A Weekend in Palm Springs

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Having a car is a game-changer. In New York, if we were itching to get away, there’d have to be a flight involved or something called ZipCar which involves showing up at a weird parking lot and getting into a strange car with a secret code beamed into your phone. Here in L.A., you pretty much need a car to survive, so that means that, since you have a car anyway, you can drive off into the sunset when the feeling strikes. And for Craig’s birthday, we decided to make the drive to Palm Springs, which is just two hours away on the 10 East.

Part of the appeal of going to Palm Springs was the Ace Hotel. I stayed in the Ace Hotel when I went to Portland last year and not only were the rooms stylish and comfortable, but the hotel affiliated itself with two excellent restaurants. Same for the one in Palm Springs: they converted the Denny’s that used to be attached to the hotel (when it was a Howard Johnson’s) into a hip, destination-worthy restaurant. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, here’s the view from my car window as we approached the desert:

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That’s a big mountain and it’d be a prominent part of the scenery for our weekend by the pool.

Here’s the Ace Hotel, which you get to if you just stay on the main drag that takes you through downtown Palm Springs.

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Here’s the lobby:

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More of the lobby:

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Oh and this is over the front desk:

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Let’s go to our room, ok?

Here we are…

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The room reminded me of a beach cabana (that’s probably what it was going for); it came with a record player and some records (but we couldn’t get it to work):

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There was this strange picture clipped to the wall:

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And booze, should we want to become intoxicated:

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We decided to intoxicate ourselves by the pool. This was a Friday afternoon, around 2 o’clock; we put on our bathing suits and outside we went. Here’s the view from my pool chair:

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That’s that mountain I showed you earlier–it really sets a nice tone.

As for the intoxication, I ordered myself a margarita (that’s my watch and glasses):

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And also some chips and salsa:

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Then I broke that rule about not swimming after you eat and hopped into the pool. Craig did too. It was relaxing. This is what Palm Springs is all about!

When it got dark, though, it got chilly; that’s when we went inside, showered, and headed for dinner at King’s Highway–the restaurant attached to the hotel. But first, let’s admire this outdoor fireplace:

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Very good. Now for dinner. Here’s the King’s Highway sign:

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And here’s what it looks like as you walk in:

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Pay attention to the woman behind the counter–she’ll become important in a moment.

We sat down at a booth and were immediately presented with pickled vegetables:

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We each ordered a burger and while we were waiting, something extraordinary happened. That same woman that I pointed out earlier rang a bell and announced that she was going to sing. She performed Judy Garland’s “Trolly Song” and I shot a little video:

We learned later that this woman, named Linda Gerard, is something of a Palm Springs legend. The shop owner who told us about her said she was Barbra Streisand’s understudy in something or other; I can’t corroborate that online but I can confirm that she won over $165,000 on “Deal or No Deal” and that she hosts an event on Monday nights called Sissy Bingo.

As for our burgers, they totally hit the spot–with delicious, crispy fries to match:

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Craig is the kind of person who says, after a giant burger, “I’m so full…I couldn’t even think about dessert.” I’m the kind of person who, despite being full, says: “I’m on vacation! Bring on the brownie sundae.”

Actually, this is referred to on the menu as a “Pot Brownie” but I’m pretty sure that’s because it’s baked in a little pot (or skillet)… I didn’t have Linda hallucinations after I ate it:

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After dessert, we went for a drink in the hotel’s bar called The Amigo Room.

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Correcting a mistake we’d made long ago–drinking our Manhattan’s with Maker’s Mark instead of Rye–we tried a Rye Manhattan:

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I dug this alternate version–drier, less sweet–though I wish they hadn’t served it in plastic cups. (That’s a major transgression for such a stylish bar.)

Off to bed we go and up early the next day, we eat breakfast by the pool.

This coffee is Stumptown coffee:

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This sandwich has an egg on it and bacon too:

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As nice as it would be to sit by the pool all day, we decide to go look at Palm Springs architecture. The nice people at the front desk give us a map with notable homes on it (they also give us a map of celebrity homes, but I don’t really need to see Barry Manilow’s house!). So here’s one of the famous houses we saw:

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And another:

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Actually, that second one’s not famous…but it had a cool car in the driveway. The neighborhoods we drove through reminded Craig and I of “The Incredibles.” It also reminded me of the opening sequence of the most recent Indiana Jones movie where he’s in this mock American town and has to lock himself inside a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast. That didn’t happen to us.

We did some shopping on the main drag; we bought ice cube trays from this nifty kitchen goods store:

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Then it was back to the pool for another margarita and a bowl of garlic popcorn:

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That night, for dinner, we followed the advice of these guys at a clothing store next to the kitchen store and had dinner at a pizza place called Birba.

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This is a good time to mention that Palm Springs is a very gay place. As a gay person, I’m allowed to say that. So this restaurant, with excellent pizza, felt something like a gay bar at first. I was wary of the food because so many gays were jammed up against the bar I thought, “Oh this is an outdoor gay bar with food” rather than “oh this is a place with really good food that doubles as a gay bar.”

But it turns out the latter is the truth: the food at Birba is totally excellent. We started with burrata that was served with caponata and toasted bread:

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And now for the most hilariously inadequate picture of pizza ever. It’s almost like a joke it’s so dark, but you can at least see the crust!

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And the pizza was way good. We had one that had jalapenos on it (it was genuinely spicy) and one that had goat cheese on it. I loved them both.

For dessert we shared a salted caramel chocolate tart that was out of this world:

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If I made that for a dinner party, my guests would beg to come back again. I’ll have to get the recipe.

After dinner, we spent some time at a bar that screened classic show tune clips. Needless to say, I was in heaven. Here’s Ethel Merman:

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The next morning–our departure day (such a sad day, always, on a trip)–I had yogurt, fruit and granola for breakfast to make up for the burger and the pizza:

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This was actually super tasty with house-made granola and vanilla scented yogurt.

I did some reading in a hammock:

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And then it was back to L.A., our luxurious weekend at an end.

Suffice it to say, if you live in Los Angeles or you’re visiting Los Angeles and want a peaceful getaway, Palm Springs is a no-brainer. Two hours on the highway and you’re in a desert paradise, complete with singing hostesses, salted caramel chocolate tarts and a hammock from which to swing. When do I get to go back?

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