Retro Palm Springs swings to a Frank Sinatra soundtrack and lounges poolside beneath moonlit palms, a place where movie stars retreat to soak up sunshine while dodging paparazzi.
Then there’s the hip new Palm Springs of more recent years, where millennial meets midcentury modern, inspired by — but not slavishly indebted to — the swanky days of yore.
Two Palm Springs hotels, one new from the ground up, the other a fabled 1950s property redecorated — twice — by celebrity designer Jonathan Adler, demonstrate these two sides of the desert getaway’s mystique.
Parker Palm Springs
At the southern edge of town, the Parker Palm Springs, long one of the town’s most exclusive addresses, began life as a Holiday Inn in the late 1950s. It was owned for years by Gene Autry, then had a run as a Givenchy property before Merv Griffin bought it. In 2004, it was taken over by New York hotelier Jack Parker and underwent a $27 million renovation.
Adler did the original Parker do-over, and he was retained again for an extensive update in late 2015. His makeover of 13 acres of grounds, lobby, spa, restaurants and guest rooms is mostly done now, with some finishing touches coming early in 2017.
Drive up to the tucked-away hotel and you are greeted by two guys in polos and Ray-Bans, like some Secret Service detail on a presidential golf outing. No sign, just a giant whitewashed cinder-block screen with a small opening cut on one side.
Behind that, a sure clue that you are entering Adlerland are matching supertall blaze-orange doors with gold handles, hung with pink wreaths.
Happy Chic meets Gay Exuberance in the Parker lobby: Life-size suits of armor flank the bathrooms, pink Warholesque lip prints parade up a staircase and a chartreuse sectional sits near a zebra rug on dark-stained floors. A circular fireplace with white enamel chimney looks like a spot where Illya Kuryakin, the spy character from the 1960s TV show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” would hang out in wraparound shades and a black turtleneck.
Unlike most Palm Springs hotels, which orient to take in spectacular views of the just-over-there San Jacinto Mountains, the Parker opts for manicured gravel allées thickly vegetated on both sides that open to hammocks strung between palms, croquet lawns or discreet grassy circles perfect for small weddings at which everyone, not just the bride, should wear white and be barefoot.
This landscaping approach, more Florida than desert valley, gives a distinct air to a luxury property where even a big star might find a luxe retreat, as long as he or she didn’t get busted for drugs (as happened to Robert Downey Jr. here in 2000).
The Parker charges laughable prices, such as breakfast for two with coffee and eggs (one Florentine, one Benedict) at Norma’s for $78, excluding tip. You can get a lobster frittata with 10 ounces of Sevruga caviar for $1,000.
Spa treatments at the elegant, blue-and-white, chandeliered Palm Springs Yacht Club (get it?) are mostly in the several-hundred-dollar range. One glances around for the ghost of Zsa Zsa Gabor.
There are two pools; youngsters are strictly banned from one of them.
The guest rooms I saw were toned down from the lobby, in a muted gray and white color scheme, louvered windows, big mirrors, tasteful framed art and Adler accent lamps and ceramics. Lanai rooms include small patios. Rooms in February and March start at $695 per night and rise from there to $7,000 per night for the Gene Autry residence, with two bedrooms, patios and its own saline pool.
Clothing and furniture boutiques, including Trina Turk, have helped establish the Uptown Design District at downtown’s northern edge in recent years, and a few blocks north of there is where Seattle-based architect Chris Pardo and partners in 2016 opened Arrive hotel.
It is the first newly constructed hotel in Palm Springs in at least 10 years, said managing principal Kurt Englund, who showed me around.
The hotel’s 32 modestly scaled but comfortably furnished studio rooms wrap a pool on three sides, with the fourth taken by a bar (check in here or via smartphone, as there is no front lobby) and the open-air Reservoir restaurant.
It’s a handsome, compact campus, with orange, vertically ribbed Corten steel in angled and butterfly shapes reminiscent of many midcentury-modern rooflines, plus glass, wood and cinder block. The hotel fronts onto N. Palm Canyon Drive, with parking tucked out of sight in back.
Surrounding the pool are large curtained cabanas, loaner bicycles, a juice bar, DJs on Sundays, movie nights in season, fire pits, a marble-topped Ping-Pong table, a coffeehouse and an ice cream shop. It has a dig-and-be-dug, laid-back, fun-couples-weekend vibe similar to the Ace south of town, but without that hotel’s harder partying, L.A. rocker edge.
Arrive just opened Draughtsman in a former Pizza Shack across a parking lot to the south, with a menu focused on burgers, pub classics (the fish and chips are excellent), craft beers, California wines and cocktails both artisanal and classic. Dinner at its Reservoir restaurant, with a menu ranging from taco duos to cashew-crusted sea bass, was uneven.
In design and programming, Arrive opens itself to the surrounding neighborhood, which can freely access its businesses and even its pool. Planned expansions include an event center and a new sushi-and-whiskey bar across the street.
While some dates are sold out in the perfect weather months of February and March, rates for studios start at $292 per night, and the studio and patio rooms start at $322.
Given the numerous projects Pardo has lined up in the Coachella Valley, it appears his Arrive made a smooth landing.