Home base for our recent visit to Palm Springs was the Alcazar Hotel – an intimate and inviting 34-room boutique hotel in the heart of the uptown design district. Formerly the Pepper Tree Inn (and before that, reportedly a secret hideaway where celebs in the 1930s used to go to “dry out”), the hotel is a perfect mix of modern and retro, with its all-white decor, Italian Linens and flat screen TVs juxtaposed against a charming landscaped courtyard (with lime trees!) and gated pool and hot tub. The whole thing is more California resort-style than business-style, so forget about the high-rises and marble slab bathrooms and questionable carpeting you’re used to and instead, sink into a cool, cozy, understated elegance.
Like most buildings in Palm Springs, the Alcazar rises no more than two storeys (thanks to a city by-law that restricts building heights in order to not block residents’ views of the mountain) and so there’s a cozy, relaxing, and not-at-all-intimidating feel to the property. And we’re pretty sure we have the hotel’s “creative director” (and general connoisseur of cool/man-about-town) David Richey to thank for the free Intelligentsia coffee and pastries available each morning, as well as the free Townie Bike rentals that added a nice touch to our stay. As editors of an arts and culture magazine, we also really appreciated the casual yet cleverly-designed packaging and branding shown throughout the grounds (no seriously, we asked one of the staff members where we could buy his T-shirt, only to later realize it was his hotel uniform).
The Alcazar is part of a trio of buildings on the property, cleverly named Alcazar, Birba and Cheeky’s (A-B-C). Owned and operated by Palm Springs native Tara Lazar and her Milan-transplant husband Marco Rossetti, the idea was to “establish a lifestyle brand of eateries and a boutique hotel that express a unique vision for food, drink, travel and culture;” an all-in-one hotspot if you will. And trust us, the place was busy. We may have touched down in Palm Springs during a quiet time (locals traditionally leave town in August to escape the 100 degree temperatures), but you would never have known it judging from the lineups to get into the restaurants. (The hotel grounds have hosted a number of parties in the past and it’s easy to see why, with its chic-yet-laidback vibe and its just-far-enough-from-downtown location). We had been a little surprised at how quiet Palm Springs was when we arrived and wondered where people (well, where the “cool people”) were. It turns out they were all at the Alcazar, and having a great time to boot.
Cheeky’s – the “breakfast joint” – is a laid-back eatery serves breakfast and lunch; a great spot to kick off the day with coffee and casual conversation. Birba, on the other hand, was a wonderful place to enjoy dinner and wind down the night. Its half-indoor, half-outdoor design made for an original dining concept, made even better on the night we went, with the addition of a live band. As for the food? Think wood burning pizza and Italian-style braised dishes (we had the short ribs) paired with unique handcrafted cocktails (always a good idea in the Palm Springs heat).
Our favorite restaurant during our stay though was Jiao – a new Asian fusion-type joint that served up Vietnamese and Thai-inspired street food with a twist. Think miso black cod and lime-infused beef tenderloin alongside more traditional faves like pho, steamed buns, chilled summer rolls and sticky sesame spare ribs. The flavors were unexpected: sweet and spicy, tangy and savoury, and yet they somehow all worked together to create one memorable meal. The highlight for us was dessert, with the in-house pastry chef Chantal (herself a transplant from Atlanta) whipping up an inspired chilli mango panna cotta and homemade ice-cream. We had the salted caramel and it was delicious. Finished off with a robust and surprisingly authentic Vietnamese coffee and well, let’s just say we were talking about our great experience at Jiao was long after our meal was over.
The best part of our stay though was just getting a chance to relax by the pool or in the courtyard. We brought our iPods, September issues and drinks from the nearby convenience store and sat outside in the warm desert air as the late afternoon sun gave way to evening. Because of its location away from the hustle and bustle of the main strip (and because they only have 34 rooms) the Alcazar is a nice, stress-free alternative to the big-chain hotels and resorts in the area. We always had a chair by the pool, we never found ourselves overwhelmed by other guests or loud groups and the staff there was very friendly and attentive. In short, there was something uniquely “exclusive” about the whole experience; at times, we really felt like we were VIP guests who had the Alcazar all to ourselves.
One night, we grabbed a couple of beers and stayed up just chatting in the courtyard, which, on this night, was dotted with hanging lights and greenery and the quiet rustling of a waterfall fixture in the background. We didn’t realize it but we had been up all night, and it wasn’t until a friendly security guard approached us and pointed out the time did we realize how late – or rather how early in the morning – it was. We started to get up from our seats and make our way back to our room when the security guard held his hand up. “Oh no,” he said with a soft chuckle. “I wasn’t motioning for you to leave. I just wanted to make sure that you guys were doing alright.” We sat back down, cracked open another beer and returned his smile. We were having a great time. And we were definitely doing alright.
The Alcazar Hotel and its adjoining restaurants Cheeky’s and Birba are located at 622 North Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Telephone number (760) 318-9850. Sister restaurant Jiao is located across the street at 515 North Palm Canyon Drive. Telephone number (760) 321-1424.