It’s not just for blue-hairs and old-school Republicans anymore! Beneath Palm Beach’s starchy crust lies a lively, gossipy, and even slightly (gasp!) naughty underbelly
EAVESDROPPERS, TAKE NOTE: Palm Beach folks don’t just whisper about plastic surgery and you-had-to-be-there society weddings. Instead, they lay it all out for anyone to overhear, which makes Florida’s tony Atlantic isle the best place to indulge your voyeuristic streak.
Every Palm Beach weekend should begin with an extra-dry gin martini at the shiny mahogany bar of Café L’Europe. Sit near the door and watch the regulars saunter in: There are seventysomething Donatella Versace look-alikes wearing Herve Leger, and moms who have outfitted their infants in tiny Gucci loafers (331 S. County Rd.). Get tipsy, then join the monied set who eat across the street at hip, year-old Buccan. Its tapas menu includes spicy squid-ink orecchiette, and the restaurant gives way to a raucous bar scene after 11 p.m. (350 S. County Rd.; 561-833-3450; entrées from $12). You can stay at The Breakers, a haughty grand hotel with 540 plush rooms and five happening oceanfront pools (888-273-2537; doubles from $539), or the quieterBrazilian Court, which has homey rooms and a peaceful courtyard (561-655-7740; doubles from $519).
What do Floridian prepsters like grooving to after dark? The Leopard Lounge’s Adam Austin (also known as the latter-day Sinatra of Palm Beach) shares the songs that keep everyone—from twentysomethings to eightysomethings—dancing until all hours of the night:
The next morning, rent a bike at the Palm Beach Bicycle Trail Shop and join locals on the Lake Trail, which runs up-bay to the island’s northern edge. As you pass countless mega-mansions, you’ll get an insight into Palm Beach’s most thriving economy: gardening. There are veritable armies of landscapers constantly maintaining the formidable hedges meant to foil prying eyes (561-659-4583; one-hour bike rentals, $15). Drop off your bicycle back at the shop, then walk to lunch at Ta-boo, a favorite of Frank Sinatra’s that offers a menu of pizzas and salads and looks like a French colonial Rat Pack hideaway (if you can imagine such a thing). If Palm Beach has a watering hole, this is it (221 Worth Ave.; 561-835-3500; entrées from $16). After your anthropological safari, step out onto Worth Avenue, which was built in the 1920s in faux-Mediterranean style. Admire the balconied second-floor apartments before heading into the vias, a web of side streets that are home to boutiques like Stubbs and Wootton (1 Via Parigi; 561-655-6857) and Tomas Maier (38 Via Mizner; 561-650-1221). It’s easy to find actual million-dollar price tags here, whether on antique furniture at A. B. Levy (211 Worth Ave.; 561-835-9139) or on a crocodile skin–covered grand piano at Giorgio’s of Palm Beach (230 Worth Ave.; 561-655-2446).
Go back to your hotel and hit the beach: The Breakers has its own stretch of sand, and the Brazilian Court is two blocks from a nice public strand. Then shower, throw on every diamond in your possession, and go to dinner at the Brazilian Court’s Café Boulud, acclaimed for its French menu and filled with women who have Joan Rivers faces and Kelly Ripa bodies (561-655-6060; entrées from $29). Afterward, it’s off to the Leopard Lounge at The Chesterfield hotel for guaranteed hilarity: The storied bar has leopard-upholstered ceilings, a jazz band, and a lively crowd of old people dressed like young people (561-659-5800).
The next morning, get a dose of reality in West Palm Beach, where you’ll see things that aren’t allowed on the other side of the bridge—tattoos, cellulite, teenagers—at Howley’s, a diner that would seem at home amid Austin’s hipster scene. Dig into eggs Benedict over crab cakes (4700 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561-833-5691; breakfast from $5) before wandering West Palm’s Dixie Highway, an interior designer’s heaven dotted with dozens of antiques shops. Finally, pop into the Flagler Museum, a turn-of-the-century mansion that chronicles the area’s social scene (561-655-2833). It helps explain the local obsession with tchotchkes—turns out that those porcelain bibelots on Worth Avenue are a vestige of Palm Beach’s Gilded Age beginnings.