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Palm Beach Part Two: The Chesterfield

Originally Posted: January 19, 2012

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

The portrait of the Prime Minister and humidor in the smoker friendly Churchill's Cigar Lounge at The Chesterfield. (Douglas Harrington

No reception counter at The Chesterfield, guests sit comfortably at antique desks and are offered glasses of Port or Sherry at check-in. (Douglas Harrington)

Palm Beach - There is an indelible relationship between the resort communities of Palm Beach and the Hamptons. On any given day during the Hamptons summer season one will see a Rolls Royce, Mercedes or Aston Martin driving down Jobs Lane with a Florida license plate noting Palm Beach. Transversely, as the winter winds begin to blow Hamptonians close up their sprawling East End cedar shake estates and head south to their terracotta roofed mansions in Palm Beach.

Hamptons.com decided to pay a visit to our sister city and, as I certainly do not own a terracotta roofed mansion, I frequented several of the iconic historic hotels in this beautiful, tasteful and uber-wealthy community. Along the way I dined at several wonderful restaurants, attended an opening night exhibition party at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, took a private tour of the Flagler Museum and, of course, strolled up and down Worth Avenue, a street of retail shops that equals the Champs Elysees, Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive.

This Palm Beach travel piece was published in two installments centered upon the two iconic hotels I visited during my stay: The Brazilian Court and The Chesterfield. In each installment I also touch upon other aspects (cultural, architectural and social) of my visit to Palm Beach, a destination that should absolutely be on everyone's travel bucket list. Here is Part Two: The Chesterfield.

The sitting room of The Chesterfield's Flagler Suite. (Douglas Harrington)

The Chesterfield
Synonymous with the bespoke elegance that is pure Palm Beach, The Chesterfield is a landmark hotel with a luscious and storied past. On the corner of Coconut Row and Australian Avenue, with both American and British flags flying, one walks past the outdoor dining courtyard into the tastefully appointed lobby and feels transported, as if entering a classic London hotel in Mayfair. In truth, as a member of the British owned Red Carnation Hotel Collection, there is a sister hotel in Mayfair, also called The Chesterfield.

Rather than the standard registration counter, The Chesterfield has seated check in at a pair of beautiful antique desks, with the concierges offering guests a glass of Port or Sherry during their check in. The lobby is warm, inviting and elegantly decorated in the understated style that bespeaks The Chesterfield's present British lineage. There is also a constantly stocked plate of homemade cookies and chocolates ever present in the lobby, along with a kiosk of rare teas.

One of the tastefully decorated rooms at The Chesterfield. (Douglas Harrington)

Off the lobby are two rooms exquisitely designed and decorated, The Library and Churchill's Cigar Lounge. The Library is a beautiful wood paneled sanctuary with hundreds of titles and enough national and international magazines to fill a Manhattan newsstand. Churchill's is an equally inviting oasis, particularly for my fellow smokers, as the smoking of cigars, pipes and cigarettes are permitted under the gaze of a painting of Britain's greatest Prime Minister. Churchill's contains a state-of-the-art humidor with personal monogrammed compartments for Palm Beach's toniest cigar aficionados. Both rooms are appointed with tufted, overstuffed leather couches and easy chairs, perfect lighting, fresh flowers, computer terminals and fax machines.

The Beautiful Poolscape of the Chesterfield In Palm Beach. (Douglas Harrington)

No two rooms at The Chesterfield are identical; each specifically decorated to each space which chic, eclectic and distinct design elements. We were given the Flagler Suite, room 207/209, and when we walked in we were left breathless. A two room suite with two marble bathrooms stocked with deluxe toiletries. The suite had tasteful silver geometric upholstered wall treatments matched to perfectly compliment our couch and two French Provencal easy chairs in the sitting room. I worked on my Palm Beach notes at a full sized desk with extremely fast Wi-Fi access.

