Recently my girlfriend Sue Montgomery and I were off for a girls’ getaway to Palm Springs, the Southern-California city of luxurious, boutique hotels designed to pamper and emanate old world charm from those days of past Hollywood glamour and relaxation.
Palm Springs was a city of scandal and partying of some of the most well-known stars and producers of the late 1950s, including the Rat Pack, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe. Sue and I loaded our suitcases into our car, and we were off to experience several of these boutique hotels in the group of Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels comprised of approximately 70 hotels with 50 rooms or less. We were told many of these hotels have restaurants on the property, and no girls’ getaway would be complete without some delicious food and creative cocktails.
Our first stop was the Ingleside Inn, the home of Melvyn's Restaurant and Lounge. We were seated in the outdoor enclosed patio at the table where many screenplays were written. We envisioned the likes of Clark Gable, Salvador Dali, and Elizabeth Taylor dining by the personal invitation of Ruth Hardy, the owner during the 30’s who ran the inn and restaurant as her personal club where guests could stay only by invitation.
The name Melvyn’s comes from the owner, Melvyn Haber, who purchased the inn and restaurant in 1975 after Ruth Hardy passed away. After Melvyn himself passed in 2016, the PlumpJack Group, a Northern California hospitality management company, purchased the place and restored it to its former glory.
On previous occasions we enjoyed Steak Diane, flambeed by one of the waiters in a tux who has taken care of patrons for over 40 years. Melvyn’s is one of a very small number of restaurants in California that has been grandfathered to serve in this manner, and there is nothing like a flambée being prepared tableside. As part of the dinner, these waiters love to tell stories from bygone days and the clientele they have served at Melvyn’s. Part of the fun of this retro place is the Casablanca lounge with a piano bar and live entertainment nightly.
For our lunch, restaurant manager Brook Ortiz welcomed us and invited us to enjoy a relaxing lunch of a traditional crab and shrimp Louie salad and sole piccata on the patio. Chef Jennifer Town prepares and presents American cuisine exactly as these dishes have been served for decades, and they were delicious.
We later toured the lush grounds where weddings take place either poolside or in the intimate courtyard. The rooms are outfitted with luxury linens and comfort of a bygone era. We noticed a dial telephone on one nightstand and a round analog dial-faced clock on another; these completed the retro look. Complimentary cruiser bikes to be used to explore downtown Palm Springs await outside the rooms. (We noticed these bikes at each of the Preferred Small Hotels we visited, each hotel brandishing bikes in a color chosen by the hotel.)
Part of the glamour of Palm Springs is the nightlife and the classic nightclubs. The Purple Room, a premier supper club located at the Club Trinidad Hotel was our stop for the evening for dinner and live entertainment by Rose Mallett, a superb jazz singer. This supper club is set in an atmosphere of mid-century elegance and intimacy where classic cocktails with a modern twist await their guests. The menu offers everything from the traditional shrimp cocktail to an ahi-topped tostado and honey-mustard-glazed salmon. Dessert varies from chocolate molten cake to pineapple upside-down cake. This is the way to relish everything Palm Springs!
The Desert Hills Boutique Hotel, a classic Palm Springs mid-century tucked up against the spectacular San Jacinto Mountains, awaited us for the night. From here it is just a three block walk to the heart of downtown. Rooms overlooked the heated pool and jacuzzi. We learned of the complimentary guest pantry with coffee service, outdoor gas barbecues and luxurious Kashwére bedding and robes. Our room sported a very contemporary apartment-style kitchen along with a spacious sitting area and two bedrooms. Desert Hills Hotel offers 14 rooms, many of which are rented for a month by the same guests year after year. Tranquility and privacy await guests at Desert Hills with the perfect location of being close to everything. We could have stayed for a month.
However, to truly experience the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, we were welcomed by gracious general manager Robert Hunt, where we spent the night at Alcazar Palm Springs. The Alcazar is a modern, clean-lined 34-room hotel ranging from a courtyard queen room to a one bedroom king suite with living room and spa tub. As soon as we walked through the wrought iron gates to the courtyard, pool, and our rooms, we experienced the zen feeling of this private oasis. Beside the salt water purified pool with cooling misters and Jacuzzi, we found a spacious poolside patio. Later in the day we relaxed in the tree-covered garden courtyard where we lounged with a glass of wine. We also noticed an outdoor firepit for relaxing on cooler evenings.
