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by andrea bennett, david landsel, and emerson patrick | October 29, 2014 | Lifestyle
With the onset of winter, Angelenos follow the red-hot sun east to oases both near (Palm Springs) and slightly less near (Las Vegas, Arizona, Utah). An “ab-fab” hotel in the middle of nowhere? The best party in LV? A high-brow “happening” in PS?! Herein, our insiders’ guide to all that’s haute in the desert, 2014!
All the Mi-rage! The Kelly Wearstler-designed Viceroy Hotel in downtown Palm Springs is a prime base for exploring the city’s influx of hip new galleries, restaurants, and shops.
Palm Springs, having just celebrated her 75th birthday last year, is doing what every lady of a certain age wishes she could: age in reverse. And how. In the span of a decade, says J.R. Roberts, a planning commissioner for the city and the managing director of the Architecture & Design Center of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the visitor population has exploded from design cognoscenti and Hollywood escapees to a perennial crowd of cool-seekers. “We went from a retirement village to a young, hip place,” he laughs.
You might attribute this wave to the maturing of the city’s artistic trifecta: the Palm Springs International Film Festival each January; Modernism Week in February, with its 10 nights of cocktail parties, lectures, and home tours of the city’s midcentury treasures; and Coachella, that surge of music and celebrity that descends on the valley each April. Add to that the Dinah Shore and White Party weekends and the Tachevah Block Party, and hotels took in a quarter more in occupancy tax this year than in 2013. And where the old Hollywood guard had their hideaway homes in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood, their replacements are snapping up legacy homes. Since Leonardo DiCaprio bought the former Dinah Shore estate for $5.2 million earlier this year (confirmed) and Anne Hathaway went shopping in the same neighborhood (rumored), things are getting a bit buzzier—and pricier.
Palm Springs’ Bootlegger Tiki, an offshoot of Ernest Coffee, will specialize in rum drinks à la Don’s Beachcomber when it opens this month.
This new verve is all coming as the city does some major nipping and tucking. The Uptown Design District has long attracted fans for its postwar modern and Hollywood Regency vintage furniture. But next year’s addition of the Arrive hotel, a 32-room modular lodging and restaurant planned by Ezra Callahan—Facebook’s sixth employee and a Palm Springs investor—is mobilizing designers, store owners, and gallerists north. This fall, openings include Triada, the formerly Alan Ladd-owned Spanish Inn, now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection (640 N. Indian Canyon Dr.,760-844-7000); and Palm Springs Hotel, replacing the Palm Grove and promising ModShop by Room Service furnishings and thoroughly modern perks like Apple TV (2135 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-459-1255).
Jaime Kowal, who owns the recently opened Ernest Coffee in Uptown (1101 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-668-1766), is part of a contingent of bright young things renovating and opening places all over town (including her partner, Arrive architect Chris Pardo). “Palm Springs is that balance between new and wonderful throwback,” she says. When Modernism Week holds its Fall Season Kick-Off in mid-October, she’ll be reigniting the crossed tiki torches that mark their just-opened Bootlegger Tiki, the revival of the iconic Don’s Beachcomber Café, which operated here from 1953 until its fame was extinguished in the 1980s (1101 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-668-1766).
A midcentury modern building that formerly housed Santa Fe Savings & Loan is now the new Edwards Harris Pavilion, part of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center.
Offsetting all the uptown hullabaloo, the Palm Springs Art Museum prepares for the long-awaited opening of the Edwards Harris Pavilion (300 S. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-322-4897), an architecture and design center in a 1950s bank building coincidentally designed by the museum’s own architect, E. Stewart Williams—a development that is quickly invigorating the south end of town. The museum on its own is huge —28 galleries with some 55,000 pieces, including Picasso’s Owl sculpture. When it opens with an E. Stewart Williams retrospective on November 9, Roberts says, “We’ll never have a permanent exhibit and we’ll loosely defne ‘design.’” (Think an A+D lecture series with topics spanning from Renzo Piano to Trina Turk). The downtown area is also abuzz as the city renovates a 14-acre plot of land to create a pedestrian-friendly urban village (“Downtown PS”)—complete with a 150-room, four-star Kimpton hotel—breaking ground this month for a 2015 opening.
Crowds turn out for the weekly VillageFest on Palm Canyon Drive, a farmers market, flea market, and street fair rolled into one.
But frenetic (for Palm Springs) renovation isn’t deterring its steady influx of vacationers. Beautiful young things are still lounging around the pool at the Kelly Wearstler–designed Viceroy (415 S. Belardo Road, 800-237-3687), sipping the hotel’s 1940s throwback cocktails (try the jalapeño-licked Sweet Heat), and dining at the new “Cal-Italian” Appetito Deli in South Palm Springs by Danny Meyer alum Patrick Service (1700 S. Camino Real, 760-327-1929). Just off East Palm Canyon Drive, the newly opened, 20-room, modern-rustic ranch Sparrows Lodge (1330 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 760-327-2300)—think of it as summer camp for cool kids—is serving cocktails in its retrofitted barn (check in and soak in one of the tubs crafted from horse troughs). From north to south, says Roberts, “We’re a lab for everything cool and artistic now. We’re becoming the arts and cultural center that we were always meant to be.”
