West Palm Beach
Published: May 2009
By Tom Austin
It's more fun on the mainland: from great antiques shopping to steamy bar-hopping, this Florida city is heating up.
West Palm Beach and its more ballyhooed neighbor, the golden isle of Palm Beach, have long been locked in a symbiotic—if occasionally antagonistic—relationship. Palm Beach prides itself on privacy, discretion, and stone-cold snobbery; its neighbor, immersed in a billion-dollar boomtown period, is proud to flaunt its monuments of commerce. Still, West Palm has plenty of historic neighborhoods—El Cid, Prospect Park, the Mango Promenade—with beautiful 1920's Mediterranean-Revival, Frame Vernacular, and Florida Bungalow architecture. One heiress of my acquaintance, with an impeccable background, rebelled and moved to the mainland to escape the psychic baggage and staid cocktail-party circuit. Unlike the island, with its short, seasonal pageant, West Palm Beach is a town for nesting (antiques shopping, house hunting, and money saving). It's the ultimate in tropical chic on a budget, Palm Beach without all the fuss. (integral)
WHERE TO STAY West Palm doesn't have grand hotels, but it does offer some stylish (and value-minded) options. Hotel Biba (320 Belvedere Rd.; 800/789-9843 or 561/832-0094; www.hotelbiba.com; doubles from $119), a former motor lodge in El Cid, was transformed into a riot of color by Barbara Hulanicki (known for the high-sixties London boutique Biba and for her work with Island Outpost). The bar is a psychedelic blur straight out of Blowup: purple plastic-covered hassocks, Day-Glo Plexiglas cubes, rainbow-striped walls. On Friday nights, it's the focal point of local cocktail culture—a lively scene that can spill out into the pool and the garden. • Hibiscus House (501 30th St.; 800/203-4927 or 561/863-5633; www.hibiscushouse.com; doubles from $100), a charming bed-and-breakfast in Old Northwood, has just opened a sister property, Hibiscus House Downtown (213 S. Rosemary Ave.; 866/833-8171 or 561/833-8171; www.hibiscushousedowntown.com; doubles from $125) that has all the tropical flair of Key West. The 1917 gingerbread house—within walking distance of Clematis Street and CityPlace—is a study in latticework,overstuffed armchairs, and lush gardens.
WHERE TO EAT Four popular restaurants hit nothing but high notes. The French-Italian Maison Carlos (207 Clematis St.; 561/659-6524; dinner for two $80) attracts a loyal old-line crowd with feel-good classics such as steak au poivre and linguine alle vongole. Owner Carlos Farias and his wife and partner, Lanie, are Nantucket regulars, so the eclectic interior mixes New England landscape paintings with a touch of Capri: table umbrellas and Cinzano posters. • The Painted Horse Café (2417 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/833-1490; dinner for two $64) makes the riding set feel at home with an equine theme (polo mallets, vintage foxhunting prints). Simple but perfectly realized New York strip steaks draw society matrons who are as glossy and sleek as their pampered stallions. • For those who prefer terminally vibrant surroundings, Tsunami (651 Okeechobee Blvd.; 561/835-9696; dinner for two $100), a 9,200-square-foot restaurant with red walls, Buddha sculptures, and tiered seating, is the town's big singles scene. Highlights on the Asian fusion menu include yucca-and-wasabi-crusted mahimahi and butter-poached lobster sushi roll with a shiso-basil emulsion. The social storm cranks up toward midnight (ringmasters Shamin Abas and Frank Cilione own nightclubs in New York and in West Palm) as the crowd sways to Euro-lounge music and networks frantically—an Anywhere Hip, U.S.A., gestalt. • If you're looking for kitsch with your quesadilla, nothing compares with Rhythm Café (3800 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/833-3406; dinner for two $65). The campy vibe (mirrored disco ball, soft Nat King Cole) is the ideal setting for menu listings such as "s.s.cargot," but the "Floribean" quesadilla with conch and the coconut shrimp are seriously good.
