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Simon Doonan's Palm Beach

Martha Camarillo

Photo: Martha Camarillo

For French rusticity—a rusticity that seems to be fizzling in France—we also like Bistro Chez Jean-Pierre. The vegetable soup and the shiitake salad are highlights. But more than that, Chez Jean-Pierre is the ne plus ultra of chichi Palm Beach exhibitionism, making it perfect for people-watching. Every woman is freshly coiffed in the style known locally as the “Palm Beach helmet.” These pampered types are accompanied either by their husbands or by their interior decorators. The latter are recognizable by their monogrammed velvet loafers. (Whenever I am in Chez Jean-Pierre, I always think of the following old joke: “Palm Beach is very Gay Nineties...all the women are ninety and all the men are gay.” Ba-boom!) If a casual night out is in order, we call Ed, the maître d’ of the insanely popular Palm Beach Grill, and beg for a reservation. Order your banana cream pie when you sit down. The locals are addicted to it.

As Jonny and I began to think about decorating our winter getaway, we made an interesting discovery: stylish Palm Beachers invariably dump their cast-off furniture and tchotchkes off at the South Dixie Highway vintage shops in West Palm Beach. Many of the residents decorated their groovy retirement pads during the swinging 60’s and 70’s. As a result, the available vintage furniture—Lucite end tables, Paul Evans chairs!—is some of the most collectible and glamorous in the world. There are zillions of great stores: my short list includes Shi & Erhard, Harris Kratz, Sabina Danenberg, C. Bell, Galere, and Objects in the Loft. If you’re into doodads like ridiculous sconces adorned with ostrich feathers, then Dolce—the most wacked-out emporium on the strip—is your kind of place. (Many a Dolce objet trouvé has adorned a Barneys holiday window.) A couple of doors down, Belle & Maxwell is a homey lunchtime restaurant filled with exhausted interior decorators and their clients ingesting salads and generous wedges of homemade key lime pound cake baked by a lady called Brady, who moonlights as a showroom hostess at the aforementioned Dolce. We like her, too.

When not out on the beach in front of our pad, or lunching at the beachfront café at the Four Seasons, we are often to be found on the trail along the Intracoastal Waterway. This gorgeous nature walk has the bonus of enabling us happy hikers to see the lavish homes of the residents. The 1960’s Regency pads, with their black glazed driveways and drive-through hedges, are one of the indigenous delights.

“Is there no real bona fide gritty excitement to be had in Palm Beach?” I hear you ask with a quiet desperation. Well, there is one guilty, pulse-quickening pleasure. If you like to watch bejeweled socialites duking it out for parking spaces—or, as Slim Aarons might have put it, “ancient people doing aggressive things in expensive automobiles”—there is no better place than the Publix supermarket parking lot, where you can enjoy the bumper cars to your heart’s content. Who says there’s no excitement here?

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