Musician Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic performs onstage during the second day of the 2013 Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas.
Taking over more than 15 blocks of a fast regenerating downtown Las Vegas on October 24-26, Life is Beautiful may appear at first glance to be a music festival. Still, founder Rehan Choudhry would rather you didn’t call it that. Three things, he says, differentiate the event from your usual weekend out in a field somewhere.
For one, there’s the location, about as far from the typical festival grounds as any organizer could dream of. Today’s downtown is a jumble of classic casinos, new condominium projects, vacant lots, colorful street murals, dive bars, galleries, and unique public spaces. “It’s such a high-energy area of the city,” Choudhry says. “For us to come in and remake what is home to a lot of people is ambitious, but the beauty is that people experience something they haven’t seen before—to see ‘Old Vegas’ transformed into this stunning, highly interactive festival grounds. It gets a lot of people to explore a part of the city they have never seen.”
Sundance Helicopters offers a thrilling 3.5-hour tour of the city and desert... with a Champagne picnic thrown in at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Then there’s the programming itself. Of course there’s music—an astonishing amount of music, actually. Kanye West, Foo Fighters, and Outkast will headline, backed up by a diverse range of acts such as The Flaming Lips, Arctic Monkeys, and The Roots.
But music is just the start. Life is Beautiful aims to blend art, food, and learning opportunities into the mix. These aren’t sidelines, though—think of it, Choudhry says, as multiple festivals all rolled into one. “Each has the level of focus and talent and programming that would allow it to stand alone,” he points out.
The lineup certainly reinforces this notion, featuring plenty of street art and performance alongside speakers with a wealth of expertise in topics ranging from synthetic biology to animation. Foodies have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Nancy Silverton, Susan Feniger, Hubert Keller, and a host of other well-known chefs. “Rather than looking at it as giving music lovers access to, say, great food,” Choudhry says, “I’m looking to attract food and wine fans. And those fans aren’t just walking over to see music; they’re walking into [an event that rivals] Coachella. What we want is a blending of audiences who are uniquely passionate about their own craft.”
The interior of Giada De Laurentiis’s new restaurant, Giada, at The Cromwell.
Finally, the aim is that all of this comes together in a way that organizers hope will create for the attendee a fulfillment of the idea that gave the festival its name. “The broader purpose is to show people that life is full of hope, of opportunity—that even in the most challenging times, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Choudhry continues. “We like to show people very literally what that journey is like, and what life is like on the other side.”
This is the second round for the festival, widely praised after its first year. In fact, this year, things are expanding: It’s now three full days, instead of two. The music is more diverse, adding such unique boutique acts as Alt-J, Tune-Yards, and TV on the Radio. It’ll be easier to see the acts, too, with programming adjusted so that no more than two artists will go on at the same time. Ambitious? Absolutely. The festival kicks off October 23 with the Grills & Guitars gala ($175); a festival VIP Experience pass is available for $595. General admission is $249.50
Squaw Peak Lawn at the Biltmore is a large hexagonally shaped area of manicured lawns, flowers, and fountains that shimmers against a backdrop of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve; the Catalina pool at the Biltmore, said to be Marilyn Monroe’s favorite, features colorful tiles from California’s Catalina Island.
Picture Marilyn Monroe swimming in a pool made of colorful tiles imported from Catalina Island; Irving Berlin soaking up desert sunshine—and inspiration—while writing “White Christmas”; Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Liza Minnelli breaking into song at a lobby piano under a gold-leaf ceiling; and Clark Gable losing his wedding ring while playing golf (and a dedicated employee somehow finding it). At Phoenix’s Arizona Biltmore, which became the state’s very first resort upon completion 85 years ago, incidents like this are par for the course.
Thanks to a just-completed, multimillion-dollar renovation in celebration of the Waldorf Astoria– owned, 39-acre property’s big birthday, that vintage glamour and intrigue are more present than ever. Not that the property’s past is forgotten, especially Frank Lloyd Wright’s contribution: His “Biltmore Block” design was used to build the sand-colored structure (it’s the only existing hotel in the world boasting his iconic touch).
“The historic Frank Lloyd Wright–infuenced architecture is the heart and soul of our landmark resort and we preserved that legacy by weaving Wright elements throughout the fabric of the renovation,” says Arizona Biltmore general manager Sheila Foley. “A particularly memorable feature in the new guest rooms is a mist-colored wall covering embossed with a metallic design echoing the pattern on Wright’s Biltmore Blocks; the inspiration for the new carpet in the corridors is his drawings of the hotel gardens blended with geometric shapes.”
