Written by Nina Haaskivi
The early morning November sun coming up over the bridges spanned out in front of me makes the skyline look metallic. The crisp silvery-blue filter spread over Palm Beach reminds me of a futuristic movie, not exactly the “old Florida” vibes I was looking to find on Worth Avenue. I spent many childhood vacations toddling the Atlantic beaches with their iconic palm trees and I love any reason to revisit the site of many happy memories. This is the beginning of “the season” in Palm Beach and, what’s normally a quiet town on the Atlantic coastline, is buzzing with northerners who have fled the cold weather. It’s the natural flow of things in Florida, the hot, swampy summer where tourists flock to Disney on their summer vacation and locals plan their day based on the rain patterns of summer thunderstorms contrasted with the cool but sunny winters that bring our northern friends. Pre-Covid, it was like clockwork. During Covid, obviously the clock was a little off set and faces we only saw in the winter were present year-round. As 2022 faded into 2023, familiar places and familiar foods harken back to a simpler time. Palm Beach has been the winter playground of names more commonly found in your history book – Flagler, Pulitzer, Kennedy are littered across the city. Today, it’s my playground. Like I said, any reason to go to Palm Beach. Sitting at Swifty’s at the timeless 1940’s Colony Hotel, indulging in tuna tartare, oysters, and more charcuterie than one woman should probably have in one sitting, it’s easy to let your mind wander to that simpler time; when a bored socialite named Lilly Pulitzer could start a juice stand and her old school friend Jackie Kennedy could launch her clothing line with one photo in Time Magazine.
If you ask me – which if you’re not, I’m not sure if you should continue reading – the part of Palm Beach that keeps me coming back for more, aside from fond childhood memories, is the food. Old Palm Beach stays new through its food scene and when you travel as much as I do, I find that it’s not the touristy sites that make you go back to a city. The food is usually high up on my list of why I would return to some of the obscure places I’ve visited. If you’re a fan of New York City’s up and coming chefs or even the most established names but find yourself constantly on a waiting list for reservations or are only able to sit at the bar (a more exciting prospect in my opinion) hop on a flight to Palm Beach where the chefs are the same but the mood, much like the wardrobe color palette, is lighter. While Florida is famous for its fresh seafood, Palm Beach is home to La Goulue, classic French fare without too much fuss. A croque monsieur and the gold standard cocktail are my order at brunch at La Goulue where the people watching make the trip to Palm Beach worth it. I hum the song “Daylight” as I take in my leisurely brunch “In the daylight I don’t pick up my phone, ‘cause in the daylight anywhere feels like home.” In Florida, where the dress code is usually relaxed, the night lasts a little bit longer and the humid air slows things down, a leisurely brunch leads to a leisurely day. But isn’t that what we’re supposed to do on trips?
My final stop this weekend in Palm Beach was the one I was looking forward to most, Café Boulud in the Brazilian Court Hotel. Florida stone crab claws, seafood risotto and a white cosmopolitan will be the final note in this adventure. As I look around, I wonder – are these new transplants to Florida, locals who are fourth generation Floridians or tourists for whom this is a stop along the way? Ultimately, I conclude, it doesn’t matter. What does it mean to be new in this town that prides itself on its history? What does “Old Florida” have to contribute to the modern world? In 1926, could they have imagined that the Brazilian Court Hotel would be standing nearly 100 years later? Or that it would be such a coveted spot to dine? And that is the understanding that I leave with – who knows? How can we? It may be the cosmopolitan doing the thinking, but I found myself in awe of those willing to take such risks on the unknown. How can something ever become “Old Florida” if it was never, at one point, “New Florida”? On New Year’s Day in 1926, The Brazilian Court Hotel was definitely “New Florida.” Sitting here in 2022, it’s decidedly “Old Florida.”
If anything, travel gives us perspective and as I drive away from The Breakers, thinking about getting back to my normal life, I ponder the long, hard road that many of these historic places had to endure along their journey. A fire started by a curling iron, sounds like a very modern problem however, it’s one The Breakers faced in 1925. Astonishingly, the hotel was rebuilt and reopened a little over a year later. As we start this new year, this is the thought that weighs heavy on my mind. What started as a chance to get away and do some research for this article turned into something much deeper, a chance to look at my own adversities and how I’ve overcome them.
So dear reader, if you find yourself sitting alone in a restaurant this year, I hope you do the same. Many of these historic and now famous places littered around Palm Beach were once new ventures, risks not guaranteed to succeed. We’ve all faced adversities over the last few years, and it is well past time to rebuild. What’s new in this new year – new habits, new hobbies, new beginnings, can only become old if we press on.