Palm Springs, California: A Gay Friendly Vacation Destination, Page 2
By Victor Weinblatt
There is one lesbian bar in Palm Springs, Delilah’s. Women also go to Toucans, which according to Joanna is “a mixed bar more or less”. Joanna, singer and drummer, performs in an all female band, “Sassy Sisters”. They play for special events, in the intimate downstairs “Wine Cellar” at Casita Laquita, and across the street at The Reef Tiki Bar in Caliente Tropics.
A romantic wedding had taken place the night before at Casitas Laquita, which reminds me, Massachusetts boys and girls, Palm Springs is the ultimate gay honeymoon destination. In our upside down gay world, it is amusing to contemplate a honeymoon after 21 years — my partner and I were married last Thanksgiving — but also perhaps more appreciated because society has made us wait so long.
A wedding, a honeymoon, a romantic night out, or none of the above would be a perfect excuse to rent an exotic luxury vehicle from Vintage Vehicles & Props (760-318-6255, email@example.com).
What a blast! Let me tell you, driving around Palm Springs in a pink ’56 Lincoln convertible gets you a lot of attention, even if you have to pretend that the guys are looking at you rather than the hot car.
It is worth renting one of the vehicles just to meet owners Roberta and Ken Marchant, two of the most brilliant and engaging Palm Spring “characters”.
In the center of Palm Springs is the spot where the Cahuilla Indians first discovered “Se-khi” – boiling water – the hot mineral springs which give the town its name. These springs were considered to be sacred, as well as curative and restorative.
On this very spot the Indians have built a stupendous spa, with a regime of steam, sauna, and eucalyptus inhalation therapy, all in preparation for the traditional “Taking of the Waters” in a private mineral tub with whirlpool action, followed by a stay in the tranquility room.
$35 buys you an all day pass, and you can return as many times as you want, a real deal. There is also a spacious and beautifully appointed gay-friendly resort and an adjacent Casino. The Casino architecture is stunning: think Monaco rather than Atlantic City.
When the temperature rises in the summer, hotel rates plummet. Cool mist systems around nearly every pool keep you comfortable, but visitors in those months usually plan to be out of the heat at midday.
Summer nights in the desert are magical. Easter means the White Party, a bacchanal of epic proportions peopled principally by the gum chewing set. The Dinah Shore Golf classic is nearly at the same time, and is a significant draw for the Lesbian community.
As might be expected, Palm Springs has an extraordinary range of exceptional food. For breakfast and lunch you can’t top ‘More Than a Mouthful Café’, with everything entirely made from scratch.
Gay owned and run, with a ‘neighborhood regulars’ feeling, lunches and breakfasts come in at just under the $ 10 mark. Box lunches from Aspen Mills are equally legendary, and come in at the same price point. With so many excellent choices for dinner, what is a guy to do? My two top favorites are ZIN – American Style Bistro – “Where Other Chefs Eat”, and Wang’s in the Desert.
At ZIN every choice on the menu is simple, but spectacular, American cuisine with friendly and relaxed service. The downtown location has an understated charm. It is refreshing to see a compact menu done superbly: I am so weary of book length lists. Owner and Executive Chef Nicolas Klontz (‘Chef of the Year’ twice in his native Belgium) along with Mindy Reed, General Manager/Partner, have owned and managed restaurants in the Coachella Valley for years, enabling them to develop connections with local artisans and boutique wineries.
The mainly domestic wine list with nearly a 100 choices is reasonably priced. The Creamy Roquefort Citrus Dressing was memorable, and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Mashed Yukon Gold was the best, ever.
Wangs in the Desert
The food is equally superb at Wang’s in the Desert. The cuisine is Chinese-California Fusion. Chinese is never my first choice, but it became so at Wang’s. A wide range of inventive appetizers and main dishes were rendered with panache and a dazzling medley of flavors. The list of influences was impressively long and always subtly expressed, including Cantonese, Sichuan, Mandarin, Japanese, Thai and Korean.
The room is delightful, with a beautifully understated décor, and a whimsical and witty bridge over a koi pond. Table hopping and good-spirited friendliness were the order of the evening. Our group of 15 gay travel writers and hotel owners was seated at the best table in the house.
Inadvertently, or possibly by design, we became the floor show. Who knows if we will ever be invited back? Driving by the restaurant the next day, I almost expected to see our names up on a marquis. I don’t know when I have had more fun, at least doing something I could write about.
Blame It on Midnight is a fun and campy restaurant with raised banquettes and a few raised hemlines. Going on Valentine’s Eve guaranteed a full contingent of drag queens decked out in red, with more flying boas, feathers and sequins than I have ever seen in a single room. Good food, attentive service, witty décor.