AFTER DARK Clematis Street, the main drag of West Palm Beach, is the center of walking-around nightlife and is especially young and lustful on weekend evenings. The dress code at many of the bars speaks volumes: No tank tops or baggy clothes. No jerseys. No hats or bandannas. For a more discriminating clientele, Fusion (330 Clematis St.; 561/835-8022), with an outdoor patio for fresh-air fixes and trendy furniture of the Philippe Starck-knockoff school, is the "it" place to dance and cavort. • Flow (308 Clematis St.; 561/833-9555), with the requisite go-go dancers, and candles set in stone walls, is more a lounge for the rich and aesthetically calibrated. DJ's spin such eighties delights as "Tainted Love" for a crowd that's crazy about the bar's signature Purple Rain martini. • Older, or just more sensible, night crawlers might opt for ice cream at the whimsical Sloan's (112 Clematis St.; 561/833-3335), a swirl of pink walls, Willy Wonka conceits, revolving electric trains, and a $44.99 kitchen-sink sundae.
WHERE TO SHOP Palm Beach proper has the Gucci-Pucci retail angle covered, but the mainland is where discerning shoppers go for the edgy, the modern—and the staples of gracious living. Day-trippers tend to descend on the 55-acre pedestrian mall CityPlace (700 S. Rosemary Ave.; 561/820-0074), centered around the restored Harriet Himmel Gilman Theater. • The club crowd buys its ensembles at the boutique Rhythm Clothiers (477 S. Rosemary Ave.; 561/833-7677), which stocks everything from $2,500 Cavalli coats to $40 Paper Denim & Cloth T-shirts, along with Miss Sixty miniskirts and Van Dutch trucker hats. • From there, take a seismic luxe leap to the Floral Emporium (3900 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/659-9888) for over-the-top luxury goods: furniture, sculpture, stone armchairs, and all strains of orchids. • The circa-1912 Pioneer Linens (210 Clematis St.; 561/655-8553) has sold its wares—Frette bedding, electric towel-warmers, signature Pioneer Palms hand towels—to Estée Lauder, Laura Ashley, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Harold Vanderbilt, and one customer who wanted bath sheets for her horses. The vast store is old Florida at its best: a wonderland of pink chandeliers and pink terrazzo. • Just down the road is another seasoned shop for the well-born: Provident Jewelry (331 Clematis St.; 561/833-7755), featuring such estate baubles as a 65-carat sapphire-and-diamond Boucheron bracelet from the 1930's. • J. C. Harris (335 Clematis St.; 561/832-7747), in business since 1903, sells Sperry Top-Siders; bright green, yellow, and red Corbin poplin pants; H. Freeman blue blazers; and all the other sartorial metaphors of the good life.
ANTIQUES "R" US The true blessing of the mainland is its nationally recognized antiques shops and shows, for which the island's wealthy (or, sometimes, newly poor) residents provide a steady stream of juicy inventory. Once a month, the South Florida Fairgrounds (561/640-3433) has an enormous antiques show: this month, the December 5 through 7 pageant will feature more than 400 dealers. • From January 29 through February 8, the Palm Beach Classic: The International Fine Art & Antique Fair sets up at the Palm Beach County Convention Center (650 Okeechobee Blvd.; 561/209-1338). • The stores along Dixie Highway's antiques row meander down the chain of opulence, from such elegant stalwarts as the Elephant's Foot (3800 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-0170) to pure secondhand fixes like the Animal Rescue League Thrift Shop (1905 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/833-8131). Snobbery about down-market purveyors is not a good idea: a well-heeled friend of mine found a vintage Cartier lighter amid the rubble at Gulfstream Goodwill (3622 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-8893).
Not that there aren't plenty of upmarket, Chippendale dresser-style establishments, places like Wardall Antiques & Decorations (3709 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-0428), the sister operation to Kofski Antiques (315 S. County Rd.; 561/655-6557) on the island. The owners conduct occasional estate sales at their warehouse (5501 Georgia Ave.; 561/585-1976), with a gamut of merchandise that encompasses both the exquisite (an Italian-marble gazebo, antique silver, vintage fireplace mantels) and the mundane (lawn furniture, picture frames). • Harris Kratz (3611 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-9062) specializes in Neoclassical furnishings from 1790 to 1970. • Galere (3733 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-3611) is a smart operation dealing in 20th-century decorative art and furniture: George Nakashima cocktail tables, sound sculptures by Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames chairs, and Frank Gehry cardboard furniture. • Christa's South Antiques & Seashells (3737 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/655-4650) is out-there, high-Florida camp all the way—candelabras, busts, and mirrors made of seashells. • After a morning of scavenging, all classes and aesthetic persuasions take scones and finger sandwiches in the belladonna-lined garden at the Little Tea House (3627 1/2 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-5683; tea for two $28).
