The Insider’s Guide to Palm Beach

(Bloomberg) -- A magnet for billionaires built by a billionaire (adjusting for inflation), Palm Beach is in full swing come springtime, when the weather is pitch-perfect and the social scene has given way to real R&R.

More than a century after Henry Flagler envisioned it as “a magnificent playground for the people of the nation,” and social arbiter Frank Crowninshield called it “merry, sumptuous, and expensive,” the Florida destination is welcoming a standard-raising clutch of cultural, hotel, and restaurant openings. At a gala celebrating the Norman Foster-led renovation of the Norton Museum of Art last month, Bill Koch went so far as to describe the new-and-improved Palm Beach as “Fantasy Island.”

Want to make the most of your next visit? Follow the leads of local insiders, who opened up their exclusive black books just for Bloomberg. 

French Accent

Palm Beach has plenty of French flair, and not just from the Cremieux shirts and Vilebrequin swimsuits. Food-wise, the bistro of choice is Chez Jean-Pierre, where the unassuming dining room is a blank canvas on which fancy diners can see and be seen. “I can never decide between the whole artichokes with perfect French dressing, the endive salad, or the mushroom salad,” says Hilary Geary, author of Palm Beach People and wife of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Chris Meigher, the chairman of society-centric  Quest Magazine, goes for the caviar eggs, Dover sole, and fries, which he describes as “even better than McDonald’s.” 

For your straight-out-of-Paris bakery fix, there are two options: the outdoor tables at Patrick Lézé start bustling at 8 a.m. (Get a latte and croissant, then a round of chocolates and palmiers to go.)  Bleu Provence opens an hour later amid the scent of tarte aux pommes wafting, with the most delicious chicken-curry salad for lunch.

The Morning Routine

Those in vacation mode will appreciate Meigher’s typical itinerary: a stop at the Classic Bookshop for newspapers (“Yes, printed!”) to read over a greasy breakfast at SurfSide Diner. Then it’s off to the “well-groomed public courts on Seaview Avenue” for tennis and “a swim on the public—but seemingly private—beach at the end of Clarke Avenue.”

If you’re more Type A, trail Keith Bloomfield, chief executive officer of Forbes Family Trust. He kicks off the day at SoulCycle’s pop-up in the newly buffed Royal Poinciana Plaza, followed by breakfast next door at New York offshoot Sant Ambroeus.

Old Standbys and New Classics

Bloomfield (and everyone else) swears by Palm Beach Grill, which takes reservations a month in advance but is basically a gussied-up Houston’s, like the East Hampton Grill. “I order the fried oysters with creamed spinach and aioli mayo on top,” he says. Honor Bar, which shares its kitchen, offers a lower-key bar and dining experience, but don’t expect a big nightlife scene. It closes at 10 p.m on weekdays, even in season.

Of course, Mar-a-Lago is on most socialites’ lists; Geary says they make “the perfect steak and paper-thin chicken paillard.” Lately, she’s been rediscovering West Palm Beach, which opened in 2013 but recently hit its stride. “The simple, grilled fish with charred lemons is the best I’ve ever had,” she says.

Another reboot: Club 44, whose old-fashioned menu (beef stroganoff; broiled Scottish salmon) has gained street cred with the introduction of chef Philip Kroesen, a former Southhampton fixture. Jonathan Steinberg, founder and chief executive officer of video news site Cheddar, recommends going on a Tuesday. “It’s chicken pot pie night—they always sell out.”

Looking for a hidden gem? Ask a restaurateur. Piper Quinn, who owns Buccan and Grato, recommends Oceano Kitchen in Lantana, whose menu focuses on a wood-fired oven and changes daily. Its former owners now run Jewell, another fantastic, no-frills spot in Lake Worth, where everything, from the Florida seafood to the original mango pie, is consistently delicious.

The Best Nightcaps

Coyo Taco may look just like a regular Mexican joint, but “hidden in the back,” says Lilly Leas Ferreira, general manager at Royal Poinciana Plaza and the granddaughter of Lilly Pulitzer, is a late-night speakeasy “for tequila and signature margaritas.”

For her late-night fix, DJ Marjorie Gubelmann heads to sushi spot, Imoto. “It turns into a party at the bar around 10 p.m.”

Want to dance? Cambridge Capital Chief Executive Officer Ben Gordon says Cucina is a “Palm Beach classic.” And there’s great jazz at the Colony Hotel’s bar—especially if Copeland Davis is playing.

Shopping for the Look

With Hermès, Kirna Zabete, and Alice and Olivia stores, Royal Poinciana Plaza “is my new favorite place,” says reality star Tinsley Mortimer. But for boutique menswear brands, fashion entrepreneur Wyatt Koch says Worth Avenue still has the two best spots: Trillion and Gentlemen’s Corner. “I prefer stores that offer interesting and colorful clothing,” he says. Palm Beach is also a vintage shopper’s paradise. Art dealer Sarah Gavlak says the buzz around perennial favorite Church Mouse is worth it; her finds have ranged from “ball gowns to 1960s Gucci highball glasses.”

Low-Brow Spots With High-Brow Fans

Unassuming strip mall restaurants can be one of South Florida’s secret calling cards. For art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, the winner is a Thai spot in West Palm Beach called Oriental Market. “You go there and think, ‘What is this crazy place?’” she says, adding that the summer rolls, Pad Thai, and papaya salad are classics done right. Restaurateur Quinn also suggests an “authentic taco joint” on Dixie Highway called Los Altos Jalisco: “It’s very casual, but the food is excellent.”

Tune Up

“The best facials on the planet are at Tammy Fender,” a “luxurious” full-service West Palm Beach spa with Fender’s own products, says Gubelmann. “There are these poufy feather beds on top of the treatment tables, so you’re in heaven just lying there, getting pampered. I literally have never ever had anything come close.”

Not Your Obvious Culture Fix

Though the newly renovated Norton Museum is the talk of the town, artist Rob Wynne says the Bunker “is utterly surprising” and “the heart of the new” in Palm Beach. The year-old space—a converted toy factory—features DeWoody’s art collection (think early works by Cindy Sherman and gems by Edward Hopper), and is open by appointment. Don’t miss the library, where curator Maynard Monrow has put such books as Wicked Palm Beach and How to Be Poor on display.

If you want to get hands-on, Avenue Pottery’s Lani Goodrich offers monthly workshops around town and private ones in her West Palm Beach back yard. “I also do private Ghost nights, where we listen to Unchained Melody and re-enact scenes from the movie,” jokes Goodrich, who mostly accepts custom commissions through Instagram. “Whatever you’re into.”

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