There is no need to drive to a restaurant for breakfast or dinner because the Alcazar is home to two excellent restaurants, Birba and Cheeky's. Birba (meaning scoundrel or rascal in Italian) offers a modern outdoor setting with romantic outdoor lighting. Chef Erik Dandee recommended Nonna’s Meatballs as one of his favorites from the Italian menu. The menu includes a wide variety of pizzas that can be made with a gluten-free crust of cauliflower. Cocktails are creative. I enjoyed The "Perfect Mission," made with fig-infused bourbon, aperol, dry vermouth, and orange bitters. It hit the spot! Our dessert of choice was a rich and decadent flourless chocolate cake.
We found Cheeky’s covered patio to be a pleasant atmosphere for that first cappuccino of the day along with fresh orange juice. Chef José Ramirez explained that Cheeky’s menu changes frequently so every time you eat there you can try something new. I had the wild king salmon hash with poached egg and hollandaise sauce. A staple on the menu is the bacon flight consisting of five kinds of bacon. This is a hit! I loved this restaurant and would try it for lunch on my next trip.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough nights to experience all of the 70 Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels. However, we were able to visit the grounds of La Serena Villas, a luxurious resort in the heart of Palm Springs with the Whispers Spa, Sugar High Rooftop Lounge and Azûcar (sugar in Spanish) Restaurant. La Serena Villas was originally built in 1933 and redeveloped as a luxury hotel in 2016 with five-star amenities, including private patios, fire-pits and claw foot tubs.
We were lucky enough to have lunch at La Serena Villas restaurant, Azûcar. What a delight this was! Chef Joane Garcia Colson, originally a trial attorney, learned her skills at Arizona Culinary School and later worked at one of the top restaurants in the Scottsdale area prior to opening her own restaurant in Palm Springs. From there, she became the executive chef at Azûcar. Her creativity is exuded by the delightful menu. She offered us small bites from her extensive menu so that we could truly experience a wide variety. We sampled the house salad of spinach, dates, candied pecans, and gorgonzola as well as the brussel sprouts salad, consisting of shaved sprouts, goat cheese, and pomegranate seeds, and a chicken salad. The beautifully presented watermelon salad was a highlight. Watermelon cubes were topped with feta cheese crumbles, balsamic beads, candied pistachios, and honey lime mint drizzle. Next, we sampled the visually pleasing ahi bruschetta, a toast laden with edamame purée, seared ahi, tomatoes, and greens. Tacos of mesquite dusted escolar (a fish found in deep tropical waters), avocado cream, and pineapple jalapeno salsa delighted our taste buds as well as the creative Cauliflower Taco of cauliflower, yellow squash, chipotle cream, and pepita mango salsa. Among the signature cocktails, we loved the blood orange margarita. Azûcar is a restaurant not to be missed on any trip to Palm Springs.
No girls’ getaway would be complete without shopping, and that we did! Some of the wonderful shops visited were Trina Turk clothing store, Pelago (offering a wide range of home and other well-designed items) and Christopher Kennedy (dubbed “the Ralph Lauren of the West Coast”) where his work and pieces are displayed —all right next door to each other. Surprisingly enough, I was also told to visit Ace Hardware Palm Desert to see some of the high-end outdoor furniture they sell. My advisor was right. This Ace Hardware is unlike any other in the country. After an afternoon of shopping, I came home with some wonderful gifts.
We were indulged by Palm Springs Celebrity Tours to jump on their shuttle to tour the homes of Hollywood well-knowns Bob Hope, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Carol Lombard, Ava Gardner, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. The list of homes we saw goes on and on. The styles of architecture were reminiscent of the mid-century. This tour is worth every penny you have to pay for it. It’s a wealth of information and visual delight.
For more information on Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, go to www.palmspringspreferredsmallhotels.com.
As is customary in this industry, we were hosted at most of the places we experienced, but the comments express the great time we had. Try your own girls’ getaway soon!