The Gilded Age of the Great Gatsby--rich, carefree and more than a little ostentatious--is still alive at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. For at this twin-towered grande dame of Florida beach resorts, set amid 140 lush acres only 15 minutes from the airport, guests are not only pampered, they're whisked back to an era when living well was the best revenge.
That unabashed pleasure principle, whether it's underscored in the cigar friendly Centennial restaurant, on the half-mile private beach or at a "forgiving" 6,017-yard golf course, has reigned here for 100 years.
In 1895, Standard Oil cofounder Henry Morrison Flagler built a palm tree-studded haven that quickly became a playground for the rich. In 1926, after two fires had devastated the retreat, William Rand Kenan Jr. (a cousin of the present owners) employed 1,200 craftsmen around the clock for nearly a year to create more than just another hotel. Inspired by the Villa Medici in Rome and using 75 Italian artists to paint the ceiling frescoes, Kenan built a white stucco shrine to opulence--celebrated on the National Register of Historic Places and synonymous with the glamour of Palm Beach.
To better spotlight those vaulted 29-foot ceilings and Flemish tapestries that date back to the fifteenth century, The Breakers has just completed a $75 million facelift. Now its drop-dead sumptuous lobby, with huge bronze and crystal chandeliers from Venice, has regained its traditional glow. The 572 guest rooms have been modernized, and to punctuate the hotel's welcoming of the twenty-first century, the ambiance has changed from formal, even snooty, to decidedly young and casual.
Cigar smoking has also gained new prominence. Two of the hotel's three bars offer an impressive selection of premium brands, including V Centennial, Davidoff, Cuesta-Rey, Macanudo and Dominican Partagas. For those who wish to indulge in a game of billiards while sipping a fine wine or Cognac, the resort has recently opened the Centennial "dining salon."
In this intimate 48-seat restaurant, framed by a nineteenth century mahogany bar and known for its sautéed jumbo sea scallops, guests discover the true meaning of deluxe, white-gloved service at an inviting prix fixe price ($75 for six courses). Many of the items on the 21 menus (which are rotated nightly) have been taken from the Escoffier style of cookery. After a decadent chocolate cake and profiteroles (miniature cream puffs), maitre d' Roland Giraudy escorts diners to the downstairs billiard room.
"Our goal here is old-world elegance, an unhurried night out--what cigar smokers once enjoyed in Europe's finest salons," says Giraudy. "We encourage people to relax, to visit our billiard parlor, where Davidoffs and other great cigars are offered. It's smoking and after-dinner drinks in Palm Beach's most luxurious setting."
For more casual dining, try the hotel's Fairways Cafe at the Ocean Golf Course (Florida's oldest course, dating to 1897, is an ideal warm-up for the more formidable Breakers West layout). Or, check out the sandwich-oriented Beach Club, where Elle MacPherson wanna-bes from hotel boutiques model the latest swimwear, or the Circle Dining Room, a skylit restaurant adorned with another array of Italian Renaissance frescoes.
Any memorable resort must also offer a retreat seemingly removed from time. At The Breakers, that special place to unwind after golf, tennis or a stroll among boutiques on fabled Worth Avenue is the Club Alcazar. Here, at a bar overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, relaxation mixed with romance means savoring the moonlit waters and your favorite cigar.
Edward Kiersh is a writer living in Florida.
One South County Road
Phone: (800) 833-3141; fax: (407) 659-8403
High-season rates: from $295 for rooms, from $495 for suites