Havens of inclusivity and charm in St. Petersburg, Florida and Montañita, Ecuador

Nestled in the heart of St. Petersburg, what started as GayStPete House metamorphosized into Casa del Merman in 2009. Serving the LGBTQ+ community and allies, this charming B&B resort exudes a definite Florida vibe, welcoming guests with open arms.

Brian Longstreth had owned the building as an apartment building and, with the real estate crash in 2008, decided to convert to a B&B. He started with a couple of apartments and the venture took off quickly.

“After about two, maybe three years, we’d converted all of the rooms,” he explains. “My goal was to have an affordable alternative for LGBT accommodations. We always tried to keep our prices a little lower than other LGBT places.”

Casa del Merman is conveniently located at 4505 5th Ave. N. in Saint Petersburg. Its central position allows easy access to the city’s vibrant arts scene, waterfront parks, and LGBTQ+-friendly establishments.

Longstreth jokes that what began as a modest display of December Diamond brand merman ornaments in the bar area of the B&B blossomed into an impressive assembly of over 120 mermen after adding a canopy and chandelier.

“I hung two merman on the canopy instead of the bar area, and they quickly multiplied,” he says. “I thought [the name] GayStPete House was getting tired, and we could go for a refresh, so here was a branding opportunity. It’s all based off the ornaments.”

Casa del Merman was born.

Longstreth ordered mermaid tails online and encouraged guests to take photos to share on social media, tagging Casa del Merman.

“They became a great social media information spreader,” he says. “People seem to enjoy it a lot because it’s a lot of fun.”
Visitors can choose from six unique pet-friendly guest rooms adorned with Floridian décor named after a local beach. The rooms offer private entrances, private baths, TVs with DVD players and free Wi-Fi, which covers the entire property.

At the clothing-optional, private heated pool area, whether sipping a refreshing drink by the pool, taking a naked dip, or lounging in the many hammocks, this oasis is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Continental breakfast and happy hour are served poolside at the bar area, where guests can also enjoy TV or movies or even get a massage from the B&B’s list of recommended licensed massage therapists.

Longstreth says, “The downside of being clothing optional is many people assume it’s a bathhouse, and it’s not. We oftentimes have to have that discussion.”

Each month, Casa del Merman hosts a pool party where a selected nonprofit receives all the door money collected.
Casa del Merman costs $109-159 daily, but guests can purchase five nights and enjoy two nights free. Longstreth created this discount with the B&B’s inception, encouraging visitors to stay longer to get a chance to explore and see everything that the tourist-friendly city has to offer.

Longstreth started looking 15 years ago for a second coastal location with moderate temperatures, was out of the hurricane zone and was LGBTQ+-friendly. Ecuador kept popping up in his search engine. When he finally decided to visit, a friend acted as a tour guide, introducing him to Montañita’s relaxing surfing atmosphere.

He immediately fell in love with the location. “The first day I was there, I said, ‘Yes, this is it.’”

As a companion to St. Petersburg’s location, in 2021, Casa del Merman expanded its horizons to the shores of Ecuador. Its second home is a slice of paradise in the Tigrillo Neighborhood [The Quiet Zone] of Montañita. This LGBTQ+-friendly coastal town is renowned for its guests losing track of time, world-class surfing and vibrant nightlife.

Like its Florida counterpart, the Ecuadorian Casa del Merman at GayMontanita House caters to the LGBTQ+ community. However, like in St. Petersburg, everyone can experience its warmth and hospitality. Whether guests identify as LGBTQ+ or an ally, they’ll find a sense of belonging here.

Longstreth describes the B&B as an Ecuadorian Bohemian upgraded hostel, offering a cultural retreat for as little as $300 a week. Visitors can indulge in the local cuisine and unwind in its many hammocks. The “sunny season” runs from December to May, with temperatures peaking at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, while the tranquil off-season from June to November is typically overcast, with a mild 5 degrees drop in temperature.

One of the first things Longstreth did when renovating the pet-friendly hostel into a B&B was to donate the single beds to the local orphanage, which was overflowing with 90 youth who had lost their parents to COVID-19.
“They were very happy. It was perfect timing,” he says.

Longstreth’s goal is to introduce the vibrant allure of Montañita and Casa del Merman to a broader LGBTQ+ audience.
“We have 20 basic rooms with a private bath, air-conditioning and hot water, which is rare for some of these hotels. We were fortunate to find this hotel. It wasn’t listed. It sat on an underutilized large parcel, so we first added a pool, some privacy fence and more hammocks,” he says. “The hammocks are what everyone does just to chill out.”
He explains that a friend coined the description of Casa del Merman at GayMontanita House.
“It’s a Bohemian Bourbon Street. We are a beachy, laid-back version of that,” he explains. “It’s fun and we’ve been doing it now for two and half years.”

Longstreth says while the St. Petersburg location is predominantly male, Montañita features male and female vacationers, as well as straight guests who stayed before the transformation to the LGBTQ+-friendly Casa Del Merman that don’t want to leave.

While neither Casa del Merman has yet hosted a wedding, the B&B has had a party for some of the cast of the Netflix series “Merpeople” in St. Pete, with Longstreth extending a warm invitation to indulge the Ecuadorian experience. Casa del Merman in Montañita has even been visited by a gay Shaman couple who blessed the location.

He explains that the most Instagrammable locations are at the pool and in front of the murals designed by local artists at the pump house and the beach bar.

For the convenience of his guests, Longstreth also owns Casa del Merman Beach Club, the beach bar with hammocks and a stunning Pacific Ocean view. In addition to the club, a community kitchen by the pool invites guests to make their own meals.

“Sometimes groups get together and cook,” he explains. A full meal in Montañita averages $5.

For guests not into the energetic club scene, Longstreth offers an array of holiday and themed events at Casa del Merman, providing an alternative to the bustling nightlife that thrives from 11 p.m.-5 a.m.

“We’re chill. It’s a different party scene than a lot of typical gay communities. I always tell people it’s not for everybody, but you should come and experience it. Our parties continue to grow and get more popular.”

Casa del Merman is proud of its philanthropy, having sponsored lesbian surfers in tournaments and regularly working with the local pet rescue.

Longstreth is also excited about future plans to add 32 condo hotels that can be used to live in or as vacation properties.

“The prices are ridiculously low compared to anything in America or Central America. Taxes are low and it’s a real opportunity for people being priced out of housing in the U.S. who also want to enjoy the lifestyle here.”

Longstreth hopes to start taking deposits in about two months. Once he reaches a certain threshold of reservations, new construction should take 18 months. Casa del Merman celebrates diversity and embraces all guests, regardless of their background. Whether a solo traveler, a couple or a group of friends, guests find acceptance and camaraderie — and no one needs a car in Montañita.

“You walk everywhere. If you need to take a taxi, it’s $1.50,” he jokes. “Anywhere in town. Whenever I come down, I lose weight just walking on the beach and around town.”

Both locations provide easy access to local attractions and LGBTQ+-friendly districts. From art walks in St. Pete to exploring Ecuador’s beautiful Pacific beach, adventure awaits all travelers.

Longstreth explains, “We get all ages, all shapes and sizes. Everybody remains pretty friendly and open to people that are different, which is also something a little unusual in some of the other LGBTQ+ accommodations.”

Whether guests dream of Florida sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico or Ecuadorian beach escapades on the Pacific Ocean, Longstreth encourages visitors to book a stay and create memories that will last a lifetime.

When asked to summarize both properties, Longstreth says, “Laidback. Relaxing. Friendly.”

For reservations and more information about each property, visit CasaDelMerman.com.

More in Features

See More