A few years ago I traveled to Palm Springs to research the new energy coming out of the desert. The growth of the Coachella festival seemed to be one of the driving forces behind the opening of hip hotels like the Ace and Saguaro, but I discovered more than just an L.A.-weekender party (although Elijah Wood spinning poolside does sometimes happen). But mostly, I found Palm Spring was full of people that love the desert, in equal parts for it’s glamorous allure (think Frank and Marilyn) and its weirdness (think Joshua Tree). Either way, it’s kind of a magical combination.
Enter one of my favorite discoveries from Palm Springs: David Richey, whose contagious humor had us giggling for days after sharing drinks at the hip and understated open-air spot, Birba. David’s creative agency Not Normal Collective has helped brand and design some of Palm Springs’ most interesting restaurants (Birba included). So, naturally, when New York magazine recently asked me to research Palm Springs nightlife I knew just who to call. That story came out last week but David was so full of insight, about where to find the creative subculture of Palm Springs, that I had to share more of his gems. So, I give you the:
Palm Springs Insider Guide
The kind of growth that’s happening in Palm Springs in the last five years is really urban creative people in their mid-30s making their way opening small businesses. They’re helping to change the cultural climate. This cute couple opened Bootlegger Tiki in the back of Earnest Coffee at the north end of town. Start there for traditional tiki cocktails. It’s tiny, probably fits 20 people. They did their research, there’s great hand-selected rums, fresh flowers in cocktails — the Pod Thai cocktail is amazing.
Then head over to mid-town to my client Tara Lazar’s Chi Chi at the Avalon Hotel. The Avalon is Kelly Wearstler’s Viceroy hotel reborn. Everything is $10 and under during “Summer Sessions,” Chi Chi’s happy hour Sunday through Thursday in the lounge. They have really great bites, kind of boho hippie with Spanish-style tapas and live music by a local singer-songwriter. It’s cheap and delicious. Try the little chicken sopas things and the Aperol cocktail.
Next stop at mid-town’s Rooster and the Pig to fill your belly with some food to sustain you through a night of drinking. Best new restaurant in Palm Springs, hands down. American Vietnamese delights your taste buds, fills you up and at a really reasonable price. Owner Tai Spendley has been in Palm Springs about 10 years as beverage manager for several high-profile resorts, including the Ace, and was the GM at the infamous Lula Café in Chicago. Rooster and the Pig is his first restaurant on his own. The tea leaf salad, crispy beef noodles and the F.O.B (Fresh of the boat) are standouts.
Then get a proper martini at Mr. Lyons, another of Tara Lazar’s spots. It’s a high-end steak house, which isn’t really my thing, but the lounge is gorgeous. They do really great classic cocktails with just a sprig of something that just elevates it slightly.
Most gay bars are too heavy on the beefy, worked-out, white guy techno music vibe for me so I am looking for something with some edge or kitsch-dive-bar energy. Two that fit that bill are on the gay-bar ghetto, Arenas Street. Hit Spurline, a video dive bar where on the weekends they play all show tune videos, old, new, Broadway, movie, whatever. They pass out props like little wire hangers with “Mommy Dearest” playing or hankerchiefs for a scene in “Oklahoma.” Super-kitsch and fun. I totally hate musicals, but love this spot. Another favorite is Score, a true dive bar with cheap drinks, cheap beer, shuffle board, pool table and the best jukebox I have found in Palm Springs. Another classic is Toucans for a great Sunday night Drag show.
Dance (and Eat)
Then, if it’s Thursday, I would totally hit the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel. Ever since they opened, music producer/local celebrity deejay, DJ Day, does a night called Reunion. He was born in the dessert and a lot of locals follow him, but it’s a good mix of locals and tourists. It is a hip-hop night, but with an intelligent spin on old-school and current, eclectic, art hip-hop (think Stones Throw records) not Top 40. It hits all the marks in the 22 to 45-ish crowd: black, white, Hispanic, hipster, hip-hop head. Also, a good reason to end your night there is the bar menu with the fried egg sandwich that they serve late. You can totally fill up on food before you get in your Uber and crash out.
Stay at Sparrows Lodge. They just have a sign with two sparrows on it. It’s amazing, in an old barn and it’s on the Ace side of town.
Don’t you want to head to the desert immediately? (If you’re in New York, you should! JetBlue starts daily direct flights in January 2016.)