Palm Beach will soon be 100 years old, and to look around, it has often felt like its denizens are, too. A recent snapshot of the island’s demographics estimates the median age at 67, with only about 11 percent of its more than 10,000 inhabitants between the ages of 21 and 44. But a sea change is coming, and the tide has already rolled in in the form of the first new hotel on the beach in almost 20 years, a new contemporary art gallery on Worth Avenue, and Tory Burch and Michael Kors boutiques that opened little more than a year ago. Until now the city’s main shopping drag had not offered much to attract a younger crowd in the way of accessible price points or modern design—a Calypso here, a Max Azria there, Juicy Couture, and Sigerson Morrison. At Laura Munder, the window recently displayed a decidedly modernist sensibility with a necklace of flat black wood beads dotted by textured gold ones. It was the only place that didn’t look like Liz Taylor’s pawnbroker. “We used to open at pieces from $5,000 to $10,000,” says sales director Heather Andrews, “but now we have these teardrop diamond hoops at $1,800, and people love them. We’ve done very well with those.”
Across from Saks is a gleaming white boutique named Gypsy. Perusing its mix of Alexander Wang T-shirts, Azzedine Alaïa and Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Zero + Maria Cornejo, one gets the sense that Dorothy’s house has crash-landed in the Oz of elderly rich people. “We pride ourselves on that,” says the young blonde manning the shop.
Among those riding the next wave is gallerist Sarah Gavlak, who worked for Gagosian in New York City before going out on her own. She recently moved her contemporary art gallery from West Palm Beach to Worth Avenue and has created a smart, respected program featuring young artists in a town where there aren’t many.
On the hotel front, interior designer Leslie Schlesinger has been engaged in a similar mission. Her family’s Obadon Hotel Group, which owns Palm Beach’s storied Brazilian Court Hotel & Beach Club, plus the Traymore Hotel and Mayfair Hotel & Spa in Miami, opened the Omphoy Ocean Resort (from $220; omphoy.com) in August. Located on South Ocean Boulevard, it’s the first new hotel on the beach in almost 20 years. Birthed from the shell of the eighties pink-and-green Hilton next door to the Four Seasons, the 134-room resort is now a model of boutique-hotel modernity. The lobby, with its monolithic, trunk-like pillars and koi ponds, has the feeling of a rain forest. With low lighting in the halls, lounge music in the bar, and bronze porcelain tile floors in the stark chocolate-and-white rooms, it’s the sort of hotel your grandmother would hate. Which is the point. From the blue glass exterior, this hotel telegraphs the agenda: a younger demographic.
While Schlesinger restored the historic Brazilian Court “to protect old Palm Beach,” she created the Omphoy to make it “hip and fun, relaxed and chilled out.” She made up the name by combining “om,” which means relaxation and is the chant of yogis everywhere, with phoy, which means “feast” or “gift” in Gaelic.
Where the Brazilian Court (from $190; the braziliancourt.com) does a sophisticated panache with its Café Boulud, a Frédéric Fekkai spa and salon, and a residential location three blocks from Worth Avenue and a stone’s throw from old-school restaurants like Renato’s and Charley’s Crab, the Omphoy has the beach with cabanas, an Exhale Spa that provides signature core fusion classes and beach yoga, and a James Beard award–winning chef in its restaurant, Michelle Bernstein’s at The Omphoy. Bernstein is a Top Chef guest judge who has set a dining room that is full night after night. Her signature salt-crusted fish of the day and gourmet chocolate–infused doughnuts are two good reasons. There are also no bad views at the hotel: West-side rooms overlook the Intracoastal Waterway and the pool, a shielded oasis in the front; on the east side, it’s ocean for miles.
But Schlesinger is not alone. The grande dame, Renaissance-style Breakers Palm Beach ( from $250; thebreakers.com)—favored destination for sales-award trips, executive retreats, and weddings—just wrapped up the latest in its four-phase $64-million renovation project: redesigned guest rooms and suites. The Ritz-Carlton ( from $200; ritzcarlton.com), with its Palm Beach–estate decor, completed a beachfront redevelopment that allows a view of the ocean from the lobby—for the first time. The resort paved over two thirds of its tennis courts—no one plays as much anymore—to make room for the Eau Spa by Cornelia, which we reported on in the January/February issue. A uniquely designed retreat, it could prove to be the hotel’s best draw.
And when it comes to nightlife, the Palm Beach Grill is the address of the moment. At nine on a Friday night, the bar is loud with voices and people backed up to the door, waiting for tables. “It’s been here for ten years, and it’s very popular,” says Josh, one of the waiters. “Half the people are regulars who live on the island or are staying at the Breakers. Eighty percent of those at the bar are here four out of five nights a week.” A parade of resort-casual couples and families bear-hug the maître d’ on the way in and out. A waiter passes an overserved gentleman on a double date and gently tips him upright as he lists on his way to the restroom.
Across the street at Cucina Dell’Arte, a breakfast place that turns clubby at night, it’s dark but not crowded. Birthday balloons hang from the ceiling along with signs that read Happy Birthday Ryan. A handful of young women rattle around the central bar while groups of gray-haired men sulk over drinks at high tables. 50 Cent blares from the speakers. The next morning, it’s power brunch central. The Wall Street Journal claimed in January 2008 that the front patio seats are billionaire row. Here’s hoping they show up for the next chapter of the Palm Beach story.
Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.
A History of Palm Beach’s High Society
1892: Palm Beach’s founding father, Henry Flagler, buys land around Lake Worth, calling it “a veritable paradise.”
1896: The Palm Beach Inn opens as a place for ocean bathing. It’s renamed the Breakers in 1901, after tourists say they want to go down to where the “breakers” are.
1906: Palm Beach Life magazine makes its debut.
1911: The town of Palm Beach is incorporated, with Elisha Newton Dimick as its first mayor.
1918: Architect Addison Mizner arrives in Palm Beach. His Mediterranean Revival–style buildings come to characterize the town.
1927: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s $8 million Mar-a-Lago opens: a 17-acre estate with a 100-plus-room mansion, nine-hole golf course, citrus groves, and a pool.
1935: The Garden Club, started by 15 of Palm Beach’s most influential women, plants the palm trees along Royal Palm Way.
1960s: Lilly Pulitzer opens an orange juice stand off Worth Avenue and starts designing colorful cotton shifts for herself that become wildly popular. She launches her eponymous brand.
1991: William Kennedy Smith is accused of raping a woman at the Kennedy compound on North Ocean Boulevard; he is acquitted.
2008: Bernie Madoff is arrested; a myriad of Palm Beachers is affected.
2010: Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and his wife buy a Palm Beach condo for $1.4 million.