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  WINDY CITY TIMES

TRAVEL Palm Beach: The best of everything
by Jacob Anderson-Minshall
2009-09-02

This article shared 5714 times since Wed Sep 2, 2009
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Long known as a winter retreat for the rich and famous, Palm Beach, Fla., offers—as the Palm Beach County slogan succinctly puts it, "the best of everything," including gorgeous beaches, top-notch boutiques, immaculate streets, sprawling mansions and beautiful people. The area also has a rich history of attracting gay and lesbian power players, entertainers and fashionistas.

Despite summer temperatures that send many of the locals ( wealthy scions, celebrities and politicians ) fleeing to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, plenty are left behind to continue the party—which has spilled over to the nearby queer-havens of West Palm Beach and Lake Worth.

Located on Florida's southeastern coast, 45 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach is situated on a barrier island, and literally hacked out of Florida's jungles in the late 1800s, and has always been a retreat for the country's elite, serving as a winter home for affluent families like the du Ponts, Posts, Dodges, Whitneys and Vanderbilts.

Gay men have been there from the beginning, too, starting with the father of Florida architecture, Addison Mizner, who was memorialized in Stephen Sondheim's Bounce. Mizner developed Palm Beach's world-renown shopping district, Worth Avenue ( www.worth-avenue.com ) —which later became the inspiration for Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills.

Explore the shopping area alone or with one of the historical walking tours hosted by a ninetysomething living legend, James Ponce, who regales visitors with personal stories about the good ol' days; or gay tour guide, Rick Rose, who is also proprietor of West Palm Beach's gorgeous B&B Grandview Gardens ( www.Grandview-gardens.com ) .

Its worth the stroll just to see Mizner's Mediterranean-inspired design; best exemplified by its vias: narrow walkways leading to hidden courtyards and topped by arching bridges, recalling the Venetian canals that inspired them. But there are also 250 boutiques packed into the quarter-mile Avenue; including old standards such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Neiman Marcus; as well as newer favorites like Jimmy Choo, Micheal Kors and Luigi Borrelli.

While the fat cats are away, the mice come out and play: Visiting Palm Beach in the off-season means gaining access to usually exclusive venues and purchasing expensive baubles for a fraction of the price. It's not widely advertised, but locals know even Worth Avenue boutiques slash their prices by up to 70 percent to draw summer shoppers. ( More savings—including hotel rooms from $19.09 and $1,000 in coupons can be found by visiting the county convention and visitor bureau at www.palmbeachfl.com . )

A break from shopping—and the chance to rub elbows with the glitterati—can be found on the Avenue at restaurants Renato's ( www.renatospalmbeach.com ) and Ta-bo�" ( www.taboorestaurant.com ) . The former is touted as the place to see celebrities, while the latter is where Ladies who Lunch chat, nosh and drink Tabo�"'s signature Bloody Marys ( a drink reportedly invented by a Tabo�" bartender to resuscitate a hung over Barbara Hutton ) .

Around the corner from Worth Avenue, the four-star Colony Hotel ( www. thecolonypalmbeach.com ) offers a remarkable combination of location, accommodations, and entertainment, The Colony has long been known as the center of Palm Beach social life; and its presidential suite, penthouse and villas have hosted presidents ( including Clinton and Bush Sr. ) , European royalty ( after abdicating the British throne for love, the Duke of Windsor and his Duchess spent several years in the penthouse ) and celebrities ( such as Judy Garland, who supposedly left behind a ball gown so critical to her performance at an inaugural ball that the White House sent a fighter jet to retrieve it ) .

Widely considered one of the top cabaret venues in the country, The Colony's Royal Room Supper Club provides an opportunity to see seasoned Broadway heavyweights and rising stars ( including dreamboat Tony DeSare, who was recently there, and will perform in Martinsville, Ind., on Monday, Nov. 16; see www.tonydesare.com ) perform in an incredibly intimate environment. The audience members can be just as engaging as the performers. Look for the retired cabaret star accompanied by his much, much younger companion or Gary Schweikhart ( www.pr-bs.net ) , editor of a gay San Francisco newspaper during the mid-1980s who is now a local PR guru and remarkable Palm Beach resource.

If Palm Beach sounds like the perfect place to find a sugar daddy, you're not far off: There are definitely a disproportionate number of December-May couplings. But just across the bridge on the mainland the pairings even out. Looking for the singles? Try West Palm Beach's Club Ibiza on Wednesdays; or every night at gay clubs like The Lounge, where HGTV Design Star Nathan Galui parties; and Cupid's Cabaret, where a "porn correspondent" from Mark's South Florida reportedly drops by to check out the local talent.

West Palm Beach offers another fabulous shopping experience in the city's gay-permeated Antique Row ( www.westpalmbeachantiques.com ) . Heralded by design magazines and The New York Times as the East Coast's premier antique district, the Row is made up of 50 shops stretched along ( and adjacent to ) South Dixie Highway. After hitting favorites like the 6,500 square foot Elephant's Foot Antiques ( Theelephantsfoot.com ) and modernists' wet dream, Galere ( galere.net ) , drop into gay owned Rhythm Café ( rhythmcafe.cc ) to enjoy a quick "Tapas-tizer" or the decedent Duck Breast with Blackberry Cabernet sauce.

Palm Beach County has a prolific arts scene with a plethora of museums, gardens, musical and performing art venues, many of which are located in West Palm Beach—including the Norton museum ( Norton.org ) , currently featuring the music of Disney; the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts ( kravis.org ) playing Mama Mia!—or a short drive away, like the Cornell Museum at Old School Square in Delray Beach celebrating BARBIE's fiftieth birthday.

Another favorite West Palm destination is City Place, the renovated downtown center that offers over 60 shops, 25 restaurants and regular live entertainment—not to mention celeb favorite Anushka Spa Salon and Cosmedical Centre, where the Model's Secret Slimmer treatment will keep all the delicious local cuisine from settling on your hips.

Just south of West Palm Beach, the town of Lake Worth is vying for the title of "Queer Central." Susan Stanton, the former Largo, Fla., city manager who was fired in 2007 for coming out as trans, was recently hired for the same job in Lake Worth. The city boasts Compass, the largest LGBTQ community center in the Southeast. The 13,000-square-foot building has been beautifully retrofitted to house a library, a theater, counseling services, computer lab and drop-in youth center where kids can sing karaoke, dance under a disco ball or lounge on bean bags while learning about queer history and culture. Every Wednesday night, Compass partners with the Lake Worth club Mojitos for a queer evening of drag performances and dancing.

If shopping, eating, cruising cute locals or visiting nearby attractions isn't enough, there are still the county's 47 miles of gorgeous, white sand beaches, where the shallow aquamarine waters are warmed by the Gulf Stream just 45 miles north of the Bahamas.

A visit to Palm Beach is definitely worth your while, and—who knows?— maybe you'll even find that sugar daddy. Or mama.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall is a freelance writer and co-host of the radio show, Gender Blender on kboo.fm.


This article shared 5714 times since Wed Sep 2, 2009
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