My earliest memory of Palm Beach was a visit with my parents when I was about eight. We stayed at a Holiday Inn (long since razed) on South Ocean Boulevard. My dad loved it for the tennis court, and the pro—named Buck like my grandfather—who taught me the art of the drop shot. Forty years later, I spent two weekends house shopping with a friend, helping him decide to buy a townhouse in a nifty location at Sloan’s Curve, down a shaded private lane inside a large high-rise apartment complex right at the corner where South Ocean Boulevard becomes a stretch of eight-, and possibly nine-, figure homes. It was on the ocean, had a nice private pool and hot tub, was beautifully decorated and furnished, and included an association handyman and services—perfect for someone who spent a little less than half the year there (and never the winter, when he skis). The location itself was convenient for his drive to a water skiing lake, as well as a reasonable cruise into town, or the coastal city of Lake Worth, a cute little hamlet far older than Palm Beach and with several pleasant restaurants, historic theater and museum.
My wife and I used his place a few times a year when she would ride her horse in Wellington, and I would golf. It was nicer than a hotel in some ways (space, washer/dryer), but less convenient in others. Because our host was never there, the house had to be opened and closed each visit, so we always felt like intruders. For example, to sit by the pool, the outdoor furniture had to be taken out of the living room, then washed down and returned to the living room before we left. This was just one of a long list of chores, and by association rules, I was not allowed to tip the service people to have them take care of things, or pay the housekeeper to come while we were there, so every trip became a bit of a hassle, dealing with menial chores. Finally, circumstances changed and we decided to stay in a hotel.
The reality of going to Palm Beach is that in 20 years, we never once actually went to the beach. In our stays at the old Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons, we occasionally made it to the pool to get sun, but generally we were busy during the day golfing, horseback riding, shopping, or catching up with friends. In the evenings, being on the ocean meant a view of empty blackness. If the night was cool, we could open a window and hear the surf, but the only times an oceanfront room really mattered was in the morning, for the wonderful view as we had coffee and read the paper before we headed out for the day. Other than that, we spent a good amount of our time driving and always needed two cars, so if one of us was off sporting, the other would not be stranded.
Recently, my wife came to meet me from a business trip in Dallas, and we arrived separately at the Brazilian Court Hotel within a few minutes of each other. The suite we settled on was surprisingly spacious, with a mini fridge, small dining table, and a large, comfortable living room. The bath cleverly opened into both rooms, so when I had to stay up late for a phone interview, I was able to get to the shower and sink without stumbling through the bedroom. The heavy foliage limited views and light, but we were out most days anyway, so it didn’t much matter. We were able to take walks into town to shop, to enjoy dinner, and to visit friends with houses within a five-minute stroll. This was a completely different experience. Palm Beach itself isn’t exactly a humble little hamlet, but there are plenty of places for coffee or a light bite, and if you use a bicycle or a car, everything—from the airport, golf courses, and supermarket—is no more than a five-minute drive.
There are a few choices for hotels in town, and it is unlikely we will ever stay on the beach again. The Breakers’ valet parking line is always a struggle, and the convenience of being able to simply walk to the drugstore, or have an extra glass of wine without confronting a DUI, was a revelation. One afternoon, we biked the few blocks to the beach, which is much broader, and the surf more gentle, than farther south by the big hotels. All of the in-town hotels offer beach shuttles, and most blankets, chairs and umbrellas to boot.
The Brazilian Court, built in 1927 and renovated in 2007, may be struggling a bit—the Internet connection was unacceptably slow, and the air conditioning needed to be repaired twice. But, for once, the hotel’s “engineering department” wasn’t some guy in jeans, but an actual trained technician. He got the units running perfectly. Overall, our trip was a huge success, even a revelation. On future visits we intend to check out The Colony, where U.S. presidents, European royalty, and American snowbirds have stayed since 1947, as well as The Chesterfield Palm Beach, which is noted for its architecture and timeless English values of discretion and attentive service. Both look bright and comfortable.
When you consider that being able to get something as simple as a quart of milk when staying at the beachfront hotels or my friend’s house involved a 20-minute round trip (enhanced by the constabulary’s obsessive vigilance in enforcing the incredibly low speed limit), our time at the Brazilian Court was definitely a more pleasant experience.
Mike Offit began his Wall Street real estate trading career after graduating from Brown University, and obtained significant success on the Street. He was the senior trader of Commercial Mortgage and Asset Backed Securities for First Boston and Goldman, Sachs, and the founder, managing director and head of the Commercial Mortgage and Real Estate Group and at Deutsche Bank, still the market leader in the United States. He is the author of Nothing Personal: A Novel of Wall Street (Thomas Dunne Books; Feb. 11, 2014), a literary financial thriller and expose that has been described as “riveting” by Donald Trump, and “a thrilling must-read” by New York Times bestselling business author and commentator, William Cohan.
Image Credits: The Brazilian Court Hotel (www.thebraziliancourt.com)