Palm Beach gets a younger groove
A look at a recent quiz night at Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida was anything but trivial. It wasn’t modest either. Quilted bags said “money.” Feather bags said ‘peacock’ as well as tiaras, sky blue blazers, slim white jeans and warm tweed trousers. The men wore velvet slippers. The women wore white ankle boots, wedge espadrilles and Chanel spectator pumps, a shoe perfectly named for a voyeuristic poolside scene.
The 20- to 30-year-old crowd was surprisingly young for a cloistered resort town known for its septuagenarian snowbirds, discriminatory private clubs, old-fashioned socialites and former President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Social observers called him “tremor of youth.”
They embrace venerable old places like the Colony, a mid-century gem that was rediscovered during the pandemic, having languished like a relic of rose and bamboo. Now it’s become the kind of social media buddy that follows half its bookings to Instagram links, according to hotel management.
“Young people are finding out all the old stuff here and posting about it, and the old people are having fun watching them make such a fuss,” said Celerie Kemble, 48, the interior designer who, along with her mother, Mimi McMakin (both Palm Beach natives), renovated the Colony’s lobby and 90 rooms. “It’s kind of a hoax but it’s fun.”
The social lifting is not limited to the Colony. The narrow island of Palm Beach — 16 miles long with many billionaires according to a 2021 Forbes ranking and a median sale price for a single-family home of around $9.9 million according to Redfin – attracted young upstarts from New York and elsewhere, who fled during the pandemic. Many, at first, stayed with their parents, then bought houses and, finding life and parties better, decided to stay.
Sofia Vergara, Kris Jenner, Kelly Klein, Daisy Soros, Tommy and Dee Hilfiger, Sylvester Stallone and his daughters, and more have been spotted in his sunny backyard this winter. Inside, dinners last until midnight in an interior that evokes a yacht off the coast of Sardinia and pulsates like a nightclub, in a neighborhood where restaurants closed at 10 p.m.
But now the social focus is shifting to popular new restaurants with the see-and-be-seen ensemble.
The toughest reservation on Worth Avenue, the city’s upscale shopping street, is The Bilboquetan outpost of the French-inspired Upper East Side bistro, which opened in Palm Beach in 2021. Lola 41, a Nantucket seafood restaurant, opened at the White Elephant Hotel in 2020 with a bustling courtyard ideal for people-watching across generations. Nearby is Kitchen Palm Beacha small Italian restaurant that becomes a late-night hotspot with a disco ball and bottle service.
A new English-style social club, Carriage House, designed to appeal to a younger demographic, is due to open later this year. It’s modeled after Annabel’s in London, with bars, restaurants and game rooms, but no dance floor to disturb the neighbors.
“Palm Beach can be a daunting place if you don’t have a connection,” said Sarah Wetenhall, 45, who along with husband Andrew bought the Colony Hotel in 2016 from his stepfather and gave it to him. a refresh, scrapping the jacket and tie dress code for dinner, booking celebrity trainers like Isaac Boots, and replacing old-world cabaret space with pop-up boutiques.
“We decided to lower the wall and the privet hedges,” Ms Wetenhall added, “and now people are saying we’re like a club with no dues.”
Places like the Colony Hotel, which has become a youth-friendly destination, offer something different from local clubs, which traditionally revolved around golf, tennis, bridge and cocktails. Recent events have included a dinner for Vogue, a party for Martha Stewart’s CBD gummies, a Veronica Beard fashion show and art talks by Christie’s.
Bettina Anderson35, a third-generation Palm Beach resident who models for magazines and works for the Paradise Fund, a charity she founded with other young philanthropists to protect the environment and at-risk citizens, said she saw the hotel come to life. “It’s still what it was when my parents arrived, but it’s much younger.”
Nick Hissom, 29, runs Wynn Fine Art Gallery on Worth Avenue, selling the top-notch contemporary collection of his father-in-law, casino magnate Steve Wynn, as well as emerging artists across action art at the same location. He left New York in 2020 and joined a wave of other gallerists who settled during the pandemic, including Pace and Lehmann Maupin.
“I used to come and visit on the family boat, and now we’ve moved here and immersed ourselves,” Mr. Hissom said of himself and his boyfriend, Kameron Ramirez, a producer of 23 year old movies.
Michael Gregson Reinert30, moved to Palm Beach from Charleston, SC a few years ago and established himself as a social media expert and fashion brand connector.
“I kind of fit in here without pretensions,” said Reinert, who was recently featured in a Palm Beach Illustrated Magazine spread out, posing by the sea with his jaw against the horizon. “I can fill a room with the right people, so that if a brand wants a shoot or a dinner, everyone looks good.”
Some longtime residents resent youngsters demanding instant entry into clubs or suddenly crowded private schools, or pressuring the architectural review board to allow larger houses who raze the gardens.
“It’s not so much the problems of the rich as the challenges,” said Liza Pulitzer, a real estate broker whose mother was Lilly, the local fashion icon. “But that’s part of buying a life here.”
On a recent Thursday evening, Cavalier Galleries organized a vernissage for the photographer Christophe von Hohenberg, drawing the wealthy bon vivants. Nick Mele, 39, who is known around town as a Slim Aarons guy, was photographing the scene.
“In the eight years since I arrived here, it’s become a different and thriving place,” Mr. Mele said, lamenting the lack of parking spaces on Worth Avenue. “I just hope we don’t lose all of our old Palm Beach characters.”
One such character arrived moments later: Jane Holzer, Warhol’s “It girl” and subject of Tom Wolfe’s 1964 essay “The Girl of the Year.” She has deep roots in Palm Beach and rents her space at Bilboquet. An exhibition of her portraits of Warhol, including one of herself, was held nearby Ben Brown fine art. Mrs. Holzer, 81, does not feel the influx of young people.
“They are all my friends and I think this is the best thing that has happened to this town,” she said as a stream of well-wishers, including Mr Hissom and Ms Anderson, greeted her with reverence. “Andy loved watching the kids in New York, and now I can do the same here.”