Our bed was pure heaven, luscious linens and down pillows that gave us our most restful sleep in Palm Beach. The Chesterfield provides twice daily maid service, remote controlled lighting, classic Vogue Magazine cover artwork and 24 hour room service that made me feel like I were Henry Flagler himself, founder of Palm Beach, enjoying a suite named in my honor.

After settling into our room, we went down to the poolscape and enjoyed the same perfect alfresco ambience for cocktails that some of the world's most notable celebrities, with Martinis and Manhattans in hand, have imbibed in under a Palm Beach sky since the 1920s. British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher, French Actress Catherine Deneuve, crooner Tony Bennett and Latin singer Julio Inglasius, fashion icons Oscar de la Renta and Bob Mackie, and "60 Minutes" commentator the late Andy Rooney, to name but a very few, are celebrities that have made The Chesterfield their singular destination when in Palm Beach.

The recently renovated bar at The Leopard Lounge evokes the glorious glamour of the 1940s, packed nightly with Palm Beachers enjoying live music seven nights a week. (Douglas Harrington)

Opened as the Lido-Venice in 1926, this Four Diamond hotel has had many name changes, owners and renovations. In 1928 and for the next five decades it was known as the Vineta, because of its then Venetian décor. In 1977, with its fourth change of ownership the hotel was renamed the Royal Park and after a conversion to a condominium/hotel property in the 1980s, the named was changed yet again, then known as the Palm Court.

After a lawsuit brought by the condo owners, the hotel closed in 1987, but reopened the following year under the Hotels of Distinction Management Group. In late 1989 the present owners, the Red Carnation Collection, took occupancy and renamed the property The Chesterfield Hotel Deluxe. Like a foster child moved from family to family, The Chesterfield had at last been adopted by a hotel family of impeccable pedigree whose dedication to superior hospitality is world renowned. As the Red Carnation mission statement proclaims, "No request is too large, no detail too small."

The condominiums now gone, The Chesterfield is exclusively a hotel with 55 rooms and suites and a fourth floor bridal suite penthouse with a sundeck. As noted earlier, no two rooms or suites are alike, each eclectically decorated with style, panache and, in some cases, joyous whimsy. (See the Photo Gallery at article's end). Pets are permitted and there are, thankfully, several guest rooms still designated for smokers. There is complimentary valet parking and, as should be expected, traditional English Afternoon Tea is served daily.

On the corner of Coconut Row and Australian Avenue, the entrance of the historic and famous Chesterfield Hotel in Palm Beach. (Douglas Harrington)

One can not mention The Chesterfield without noting its bar and restaurant, probably Palm Beach's most famous, The Leopard Lounge. Upon her first visit, Catwoman Eartha Kitt proclaimed the décor had been designed just for her. Recently renovated, with the leopard bar stool and seat upholstery eliminated, the new look evokes the glorious glamour of the 1940s. The ceiling has been expertly rejuvenated and the swirling bodies of beautiful women hand painted by artist Lino Mario, as payment for his bar tabs, now literally leap out with all the sensual sensation the artist intended. With live music seven nights a week, The Leopard Lounge is a favorite for both the social elite and young chic of Palm Beach.

While the social aspect of The Leopard Lounge may be the most fun one can have in Palm Beach, the cuisine is absolutely glorious! Executive Chef Gerard Coughlin has created an eclectic menu that is executed to perfection. From the Maryland Style Lump Crab Cakes to the Pan Seared Wild Salmon to the 14 oz. Aged Grilled Prime Strip Steak to Chicken Curry, among other dishes we had during our tasting dinner, Chef Coughlin did not have a miss on the menu. And yes, Traditional Fish & Chips are also featured on a menu that literally has something for everyone. I also have to mention two particular desserts that were absolutely heavenly and must be ordered during a visit to The Leopard Lounge, the Strawberry Eton Mess and the Apple Galette with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Our tasting dinner was superbly paired with several excellent vintages of the Bouchard Finlayson winery of South Africa (www.bouchardfinlayson.co.za). A boutique vineyard located in the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley at the southern most point in Africa, Bouchard Finlayson wines should have Hampton oenophiles making room in their wine cellars for these nuanced and complex wines. Winemaker Peter Finlayson's varietals so impressed the Tollman family, that in 2000 they bought all the shares of the vineyard and feature the selections in their formidable wine list, along with selections by the glass. I was particularly impressed by Finlayson's 2008 Hannibal, which is a blend of primarily 50 percent Sangiovese, 22 percent Pinot Noir and 13 percent Nebbiolo. The rest of the blend comprises of 7 percent Mourvedre, 6 percent Barbera and 2 percent Shiraz. Hannibal has a very aromatic nose with bold forest fruits that provide an extremely long finish.

