BY CORDELIA MESEROW
T.S. Eliot once wrote that “April is the cruelest month” – I think Chicagoans would beg to differ. January has been the cruelest month for Chicagoans in recent memory. Temperatures have reached levels only seen in the Arctic Circle (or maybe Minneapolis). My Instagram feeds are flooded with photos of the frozen river, the steam rising from Lake Michigan, and friends throwing glasses of water into the air, only to see the water immediately dissipate. Like checking to make sure you have both gloves before leaving the house, dreaming of warmer climes has become necessary to survival in Chicago this winter. I was lucky enough to make those dreams a reality earlier this year during a trip to Palm Beach, Florida to ring in the New Year.
The Palm Trees on Royal Poinciana, one of the main avenues on Palm Beach.
Is it my imagination, or has Palm Beach has become more popular with us Chicagoans? I can count at least six friends whose parents, now empty nesters, have either retired there or begun spending more time in the area. Flights to West Palm Beach are easy to come by, and, upon arrival, it is only a 15-minute drive from the airport to the Island, making the trip incredibly convenient. I have been lucky enough to have been the houseguest of a dear old friend from Chicago for the New Years’ holiday and other trips to Palm Beach over the years and never tire of traveling there for a visit.
Because Palm Beach is mostly residential, the area feels much more like a neighborhood, rather than a wildly popular tourist destination. There are a few hotel options on the island, however, all of which have ideal locations and storied pasts. Should you not require immediate beach access, The Chesterfield, The Colony, and Brazilian Court, are choice options located in the center of town. While they are not immediately on the beach, they all have pools and lounge areas reserved for their guests. All of these properties are pre-war and have the era’s characteristic architectural charms. The Brazilian Court was even one of the early projects of famed New York City architect, Rosario Candela, whose limestone masterpieces line Park and Fifth Avenues on the Upper East Side. Making New Yorkers feel right at home, the hotel also has an outpost of Chef Daniel Boulud’s uptown staple, Café Boulud.
The courtyard at The Brazilian Court hotel in Palm Beach.
The famous Breakers Hotel. Image courtesy of TheBreakers.com.
You cannot talk about Palm Beach without mention of its most famous property, The Breakers Hotel. Located on South County Road about one mile north of the center of town with nearly 540 rooms and stunning Italian renaissance architecture, The Breakers is the anchor of Palm Beach. The hotel originally opened in 1896 as the Palm Beach Inn and was founded by the wealthy businessman and de-facto founder of Palm Beach, Henry Morrison Flagler. The Inn was built to accommodate travelers on Flagler’s East Coast Florida railroad and was renamed “The Breakers” in 1901 after guests continued to request rooms near the water where the waves break. After having been plagued by two fires in the early 1900s, the current property was rebuilt in 1925. Morrison Flagler died twelve years prior, but his heirs oversaw the construction. Descendants of the Flagler family still own the hotel and fastidiously maintain the property to this day. As the years have gone on, The Breakers has only risen in esteem. In 2012, the hotel underwent a $250M renovation, which transformed many of the rooms and public spaces, chief amongst which was the lobby bar/restaurant. The space was elegant but tired and has now become one of the most see-and-be-seen locales in Palm Beach. To honor Flagler, the bar was christened “HMF,” and the champagne flutes bear his engraved monogram. The Breakers is also a favorite celebrity hotspot. TV star Sofia Vergara had her wedding there in 2015, and I saw Brooke Shields at HMF there fairly recently. Stars, they’re just like us!
The champagne glasses at HMF bear Henry Morrison Flagler’s initials.
A glass of rosé on the beach at The Breakers.
The waterfront location of The Breakers provides guests with unparalleled beach access and two outdoor pools with ocean views. Sitting on the lounge chairs on the beach or at the pool, drinks and snacks are immediately delivered to your chair – such luxury! There are also several restaurants, a spa, an array of luxury stores, and a world-class gym that has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Atlantic. If only all gyms had ocean views, I would certainly work out much more often.
The views from the gym at The Breakers. The outdoor terrace has spinning bikes that overlook the Atlantic for an outdoor workout.
In front of the Breakers’ famous Christmas tree in the hotel lobby.
One of the best parts about going to Palm Beach, is of course, the immediate access to the ocean. Public beach access is available every few blocks along Ocean Boulevard, the street that runs parallel to the water. Palm Beach Island is only three-quarters of a mile at its most wide, so you are never too far from the beach. The water is always warm enough for swimming, and the waves are rarely too rough. On the western side of the island is the Intracoastal Waterway, which separates Palm Beach Island from the Florida mainland. The Intracoastal has a 16-mile paved trail, which is great for running, biking, and long walks. There is beautiful scenery along the Intracoastal with views of yachts docked along the waterway on the western side, and the homes that line the Intracoastal on the east. One of the most significant sights along the Intracoastal is Henry Morrison Flagler’s former home, which is now open to the public as The Flagler Museum.
The boats docked along the Intracoastal Waterway.
The exterior of the Henry Morrison Flagler museum.
While there are many opportunities for physical workouts in Palm Beach, there are also many for working out your credit card! The famed Worth Avenue runs westward for three long blocks from Ocean Boulevard to Cocoanut Row. The Avenue has classic European designer offerings such as Ferragamo, Gucci, and Chanel, outposts of two high-end department stores (Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus), as well as preppy staples like Lily Pulitzer and Stubs and Wootton. In Palm Beach fashion, the street is not only lined with palm trees but also with Bentleys, Rolls Royce’s, and Ferraris, that add to the glamour of Worth Avenue.