The pool was built in 1930 by William Wrigley Jr., who owned Catalina as well as the company that made the tiles.
Santa Barbara–based design firm Smith & Firestone Associates directed the extensive overhaul, which involves an elegant, natural-hued redesign of hundreds of guest rooms and suites along with ballrooms, function rooms, cabanas, and the spa. The property—which also houses several restaurants, eight pools, two 18-hole golf courses, and tennis courts—has an infamous speakeasy that was revamped as well. During Prohibition, thirsty guests who found the hidden “Men’s Smoker” room were protected by a spotlight mounted atop the hotel where staff watched for police cars. Now called the Mystery Room Speakeasy, the watering hole is open only on Sundays, with a password-protected door, period décor, and a menu of vintage-inspired cocktails.
“Guests here get the feeling they are part of a compelling legacy not found at any other resort,” says Foley. While this renovation sets the Biltmore up for another 85 years of luxury and tales of modern-day guests like George Clooney and Bruce Springsteen, it’s also fun to tap into the past with a dip in the pool, a drink at the speakeasy, and a swing on the green. 2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix, 800-950-0086
Midday at the oasis: The serenely beautiful main pool at Amangiri was fashioned around an age-old stone outcropping.
Don’t fly into Page Airport en route to the most luxurious hotel in the western US. Acclimate slowly… It’s part of the Amangiri experience to touch down in tacky/fabulous Las Vegas, rent a car, and then drive into God’s country. Yes, it’s four-plus hours, but what an excursion. The wasteland of Southern Nevada morphs into the red-rock beauty of Southwestern Utah and the otherworldly grandeur of Zion National Park. Then saunter down, escarpment by escarpment, into one of the most isolated desert landscapes in the world.
And that’s the point. When you finally reach the discreet fence post announcing the entrance to the Amangiri hotel’s 600-acre spread straddling the border of Arizona in Southern Utah, you’ll be suitably decompressed—noise, traffic, cell phones but a waning memory. The splendor of isolation—perhaps the last luxury in our modern-day world—will leave you gasping. As will the final approach to the hotel itself. After maneuvering down the private, serpentine, mile-long drive, past a stark landscape unchanged since dinosaurs roamed these parts, you are greeted, as if the lords, ladies, and staff of Downton Abbey were transposed onto modern-day Mars, by a waiting retinue standing at attention in front of the temple-like entrance to this fourstar resort in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to “posh,” 2014 style.
Gstaad. Portofino. Bora Bora. Blah blah. The Amangiri makes the classic luxury resort experience seem, well, rather bourgeois. Accommodating only several dozen guests, housed in a series of low-slung, architecturally significant (read “one” with the landscape) “villas,” the hotel caters to an international clientele who isn’t particularly interested in socializing, much less partying. Garbo would have loved this place.
An outside lobby affords a view of mountains and desert that seemingly stretches to infinity.
Grand. Quiet. Spiritual. As the very rich imagine these concepts, of course. Rooms are luxurious, in a terribly modern, concrete-chic kind of way—softened by overstuffed beds boasting the obligatory one-billion-count cotton linens (no doubt woven by blind Navajo women—bad joke). Each suite comes with a terrace (some with pools) overlooking incredible, primordial landscapes of rock, sagebrush, and sand, the only movement being the occasional fit of a jack rabbit and the sun’s rays as they flash playfully about on the otherwise-still monumental reliefs of mountain and cliff. Sublime.
Naturally, a privileged clientele (rooms start at $1,200 a night) demands certain super-luxury prerequisites. There’s a stunning pool wrapped around a million-year-old rock outcropping. An ostentatiously quiet restaurant serves exquisite, inventive cuisine, from eggs Benedict made with duck eggs to locally farmed elk chops. Sore after the drive? A spa boasts an external wall that magically ascends to join the massage room and desert-scented outdoors, transcendentally bringing an end to a day of doing, well, nothing. Ah… “dolce far niente,” as the Italians say.
No wonder Hollywood celebs such as George Clooney (in the room next to ours during our visit), like the place. No paparazzi. Few people. A couple of hikes and cave excursions notwithstanding, not much to do. Just blessed serenity. The last gasp of luxury. Amangiri. Amen. 1 Kayenta Road, Canyon Point, Utah, 435-675-3999
photography courtesy of viceroy hotel; Jaime Kowal photography (bootlegger tiKi); © lisa Corson (street fair); Daniel ChavKin (pavilion). opposite page: Jeff Kravitz/filmmagiC (lalli); DaviD becker/getty images for sLs Las vegas (heLicopter); the biltmore, amanresorts