In a week filled with hotel highlights during my visit to Palm Beach, I must say that The Chesterfield shined as one of the brightest gems. Assistant General Manager Richard Snyder and his staff delivered a level of customer service and genuine hospitality that I will rank as the best I have ever experienced. Yes indeed Madame Tollman, The Chesterfield Palm Beach delivers on your promise of "no request is too large, no detail too small."

The Esther B. O'Keefe Building of The Society of the Four Arts. (Douglas Harrington)

The Society Of The Four Arts
To touch upon a cultural aspect of my visit to Palm Beach in this installment I chose The Society of the Four Arts. From a 2010 letter by Society President Ervin S. Duggan, "In 1936, three Palm Beach women, Mrs. Lorenzo E. Woodhouse, Mrs. Maude Howe Elliot, and Mrs. Frederick Johnson, announced that they were organizing a new community organization devoted to literature, music, drama and the visual arts. With no money and no property, only a vision and a name (then the Community Arts Association), they boldly declared that they intended to build a library and an art museum.

Colonel E.R. Bradley offered the use of a vacant storefront for the organization's first exhibition and before long Palm Beachers were gazing at Rembrandt's "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer," a masterpiece that is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. (From the beginning, it seems, the vision was about uncompromising quality). In January 1936 the name of the organization was changed to The Society of the Four Arts; one month later, the Society received its charter."

And From Tthe Society's Website
The Society of the Four Arts is Palm Beach's best-loved destination for art exhibitions, concerts, films, lectures, workshops and more. The Society of the Four Arts is home to the King Library, the Four Arts Children's Library, and the magnificent Philip Hulitar Sculpture Gardens. The Esther B. O'Keeffe Gallery Building houses both an art gallery and a 700 seat auditorium. An art gallery showcases art exhibitions throughout the season and the Walter S. Gubelmann auditorium features concerts, lectures and films.

The original building, designed in 1936 by architect Maurice Fatio, now houses The Gioconda and Joseph King Library. The Library, which contains over 65,000 books, periodicals, videotapes, DVDs, CDs and books on audiotape serves the Town of Palm Beach. The library is open to all visitors without charge; borrowing privileges may be obtained for a small annual membership fee. Throughout the season, the King Library hosts book discussion groups, which are free and open to the public.

Once the Embassy Apartment Building, the John E. Rovensky Administration Building was renovated in the mid 1990s and is now home to staff offices, The Children's Library and Campus on the Lake workshops. The Four Arts Children's Library is located on the second floor of the John E. Rovensky Administration Building. Children are invited to borrow books, use computers, and enjoy special event programs free of charge. Art exhibitions of special interest to young people are displayed in the Mary Alice Fortin Children's Art Gallery throughout the year. Free story time programs for pre-school children are held most Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden, on the corner of Royal Palm Way and Cocoanut Row, is an elegant park which was recently remodeled by The Society to be a showpiece for Palm Beach. Visitors are invited to stroll through the grounds, enjoying the natural beauty of the landscaping and the carefully selected sculptures. Two beautiful fountains accent the north and south ends of the garden. Benches and chairs provide the ideal spot for enjoying conversation or a good book. The Four Arts Botanical Gardens, owned by The Society and maintained by The Garden Club of Palm Beach, are demonstration gardens originally designed in 1938 to display the diversity of tropical plants suitable for landscaping in the South Florida climate. For more information go to www.fourarts.org.

For more information, click here.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline


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