WEST PALM BEACH

It's more fun on the mainland: from great antiques shopping to steamy bar-hopping, this Florida city is heating up.

excerpts from Travel + Leisure, by Tom Austin

W

est Palm Beach and its more ballyhooed neighbor, the golden isle of Palm Beach, have long been locked in a symbiotic—if occasionally antagonistic—relationship. Palm Beach prides itself on privacy, discretion, and stone-cold snobbery; its neighbor, immersed in a billion-dollar boomtown period, is proud to flaunt its monuments of commerce. Still, West Palm has plenty of historic neighborhoods—El Cid, Prospect Park, the Mango Promenade—with beautiful 1920's Mediterranean-Revival, Frame Vernacular, and Florida Bungalow architecture. One heiress of my acquaintance, with an impeccable background, rebelled and moved to the mainland to escape the psychic baggage and staid cocktail-party circuit. Unlike the island, with its short, seasonal pageant, West Palm Beach is a town for nesting (antiques shopping, house hunting, and money saving). It's the ultimate in tropical chic on a budget, Palm Beach without all the fuss.

 

lobby of hotel bibaWHERE TO STAY: West Palm doesn't have grand hotels, but it does offer some stylish (and value-minded) options. Hotel Biba (320 Belvedere Rd.; 800/789-9843 or 561/832-0094; www.hotelbiba.com; doubles from $119), a former motor lodge in El Cid, was transformed into a riot of color by Barbara Hulanicki (known for the high-sixties London boutique Biba and for her work with Island Outpost). The bar is a psychedelic blur straight out of Blowup: purple plastic-covered hassocks, Day-Glo Plexiglas cubes, rainbow-striped walls. On Friday nights, it's the focal point of local cocktail culture-a lively scene that can spill out into the pool and the garden.

WHERE TO EAT: Maison Carlos (3010 South Dixie Hwy.; 561/659-6524; dinner for two $80) attracts a loyal old-line crowd with feel-good classics such as steak au poivre and linguine alle vongole. Owner Carlos Farias and his wife and partner, Lanie, are Nantucket regulars, so the eclectic interior mixes New England landscape paintings with a touch of Capri: table umbrellas and Cinzano posters.  If you're looking for kitsch with your quesadilla, nothing compares with Rhythm Café (3800 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/833-3406; dinner for two $65). The campy vibe (mirrored disco ball, soft Nat King Cole) is the ideal setting for menu listings such as "s.s.cargot," but the "Floribean" quesadilla with conch and the coconut shrimp are seriously good.

floral emporiumWHERE TO SHOP: From there, take a seismic luxe leap to the Floral Emporium (3900 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/659-9888) for over-the-top luxury goods: furniture, sculpture, stone armchairs, and all strains of orchids. ANTIQUES "R" US The stores along Dixie Highway's Antiques Row...from such elegant stalwarts as the Elephant's Foot (3800 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-0170)...Wardall Antiques & Decorations (3709 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/832-0428), the sister operation to Kofski Antiques (315 S. County Rd.; 561/655-6557) on the island. The owners conduct occasional estate sales at their warehouse (5501 Georgia Ave.; 561/585-1976), with a gamut of merchandise that encompasses both the exquisite (an Italian-marble gazebo, antique silver, vintage fireplace mantels) and the mundane (lawn furniture, picture frames). • ... Christa's South Antiques & Seashells (3737 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561/655-4650) is out-there, high-Florida camp all the way—candelabras, busts, and mirrors made of seashells.