Like many of its residents, Florida’s Palm Beach looks younger as it gets older. And somehow I end up on stage at a party for single millionaires.
First published in the Sun Herald. See the full article by clicking below:
Sun Herald – A nip, tuck and a toast
To celebrate its 100th birthday, Palm Beach had a bit of work done. The result of the $15-million makeover is a spruced-up shopping strip that is actually more glamorous than its east coast cousin, New York’s Fifth Avenue. Worth Avenue has the same high-end boutiques but without low-end stores in between. No tacky outlets, no fast-food joints and, most noticeably, no deafening traffic or hordes of tourists.
Footpaths have also been widened so people with bulging wallets can stroll more comfortably past boutiques, including Tiffany, Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, Saks and Louis Vuitton.
After checking into The Chesterfield, my friend Justine and I opt to have a quiet drink in the bar downstairs, but like most quiet drinks, the evening takes on a life of its own. Our hotel happens to house Palm Beach’s most infamous venue, the Leopard Lounge, and taking place tonight is an event called Millionaires Club.
Above us, the ceiling illustrates this hidden wildness: it’s painted in red swirls reminiscent of the hotel’s carnation theme but on closer inspection, the fresco depicts an orgy of naked women cavorting with cheeky cherubs. According to the concierge, the Italian artist was drunk most of the time largely because he was remunerated by way of alcohol and the staff would find him passed out the next morning.An elegant woman hands us large cards imprinted with the numbers ‘‘7’’ and ‘‘8’’ and tells us to make our way to the stage. Puzzled and jet-lagged, we have no idea what we have been entered into but there seems to be no escape. We obediently line up with other women – and, curiously, one man – as the audience is asked to vote. Although we have no idea whether we are being judged on looks, fashion or a mystery element, Justine wins. As a gatecrashing tourist, she has no use for the prize – gym membership – but graciously accepts the dubious glory. It’s a fun way to get the patrons engaged – literally, many are hoping – and recalls Palm Beach’s rowdy days of old. A regular, who says he has seen it all, confides that the parties used to be a lot more outrageous in the ’80s ‘‘but what happened in Palm Beach stayed in Palm Beach’’.
The rest of the Leopard Lounge’s decor is best described as safari-meets-salon: lots of animal prints mixed with antique-style furniture, ornate chandeliers and table lamps. The Leopard Lounge has attracted the likes of Rod Stewart, George Hamilton, Joan Collins and Lionel Richie but on most nights there is a mix of single (male and female) fortysomethings seeking wealthier, often older, partners.
Fascinated, we watch as a good-looking man in his 20s is surrounded by, presumably, rich divorcees and widows.
It’s not an uncommon scenario. According to the latest figures, Palm Beach’s population has a median age of 67; just 11percent of locals are aged between 21 and 44. The town’s revamp is part of an effort to bring in younger people – the next generation of heirs and heiresses. Youthful clothing brands such as Michael Kors and Tory Burch have recently set up shop.
Last year, the modern Omphoy Ocean Resort opened – the first new beachfront hotel in almost two decades – with a blue-glass exterior that sparkles with coolness.
But no resort will ever surpass The Breakers, a massive, Renaissance-style property with several pools, beach bungalows, cabanas and two golf courses. Established in 1896, it has been refurbished to the tune of $250million and welcomes non-guests to its five bars and nine restaurants. It’s worth a visit just to see the Bentleys and Cadillacs pulling up at the valet parking. Another popular playground with locals is the Colony Hotel’s poolside patio bar. Also inside is the Royal Room Supper Club, one of the world’s top cabaret venues. This summer it celebrates its 10thanniversary with a line-up of the US’s best performers.
However, the overriding feeling in Palm Beach is that the most fun erupts in private; in members-only clubs and billionaires’ mansions. But with imagination and the strong Australian dollar, anyone can live the high-society life for a few days.
As I check out of the Chesterfield, around the corner from the opulence of Worth Avenue, I cheerfully notice the name of the adjacent street: Australian Avenue.
Staying there The safari-themed Chesterfield Hotel +1 561 659 5800, chesterfieldpb.com.
More information palmbeachfl.com.
Main photo © Louise Goldsbury