If there's nothing like being in Florida in March, there's really nothing like spending your March vacation in Palm Beach.
The third month brings the best weather of the year to Florida. The breezes are soft, and the sun's angle is just the thing to make your cares fade away. Once here, there's no finer spot to enjoy a break from a long northern winter than the tony island of Palm Beach.
I had a chance recently to check out the town's latest lodging option, the White Elephant Palm Beach. It's the southern outpost of a resort that has existed in some fashion on Nantucket Island since the 1920s.
That's the same period in which Col. Edward R. Bradley built an apartment house in Palm Beach across the street from his casino. The former casino is now a park, and what once was the Bradley Park Hotel has been gutted and restored as the White Elephant.
The 32 rooms in the four-story hotel are arranged around a U-shaped central courtyard that serves as an outdoor dining area for the hotel's LoLa 41 restaurant. Oversize black-and-white umbrellas shade the tables from sun and rain.
In the redo, a small plunge pool was added with some lounge chairs to bring another amenity to the hotel.
The designers of the new hotel have done a nice job of capturing the feeling of Palm Beach, which is all about top-quality materials, flawless craftsmanship and an understated aesthetic combined with a quirky note or two.
The hotel’s namesake white elephant sculpture near the entrance to the lobby. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
One quirk is the property's namesake white elephant, a seven-foot-tall, sheet metal pachyderm located outside near the entrance to the lobby. Art is a big part of the overall decorative scheme, said general manager Bernhard Duerr-meier. "We focused on art greeting you at every turn," he said.
To keep the emphasis on the art, the hotel skipped the Lilly Pulitzer colors that are traditional in some quarters of Palm Beach in favor of a more neutral palette. Detailed with Carrara marble, ceiling fans with palm-shaped blades and sheer curtains, the interior feels tranquil yet contemporary. The exterior of the Mizner-style Mediterranean villa is a cream color with black-and-white awnings.
Converting the 1924 apartment house to a contemporary hotel left some oddities. There are two exterior staircases so steeply angled that the certificate of occupancy bans their use by guests. And a central fireplace that had to be kept to meet historic preservation rules looks like an orphan feature in the new design.
But overall, the hotel is a nice blend of yesterday and today.
The lobby is decorated in a neutral palette. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
There's no doubt that of the 13 rooms and 19 suites, the stars of the show are the two fourth-floor penthouses. The larger of the two, overlooking Bradley Park, is a three-bedroom convertible to four that has a 1,200-square-foot terrace. The smaller, a two-bedroom convertible to three, faces the ocean. Both offer marvelous vistas. Prices are in the $6,000-a-night range.
At a more affordable level of luxury, charges for the king, deluxe king and deluxe double queen accommodations start at $650 for a room and $995 for a suite.
Perhaps it is time to mention that a stay in Palm Beach, however brief, is not going to be good for your pocketbook. But at the White Elephant there are some amenities that come with the package.
Foremost among them is the use of a new BMW 7 Series sedan. The hotel keeps several on hand; guests can sign one out for a couple of hours at a time. It was a great way to tour the island, although I was nervous the whole time about crashing it.
There are also complimentary bicycles, which I used to pedal north from the hotel on the Palm Beach Lake Trail along the Intracoastal Waterway. The hotel also has a partnership with a yacht dealer if that's of interest.
The White Elephant is located on the northern end of the island, not close to the shopping on Worth Avenue. But there are some attractions within a block's walk, including St. Edward Catholic Church, where the Kennedy family worshipped, and the old Paramount movie palace designed by New York architect Joseph Urban. Now a church, it has a terrific display of photos and memorabilia of all the movie stars who came for premieres.
There was a lively scene at LoLa 41 the night we had dinner there. It was surprisingly bustling for a weeknight. "The idea here is that the courtyard would be the heartbeat of the hotel," said Duerrmeier. The conceit of the restaurant is that its menu is drawn from foods around the world that can be harvested along the 41st parallel, which runs through Nantucket.
We stuck with comfort foods like the LoLa Burger ($23) and macaroni and cheese ($24), which were both very good. There is also a sushi/sashimi component to the restaurant.
Palm Beach has other lodging options, including its grand dame, the Breakers. Duerrmeier said that the competitive advantages of the White Elephant include its fairly intimate atmosphere. "The size of the hotel plays to our advantage," he said.
In addition, he said, the feel and design of the hotel and its relatively new construction will give it an edge. And he also cited the hotel's partnerships with BMW, Priority Bicycles and Barton & Gray yachts as a unique service for its guests.