Most architectural historians agree that mid-century modernism had its roots in the California desert. The Palm Springs collection of these masterpieces is as historically significant as Colonial Williamsburg or Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Whatever you do in Palm Springs, do not miss Robert Imber’s Modern Architecture Tour (firstname.lastname@example.org). Intertwined with delightful anecdotes and local lore, you will begin to see this important movement through his eyes and in the course of three hours begin to love it.
Built for Ava Gardner
Imber will explain the innovative importance of the famed Alexander houses, and the stark beauty of Frey and Neutra’s work.
Twin Palms, Frank Sinatra’s 1947 house, came about when on an April stroll, ice cream cone in hand, old blue eyes walked into architect Stewart Williams’ office with only one requirement, that he be in by Christmas. He was. Society gossip has it that he built it for Ava Gardner. We should all have such generous boyfriends.
Shield your eyes when you pass Liberace’s house and try to keep your lunch down, but open them wide to catch a glance at Cole Porter’s cloistered digs, which, in case you might be interested, is up for sale. Trina Turk’s Ship of the Desert, built in 1936 by Wilson & Webster and faithfully restored a second time after a devastating fire, is a stunning and important milestone.
The 1968 Arthur Elrod house, built by acclaimed architect John Lautner, looks familiar because it was the setting for the James Bond “Diamonds are Forever”. Robert knows everyone in town, and casually pulls in and out of private driveways.
Imber charges $55 a person, a real bargain, and ferries you around in his minivan. On a recent tour, one wag, an old friend of Robert’s driving an exquisite vintage Bentley, pulled next to his minivan, rolled down his window, and asked “ if he might have any Grey Poupon”. Only in Palm Springs!
That moment is a metaphor for Palm Spring’s diversities and co-existing contradictions. Imber sometimes will recruit you in the rescue of a stranded turtle in the road and will occasionally forget to forewarn the unwary tourist in his minivan about that reptilian rustling behind the back seat.
Palm Springs Weekend
If you have time before you go, read or skim the bible of PS architecture, “Palm Springs Weekend” by Alan Hess & Andrew Danish, and if you are really ambitious, look through Adele Cygleman’s “Palm Springs Modern” and Joseph Rosa’s “Albert Frey, Architect”.
Palm Springs is one of the few places on earth where Inns boast about being the setting for your favorite porn movie and proudly showcase them in their lobbies as sacred texts. In mixed company, and for the sake of the courts, they are now described as educational films.
To borrow a technical phrase from the adult movie industry, the real Palm Springs “money shot” (o.k., folks, use your imagination) does not involve the handsome men, but those extraordinary mountains that surround you in all directions, no matter where you look.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tram is mandatory. Rising two and a half miles in Mt. San Jacinto State Park, two 80 passenger cars revolve slowly from within, providing a 360 degree view.
The afternoon temperature at the bottom Valley Station was 71 degrees; by the time the tram reached the Mountain Station, a 6,000 foot climb, the temperature was 31 and there were 5 inches of snow on the ground.
Our fellow passengers were well-equipped with cross country skis, snowshoes and sleds, an image that gives you pause in the warm Valley Station below.
The tram passes through five life zones, from Sonoran Desert to Alpine Wilderness. The patterns of rock strata that you pass on the ride, seemingly close enough to touch (o.k., please do not try), are startling.
Geology 101, intricately veined and shaded cliff facades, dizzying vistas, and mountain mists and clouds that you pass directly through, cause a right brain/left brain struggle that leaves you weak-kneed and pleasantly numb. At the top, 54 miles of hiking trails and primitive campgrounds spread out before you.
If you are in town on a Thursday night, do not miss Villagefest. In the heart of the Village on Palm Canyon Drive, this outdoor street fair has vendors selling everything from Polish Sausage (o.k., boys, knock it off) to pastry, along with musicians, artisans, book signing events and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
At the top of your evening dance card pencil in FOLLIES. A PS tradition and legend, it is classic vaudeville, with a kick line of Long-Legged-Lovelies performing fan dances Sally Rand style. The “pretty girl” (the official name of the routine) costumes are (and there is no other word for it, though I shudder to use it) ‘Fabulous’: sequined, bejeweled, and feathered, with backbreaking wingspans (10 ft.) and neck snapping headdresses (10 ft. floor to top), weighing up to 35 lbs.
Think about those figures for a minute. It is a wonder that they can even stand up, much less dance, sing and strut around the stage. I would fall flat on my face. In your face, Busby Berkey.
Add one more startling fact: they are introduced on stage with their Broadway and Hollywood resumes, climaxing, in a drum roll, with their age.
All performers are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Which translates for me as,‘God, maybe there is hope for us all!’
