Culinary Cool Lives In Palm Springs

The smiling man in the crisp tuxedo welcomes us with a firm handshake, “We’ve been expecting you,” he says. “I put a table aside for you but people keep moving around.” They sure do.

Past the long bar, where they line up two deep behind the stools, couples trip the light fantastic on the small mirror-lined dance floor in front of the band. Women in vintage Pucci dresses – one of them wearing a fascinator hat – sing along to their favourites. Low tables cram all the open floor space and even the baby grand piano has bar seats around its curved edges. It’s Sunday night at Melvyn’s in 2015, but it might as well be a Friday night in 1975.

Famous dishes to feed the famous people who have eaten here over the years, everyone from Liza Minelli and Gerry Lewis to Barry Manilow and Cher

Little has changed at this Palm Springs landmark in 40 years, back when Sinatra used to raise his Jack Daniels flag to let the neighbours know the party was on. Brian, the dapper Maitre’d who welcomed us, has worked there since then. So has the bartender, David Shunick. He can make you a JD on the rocks just like he did for Ol’ Blue Eyes, when he was a regular who would sometimes hop up on the stage to belt out a couple of tunes with the house band.

The dining room menu evokes a time when every restaurant had the same dishes, and those dishes had proper names: Crepes Suzette, Oysters Rockefeller, Steak Diane. Famous dishes to feed the famous people who have eaten here over the years, everyone from Liza Minelli, Dinah Shore and Gerry Lewis to David Hasselhoff, Barry Manilow and Cher.

Alright, maybe those aren’t the hottest celebrities of the moment, and crepes suzette might not be the cutting edge of the culinary zeitgeist, but that doesn’t mean Palm Springs is a dusty time capsule. In fact, it just might be thriving—the rare time when a once-hip city can be made essential again. It’s not entirely about new restaurants opening, or about nostalgia. It’s about both. I’m visiting some of those classic places, seeing how they’ve stayed relevant today, but while I’m tracing the steps of 70s celebrities, I’m also discovering the new spots that are brining fresh ideas to the desert city.

My base of operations is The Parker Palm Springs Hotel, a gorgeous, garden-filled property that itself has a long, proud history and a decidedly modern outlook. Built in 1958 as California’s first Holiday [what is that?], singing Cowbow Gene Autry later turned the property into his own private ranch. In the late 90’s Merv Griffin purchased the land and opened Merv Griffin’s Resort and Givenchy Spa. Thankfully, the Parker group took over in 2004 and injected a bit of cool back into the property.