By Kathy A. McDonald | August 19, 2015 | Lifestyle
Let the party begin! Eternally cool Palm Springs comes alive after the heat of day passes.
Night moves! The Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs offers a Vegas-like experience for denizens of the night, and will soon acquire a shot of Old Hollywood glamour with the opening of the haute nightspot Bardot.
A weekend in Palm Springs can be deliciously eclectic: boozy days by the pool, sports aplenty, midcentury antiquing, and decadent nights out. There’s an endless mix of pleasure-inducing pursuits. Through it all, the towering Mt. San Jacinto provides an iconic—magical—backdrop.
The Coachella Valley’s current resurgence—new hotels, designer shopping, refreshed architecture—is evident on every street corner. After dark, there’s an evolution underway too, with a spate of new, cooler-than-thou restaurants, bars, and clubs.
A vintage sensibility infuses some of the latest hot spots. The reborn, 1960-built Purple Room Restaurant & Stage (1900 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 760- 322-4422) brings cabaret-style entertainment in a hidden lounge to the sleepy end of Palm Canyon Drive; the Amigo Room (701 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-325-9900) at the Ace Hotel (in a former Googie-style Denny’s) features rotating nights of DJs, live music, karaoke, and bingo; and Hollywood’s Bardot will open soon at the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs (150 S. Indian Canyon Dr., 760-325-9676), a major coup for the resort, which since its opening in late 2013, has offered a Las Vegas-like experience for night owls.
“Palm Springs is an experience all its own, with distinctive architecture, Hollywood lure, and natural beauty unlike anywhere else,” says designer Chris Pardo of Chris Pardo Design Elemental Architecture. His ongoing Palm Springs projects include the 32-room Arrive Hotel (to open in late 2015, backed by Facebook investor Ezra Callahan) and key elements of the under-construction, downtown-mall remake— the eventual home of a Kimpton Hotel.
Just since 2011, Pardo has witnessed “a renaissance in watering holes and food establishments,” although dive bars like the Fireside Lounge (696 S. Oleander Road, 760-327-1700) near the airport still attract patrons due to their regular “interesting characters.” “Because Palm Springs is close to Los Angeles, yet in the middle of the desert—that creates something really unique and unconventional,” echoes Joshua Katz, creative director of Proper Hospitality, the company behind the recent transformation of the Viceroy Hotel Palm Springs into the Avalon Hotel (415 S. Belardo Road, 760-320-4117).
At Bootlegger Tiki, kicky cocktails and a kitschy, Don the Beachcomber décor uphold the tiki tradition, right down to the bartenders’ tattoos.
Also drawing attention are ambitious contemporary restaurants. “The Palm Springs food scene is much more exciting now,” says Tara Lazar, who along with her team at F10 Creative, opened the swanky Mr. Lyons Steakhouse (233 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-327-155) in May and the Latin American-infused Chi Chi restaurant and bar at the Avalon Hotel in June. Her popular brunch spot, Cheeky’s (622 N. Palm Canyon dr., 760-327-7595), famed for its signature bacon flights, anchors the Uptown Design District; next door, Birba (622 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-327-5678), open only at night and almost fully outdoors, is the Coachella Valley’s most popular patio for an of-the-moment menu of charcuterie, elevated pizzas, and craft cocktails.
A Palm Springs native, Lazar is immersed in the farm-totable food culture and committed to sourcing ingredients locally from Coachella Valley farmers. As a hotelier (Alcazar, 622 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-318-9850) and restaurateur, she knows the drill of the weekend circuit. “People come here for two or three nights and they want every night to be a little different,” she says. Smartly, the city has added a free trolley service, the Buzz, which meanders north and south on Indian Canyon and Palm Canyon Drives to accommodate bar crawlers and other party people.
The entrance to La Quinta Resort & Club, which has been a H’wood hideaway since 1926.
A good start to any night, which might begin at the 4 pm happy hour, is the Bootlegger Tiki (1101 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-318-4154)—a mash-up of kitschy tiki bar (the space was once home to a Don the Beachcomber) and modern speakeasy. Under provocative velvet paintings, sip on Don’s originalrecipe mai tai or Bootlegger Tiki’s own concoctions, such as the Mango Unchained (made with fiery Thai chili-infused reposado tequila, bourbon, and mango puree). “We took the history of the space and repurposed it,” explains cofounder Jaime Kowal of the intimate boîte. The devoted crowd and even more dedicated bartenders (five have tattoos of the Bootlegger Tiki logo), create an überwelcoming vibe.
While traditional nightlife experience abounds— think the bachelorette party celebrants at the Hard Rock Hotel's lobby lounge in little black dresses or the potent tequila flight at El Jefe at the Saguaro Palm Springs (1800 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-322-1900)—there’s always the option of tapping into true Palm Springs nostalgia at old-world establishments such as Melvyn’s (Ingleside Inn, 200 W. Ramon Road, 760-325-2323), Spencer’s Restaurant (701 W. Baristo Road, 760-327-3446), and Le Vallauris (385 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, 760-325-5059). Super-chic hotel bars dot the landscape, too: The designer digs at the Colony Palms’ Purple Palm Restaurant and Bar (572 N. Indian Canyon Dr., 760- 969-1818) or the Riviera Hotel’s indoor/outdoor sidebar (1600 N. Indian Canyon Dr., 760-327-8311) are hidden treasures. “It’s a different nightlife offering here [than in LA]—but one that’s no less glamorous, sexy, and elegant,” says Proper Hospitality’s Katz.
The end of day in Palm Springs has long been called the “purple hour,” when shadows lengthen and there’s a transition to blue then indigo as Mt. San Jacinto morphs eventually to black. One can mingle with the elements: dive into a pool, sit by a fire pit, absorb the night air, drink in hand, while gazing at a sky filled with stars. Executive Chef Jimmy Schmidt of La Quinta’s Morgan’s In the Desert describes the transition well. “The desert at night is spectacular; it’s when Palm Springs truly comes into its own.”
photography courtesy of the hard rock hotel palm springs. opposite page: Valentine freeman (reunion);
Jaime kowal photography (bootlegger tiki); barbara kraft (la quinta)