Palm Beacher Gets $60 Million Face-Lift

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“Is Lindsay Lohan staying at the Ritz?” The gossip comes from a cashier at a tony supermarket across from the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, one of the luxe chain’s newly renovated properties. With a $60 million tune-up completed in March, the hotel is fast becoming a super-exclusive resort, despite being encircled by crotchety retirees.

A hulking, manila-colored hotel with three pools and 310 rooms, the Ritz occupies a peculiar place near Palm Beach. Not actually on the island, it’s 15 minutes south on Ocean Boulevard, dominating a small stretch of sand next to the city of Manalapan’s municipal restrooms and a beachfront restaurant where locals eat Sunday brunch.

As a result of this more mellow location — just the opposite from the famously stuffy Breakers at the heart of the island — the property has long lured gossip-shy luminaries. (The local papers haven’t mentioned Lohan, but Hillary Duff stayed at the Ritz on a recent polo-watching jaunt to Palm Beach.)

Chrissy Poorman, the hotel’s spokeswoman, says that most Ritz-Carltons assume the prim and proper look of the chain’s first flagship, which overlooks the Boston Gardens. “We used to be known as ‘Boston on the Beach,'” she said. “The hotel didn’t really feel like Palm Beach.” The new Ritz replaces liveried bellboys and Thomas Gainsborough landscapes with a fire pit and a floor-to-ceiling humidor.

The décor is difficult to describe. Imagine if Ralph Lauren married Ernest Hemingway, moved to his house on Key West, and hired Addison Mizner to redo the place. The result might look something like this Ritz, with breezy whites and blues and scattered ephemera redolent of the sea and high society. This atmosphere makes the lobby bar, which gets hopping (at least for Palm Beach) in the evenings, a perfect place to enjoy both a mojito and a Wallace Stevens poem during the day.

Aside from an excessive number of ugly ashtrays dotting each and every surface around the three seaside swimming pools, the pool area is dreamy. There’s an oceanfront café that’s so close to the sea it’s almost calling out for a hurricane. And there’s also a sunken pit with a playground styled like a pirate ship.

In the rooms, which have mostly ocean views, guests have ample balcony space, but no balcony furniture. No big deal. You can see the ocean from your bed and, if you slide a door, from an elevated (think heaven) Roman bathtub.

Probably because next to no one travels to South Florida in the off-season (when it’s hot and humid and pours every day at 2 p.m.), the Ritz is slashing its prices. From June 4 to Sept. 28, if you book three days (rates start at $279) you get one night free plus a $50 dining credit. So maybe it’s high time to visit grandma?

100 S. Ocean Blvd. 310 rooms. In-room: Wi-Fi, ethernet. In-hotel: 4 restaurants, bars, tennis courts, pool, spa, beachfront, bicycles, concierge, children’s programs (ages 5-12), laundry service, no-smoking rooms, minibar. AE, D, DC, MC, V. 561/533-6000 or 800/241-3333.

Stephen Heyman

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