Glamorous cars line Worth Avenue’s sidewalks.
The Worth Avenue Christmas Tree in front of the Chanel store plays Christmas carols for passersby.
One of the best parts about shopping on Worth Avenue are the street’s “Vias.” The Vias in Palm Beach are alleyways that open onto small courtyards. The Vias are so delightfully tucked away that walking to one feels like unearthing treasure no one else has discovered! Inside the Vias are more boutiques, art galleries, small restaurants, gardens, and more. They are beautifully designed and taking in the architecture of these little alleyways is a visual treat. At the western end of Worth Avenue is my favorite store: Eye of the Needle. They have unique pieces at reasonable price points, and I have purchased some of my favorite summer items from the shop. Another one of my favorite stores that is just off Worth Avenue is C. Orrico. C. Orrico is a Lily Pulitzer signature shop, so it stocks a great deal of Lily items, but also has many items from local Florida designers including beautiful printed dresses, sandals, and straw bags. Consider it a must go!
A Via in Palm Beach by night.
In front of one of the garden at 150 Worth Avenue.
All of that shopping works up an appetite, at which point it is time to grab a bite at one of the Island’s many restaurants. For lunch during a shopping excursion on Worth Avenue, you cannot do better than Palm Beach’s outpost of Bice. Located inside a Via, Bice has lite Italian fare and lots of outdoor seating, to enjoy the Florida sunshine and Worth Avenue people watching. I highly recommend the avocado and Crab salad. Ta-boo is also a great choice in the Worth Avenue district. Ta-boo is the only restaurant with Worth Avenue frontage and has been a Palm Beach staple since it opened in 1941. The restaurant has hosted the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to JFK, and, more recently, Rod Stewart! Some 80 years hence, it is as popular as ever.
Ta-boo restaurant as seen from Worth Avenue. Image courtesy of Ta-boorestaurant.com.
About a mile and a half north of Worth Avenue is Royal Poinciana Plaza. The Plaza’s complex, which used to house a smattering of offices and less than notable shops, has recently been reimagined into a Class A lifestyle center. The shops at Royal Poinciana include Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, and Theory, among others. Landing just last year is one of my favorite New York restaurants, Sant Ambroeus. The restaurant opened to much fanfare, and its signature colorful interiors, Italian-focused menu, and gracious service have translated to Palm Beach perfectly. To make snowbirds feel even more at home, for the past two seasons, Royal Poinciana has hosted a SoulCycle pop-up. Part of the group’s “Destination Soul” series, Soul brings together instructors from across the country to participate in its four-month residency. Other “Destination Soul” locations have been in Aspen, Vail, and Martha’s Vineyard. As a SoulCycle devotée, this has been one of my favorite additions to Palm Beach in recent memory.
A Bloody Mary at Sant Ambroeus. Cheers!
Surfboards in the shape of a Christmas Tree in front of Sant Ambroeus at Royal Poinciana Plaza.
Also located at Royal Poinciana is Palm Beach Grill. Palm Beach Grill is part of the Hillstone Restaurant group, which includes the Hillstone restaurants in New York and Santa Monica, White House Tavern in Aspen, and East Hampton Grill on Long Island, among others. Anything the Hillstone group touches turns to dining gold, and Palm Beach Grill is no exception. The menu serves elevated classic American fare such as glistening shrimp cocktail, authentic Caesar salads, and a gourmet hot dog accompanied by the establishment’s signature garnish – the devilish deviled egg.
The best shrimp cocktail I have had in recent memory was over dinner at Palm Beach Grill.
Palm Beach Grill’s famous hot dog.
After dinner, it is time to party! While Palm Beach does not have the wild nightclub environment of its southern sister, Miami, it does have a couple of nightlife options. One great choice for an after dinner drink is būccan. Located on South Country Road, būccan is a restaurant and lounge that opened several years ago and is one of the toughest tables to snag both because it is in high demand and because the dining room itself is very small. The front bar and adjacent lounge area, however, is first come first serve and is always lively, whether it be for a cocktail after dinner or even dinner itself (they serve the full menu in the lounge). The HMF bar at The Breakers is also one of my favorites and becomes quite a hot spot later in the evening.
Short rib empanadas and Mojitos at būccan.
The HMF bar.
Finally, there is the famous, or infamous, Cucina. Cucina, located on Royal Poinciana Way, is an average Italian restaurant by day, but around 10 PM each night, the restaurant’s tables are cleared away, and the space transforms into a nightclub. By some sort of local fluke, Cucina is the only restaurant on Palm Beach Island with a late liquor license, and on Fridays and Saturdays, it stays open until 3AM. Since Cucina is the only place in Palm Beach to stay open so late, it is very popular with us millennials, and I always run into friends whenever I go.
After a week of too many late Cucina nights and far too many hours of sun, it is time to bid dear PB goodbye and head north to colder climes and harsh post-vacation realities. I return to city life each year a little bit tanner, infinitely better rested, and already counting down the days until my next visit.
The sun sets on the palm trees on Royal Poinciana Way.