TO THE MANOR BORN In addition to many private golf courses and yachting facilities, West Palm Beach is home to the National Croquet Center (700 Florida Mango Rd.; 561/478-2300), the largest croquet facility in the world (of course). Wellington, west of town, is horse central, home to the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club Stadium (13420 S. Shore Blvd.; 561/793-7517) and the hunter-and-jumper show circuit at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club (14440 Pierson Rd.; 561/793-5867). The Winter Equestrian Festival runs from January 28 to March 14. Naturally, this being Palm Beach County, the festival includes a costume gala, the Denim and Diamonds Ball, on February 15. The horsey crowd, like everyone else in West Palm Beach, knows how to have a good time.
EXPERT ADVICE Liza Pulitzer
SOCIETY REAL ESTATE AGENT AND DAUGHTER OF LILLY PULITZER
MARKET WATCH "I'm lucky to have bought a 1920's Mission-style house, across the street from my mom's, in El Cid several years ago, when you could find something with charm that was affordable. Right now, Flamingo Park and SoSo are the neighborhoods to look at."
SWEET TOOTH "Hoffman's Chocolate Shoppes [2403 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/833-9414] has the best coconut cashew crunch you'll ever wrap your lips around."
FRESH AIR FUN "I love walking my dogs, Tank and Daisy, along Flagler Drive—it's quite the social scene by the water at dusk."
HOME WORK "My favorite shop is Erhard & Danenberg Antiques [4900 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/588-7288]. I just bought a set of antlers there, for my front porch, that I absolutely adore."
WEEKEND SPECIAL "The green market along Narcissus Avenue [561/659-8009] is so much fun to visit on Saturday mornings. My dad, Peter Pulitzer, sells oranges and venison there."
Next Great Neighborhood SoSo
The area south of Southern Boulevard, SoSo, is steadily rising on the chic meter: people like fashion designer Lilly van Gerbig (goddaughter of Lilly Pulitzer) and her artist husband, Barry, have moved into the area situated between the Intracoastal and a string of dollar discount stores and barely-holding-on motels on Dixie Highway. Deco Don's (5107 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/588-2552) carries tropically themed American Art Deco and fifties designs: Heywood-Wakefield furniture; Hollywood-glam Tropitan rattan pieces by Herb Ritts Sr.; a 1939 General Electric radio and a 1950 sea mist-green Frigidaire. • Somewhere in Time (5505 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/533-7400) is a goofy thrift shop—the old dentist's chair outside may give you chills—and the AAA Antique Mall (5400 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/585-4050) is jammed with more than 100 dealer booths. • Need a snack?Havana Restaurant (6801 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/547-9799) serves mounds of arroz con pollo and runs a 24-hour take-out window for fixes of café cubano.
The true cultural treasure in town is the Norton Museum of Art (1451 S. Olive Ave.; 561/832-5196). Last spring, the Norton unveiled a new wing with 14 galleries, Café 1451 (a casual restaurant), a palm-adorned courtyard, and a glass ceiling by Dale Chihuly. Now the largest—and best—art museum in Florida, the Norton's permanent collection features Chinese art dating back to the 11th century, as well as works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Pablo Picasso, Edward Ruscha, and Frank Stella. This month, the Norton is featuring the 1920's Hollywood glamour photography of Ruth Harriet Louise and a show of minimalist works by artists such as Sol LeWitt, Josef Albers, and Lucio Fontana. And people say Florida has no culture.
Pounds of chocolates sold each day during the holidays at Hoffman's Chocolate Shoppes.
Top speed of greyhounds during races at the Palm Beach Kennel Club (www.pbkennelclub.com).
TOM AUSTIN lives in Miami and is the features editor of Ocean Drive magazine.