At first glance, the words “Palm Beach” and “hip” might seem like strange bedfellows.
There are still plenty of prim restaurants that empty out by 9 p.m., a nod to the city’s reputation as a well-to-do retirement community. And now there are political crowds heading to the new Weekend White House two miles away at Mar-a-Lago.
But there’s also a burgeoning food scene in downtown Palm Beach that’s drawing Floridians from Jupiter to Boca. Locals are getting into new and exciting contemporary art venues, online companies doing pop-up stores and haute couture duds for under four figures.
It may get even busier in town when a sleek train service called the Brightline debuts this summer, shuttling travelers between nearby West Palm Beach and Miami.
Still, locals and visitors might not be so eager to rush out of town to their glitzy neighbor to the south. Here’s why.
Where to chow down
Buccan (350 South County Road), the American tapas restaurant, gets much of the credit as the buzziest establishment in town. But it’s actually its sister restaurant, imoto (also at 350 South County Road), which doesn’t even have a sign, where those in the know go to dine.
With the vibe of a Japanese speakeasy, serves top-notch, inventive nigiri (delicate slabs of rice topped with raw fish and wood-fired vegetables). At the bar, the chef — if you ask — will serve diners omakase style, a tasting menu of surprising small bites.
A chic Mediterranean restaurant on the top floor of the Esplanade shopping complex, Costa (150 Worth Avenue, #234) opened in January and is the perfect spot to recover after scouting out endless floors of high-end retail. Excellent agave-sweetened margaritas, an open, airy bar and unpretentious wait staff and vibe are just the tonic.
Luca Moriconi, the 35-year-old chef at Jove Kitchen & Bar (2800 South Ocean Boulevard) in the Four Seasons is challenging the “bad hotel restaurant” stereotype with contemporary Italian food served in a sleek atmosphere. One of the best Italian restaurants in South Florida, much of the produce is sourced from a nearby farm.
The kale and ricotta stuffed pappardelle is life-affirming, as is the roasted white chocolate mousse made by pastry chef Bashar Al Shamali.
Renowned Canadian chef Laurent Godbout’s first restaurant outside of Canada, Chez L’Épicier (288 South County Road) opened in Palm Beach in mid-2015. He takes his traditionally haute cuisine casual at this laid-back bistro. The avocado tartare is not to be missed, but reservations are recommended on the weekend to enjoy it. Chez L’Épicier also serves a discounted — not a word usually heard in Palm Beach — happy hour.
Where to shop, shop, shop
While shopping in Palm Beach can feel like a who’s who tour of luxury brands, smaller boutiques from independent and lesser-known brands are emerging. In November, Marco Cimmino (209 Worth Avenue), a 35-year-old Neapolitan, opened his eponymous store on Worth Avenue. He handpicks all of his clothing from Italy, some of which he designs himself, like purple and blue sparkly alligator sneakers. (They sell out quickly.)
A few blocks up the street is Socapri (235C Worth Avenue), the brand’s only location outside of Italy. The bright, airy boutique sells contemporary resort wear — think less Lilly Pulitzer floral patterns and more bright, chic, finely woven Italian fabrics.
Two recent Harvard graduates started Margaux (33 Via Mizner), an online startup that specializes in custom flats in 2015 and opened their first pop-up storefront in Palm Beach this year. (It’s in the Via Mizner courtyard until April 29th.)
Their women’s shoes don’t scrimp on quality, but don’t break the bank (prices range from $125 to $295). Around the corner is Poeta (21 Via Mizner), a small boutique that opened last season and sells its own well-priced label, meaning that a Jackie O-inspired cropped blue blazer retails for around $300. They also sell fashionable cult favorites like J. Brand jeans.
Where to find the next great artists
Lisa Brintz was tired of selling old masters (read: dead white guys) like many of the other galleries in Palm Beach so she opened Brintz Gallery (375 South County Road) in 2014 to showcase contemporary works. A recent exhibit, “Numinous,” featured three midcareer artists, Udo Nöger, Jaq Belcher and Carol Prusa, exploring the idea of “the holy.”
Late last year, she expanded her footprint with another space, County (350 South County Road #105), across the street that is dedicated to showcasing younger and emerging artists, such as John Philip Abbott and Annie Vieux. This month, County has a group show focusing on scale that will feature smaller pieces.
Where to sleep
While the Breakers is many things, cool was not necessarily one of them. But the Flagler Club — with its in-house Tesla for guests, sprawling terrace overlooking the city, Jo Malone products and sleek décor — is starting to change that reputation.
Outside the confines of the club, in the main hotel lobby, there’s more. The glamorous lounge and restaurant HMF, known for its knock-you-off-your-feet cocktails and menu that resembles food truck stations, serves everything from onion rings to line-caught swordfish souvlaki.
By breaking some longstanding Palm Beach dictum, even the Four Seasons Hotel (2800 South Ocean Blvd; high season, December to April, nightly rates start at $659) has become a hip place to stay. The hotel is shaking off a stuffy Palm Beach vibe with touches like weekly clambakes, morning yoga classes, two in-house cars, a zen-like spa focused on destressing and surf and paddle board lessons.
Guests don’t even have to leave for lunch, which no longer has to be a formal, multi-hour affair with a white tablecloth. The hotel offers a pop-up chirashi bar and fresh coconuts that can be eaten poolside — which has become the epitome of new Palm Beach chic and very ‘grammable. There’s also the hotel’s boutique, Swell, that sells of-the-moment fashionista brands like Missoni and Aquazzura.
With all this fun, who needs Miami?