Palm Beach has been the winter escape for Georgetowners for generations, and the fact that it’s the home of the “Winter White House” isn’t keeping us at bay, even if there’s a little more traffic — and tweeting — getting in the way.
We caught up with some Palm Beach regulars to set the current scene for us.
The most notable exclusion from this winter’s social whirl is the Red Cross Ball, a favorite for the city’s upwardly nouveau, held at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s “second home” and weekend getaway (when there isn’t a government shutdown).
Last August, the Red Cross announced that it wouldn’t hold the ball in 2018, in response, it appeared, to the president’s comments on the Charlottesville riots.
“The American Red Cross has decided we cannot host our annual fundraising event at Mar-a-Lago, as it has increasingly become a source of controversy and pain for many of our volunteers, employees and supporters,“ the organization explained in a press release.
This decision doesn’t sit well with Piper Quinn, who grew up in Georgetown and has lived in Palm Beach for years.
“It’s disappointing that people are choosing their venues on politics. If you’re serious about philanthropy, it shouldn’t be an issue,” Quinn said, adding that he has respect for the presidency as a “proud American.”
This sentiment seems to be prevalent among the Palm Beach locals, who don’t let their famous neighbors’ poll numbers interrupt life in one of the world’s most fabulous cities.
The Palm Beach Daily News reported that about 750 protesters marched near Mar-a-Lago on Jan. 20, the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. The protesters who were interviewed were not from Palm Beach, but from surrounding cities.
Meanwhile, inside Mar-a-Lago, it was Palm Beach at its best that Saturday night: a $100,000-a-couple fundraiser for the Trump Victory Fund. The president was represented by his son, Eric, a graduate of Georgetown University.
Although wealth is ever-present, Palm Beach has become increasingly “less stuffy, younger and more diverse,” said Ervin Duggan, who was CEO of the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach for many years.
Another observer put it more succinctly: “Palm Beach is no longer the place you went to visit your grandparents.”
The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted this trend, owing to the city’s influx of younger real estate buyers, in sharp contrast to the old-money retirees of the past.
The “new money” youngsters are more welcome in Palm Beach now than Trump was in the 1980s, when he purchased Mar-a-Lago, the original home of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, whose D.C. estate is now Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.
Duggan explained that, unlike President John F. Kennedy, who was both “of and in Palm Beach,” President Trump is “in” Palm Beach, but was never fully accepted by the city’s established aristocracy.
Today, parishioners at the tony Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea are known to erupt in spontaneous applause when the president and first lady arrive for services at Christmas and Easter.
“It’s a burst of pride,” Duggan said. “Many of the people there wouldn’t have Trump to dinner, but they did vote for him.”
Quinn said that Trump’s presence as president “has always been welcome. There may be more D.C. people here now, and more traffic near Mar-a-Lago,” but locals have figured out how to work around it.
The “D.C. people” infiltrating Palm Beach are more than your usual Georgetown snowbirds. There are traveling journalists, cabinet members and White House staff, who are experiencing Palm Beach’s charms for the first time.
Quinn’s restaurant Buccan on South County Road is proving to be a favorite, thanks to its “unpretentious and approachable” food and wine selections. It’s something of a Cafe Milano for the Palm Beach set.
Gerry Harrington, a government-affairs consultant who retreats to his home in Palm Beach when Congress is out of session, is a Buccan regular, but also recommends Green’s Pharmacy, a no-frills diner, for breakfast and the duck tacos at Imoto, an Asian fusion eatery.
Duggan likes Renato’s Worth Avenue for elegant dining on the patio. For the Palm Beach version of a pizza joint, he suggests Pizza al Fresco on South County Road.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your politics), you won’t run into the president at any of the city’s hot spots. He prefers to stay home, playing golf and eating at his club.