opened its all-suite layout on the ocean and it is handsome. Fifty-five suites at $115 a night for one bedroom, breakfast included.

If you don't have green pants and a pink shirt, you can do well at Memorial Island Park, which has a jogging trail, dockage, covered picnic tables, 10 tennis courts (six lighted) and its own pro, all for $3 an hour. No admission papers needed; no pedigree requested. And as they say in Vero, that's the truth.

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