“Top banana” Impressario Riff Markowitz guides us through the series of “bits”, from Leonardo’s Ed Sullivan style plate spinning, set to the music of Katchatourian, to the sidesplitting ventriloquist routine of Sammy King and Franciso, the ill-tempered parrot with a Hispanic accent and an aversion to having his feet touched.
Guest star Kaye Ballard, veteran of the Perry Como, Doris Day, and Ed Sullivan shows, was superb.
Having grown up on tales of vaudeville from my Yiddish grandfather who worked the Palace Theatre in New York, the evening was simultaneously hilarious, nostalgic and bittersweet.
The town has its share of great gay bars. Streetbar is neighborhood style, warm, friendly, crowded and low-key. The gregarious owner, who greets nearly every patron personally, looked quite fetching a few nights later in full drag when he bear-hugged me on Valentine’s Eve.
My other favorite was Hunter’s, a sprawling, high energy club with a throbbing dance floor, pool tables, and men hot enough to make your personally insecure author want to pull a paper bag down over his head.
Walled in by those biblically majestic mountain ranges, the extravagantly lush oasis that is Palm Springs reminds you of nothing so much as our ancient images of Eden. This paradise proves the bible thumping religious right dead wrong: here Adam & Eve and Adam & Steve happily co-exist in near perfect harmony. Pack your bags (or not, if you are going clothing optional) and fly out for a visit, for in this 21st century world, Paradise is sometimes, if not always, lost.
Victor Weinblatt is a freelance writer and country antique dealer living in Massachusetts. He is passionate about travel, the fine arts, politics and social issues.
TO FIND OUT MORE…
Go to palm-springs.org. Request the very useful “Palm Springs Official Gay & Lesbian Visitors Guide” and all the other literature.
Remember, Palm Springs is a town with such a comfortable overlap between the Gay and Straight communities, that you need not pigeon-hole yourself.
It is one of the things that makes you love this town and will have you coming back for more.
Indian Canyons Information: 760-325-3400 or (800) 790-3398.
Rocky Tahama, Head Ranger, 760-831-1980.
Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center: 760-416-7044.
Smoke Tree Stables, guided horseback tours in the Canyons, even for the complete novice. Wranglers Casey Johnson or Paul Cusenza, 760-327-1372.
Top choice: Triangle Inn, 555 E. San Lorenzo Rd., Palm Springs, CA 92264.
Las Palmas Hotel, 1404 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92262. 1-866-552-7272. 1-760-327-6883
East Canyon Hotel & Spa. 288 E. Camino Monte Vista, Palm Springs, CA 92262. 1-877-324-6835. 1-760-320-1928.
INNdulge Palm Springs. 601 Grenfall Rd. Palm Springs, CA 92264. 1-800-833-5675. 1-760-327-1408.
Tortuga del Sol. 715 E. San Lorenzo Rd. Palm Springs, CA 92264. 1-888-541-3777. 1-760-416-3111.
Favorite Women’s Resort:
Casitas Laquita. 450 E. Palm Canyon Dr. Palm Springs, CA 92264. 1-877-203-3410. 1-760-416-9999.
Specialized Resorts: (Bears): The Desert Bear Resort, 530 E. Mel Ave., Palm Springs, CA 92262. 1-888-GO-GROWL (hands down winner of the authors “Best Telephone # Award”), 1-760-325-6767.
(Older crowd): Chestnutz, 641 San Lorenzo Rd., Palm Springs, CA 92264. 1-800-621-6973. 1-760-325-5269.
The Black Palm.
Indian owned & run Spa Resort & Casino, site of the original spring. 1-800-258-2WIN. 100 North Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs 92262. Ph: 1-760-325-1461.
GET YOUR OWN LINCOLN
Vintage car rentals: Vintage Vehicles & Props, Roberta & Ken Marchant, 1-760-318-6255. email@example.com
Breakfast & Lunch:
More Than A Mouthful Café. 134 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262. 1-760-322-3776. The ultimate box lunch, Aspen Mills.
ZIN – American Style Bistro – “Where Other Chefs Eat”. 198 South Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92262 @ Arenas Rd.
1-760-322-6300. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wang’s in the Desert, 424 South Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
Blame it On Midnight, 777 East Tahquitz Canyon Way.
1-760-318-7500. e-mail: email@example.com. blameitonmidnight.com
Palm Springs Modern Architectural Tours, Robert Imber. 1-760-318-6118.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. One Tramway Rd., Palm Springs, 92262. 1-760-325-1449. pstramway.com
The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. The Plaza Theatre, 128 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262. 1-760-327-0225.
Favorite Bars: Hunter’s Video Bar. 290 E. Arenas Rd. Palm Springs, 92262. 760-323-0700.
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