The Southern California desert resort town has a reputation for partying that's underlined by the annual White Party on Easter weekend. But Palm Springs's quieter attractions are ample, as one long-term gay couple discovered.
Bruce C. Steele
What a shock! A week or two ago, an NBC Dateline special featured Palm Springs, Calif., as the location where two young lovers had quarreled and one then wandered off and got lost in a ravine for four days.
The stuck-in-a-ravine thing I understood. After all, how many gay men have disappeared into K-holes in that desert town? But couples? In Palm Springs?
Palm Springs has a reputation among gay people as a singles playground. The notorious White Party on Easter weekend brings thousands of gay men to the Southern California desert resort, most of them looking to hook up with other gay men. The annual Dinah Shore golf tournament--now officially called the Nabisco Championship, scheduled for March 25-31 this year--brings a simlar influx of gay women, and while the ladies haven't quite the same horndog reputation as the "circuit" boys, I have heard tales. Let's just say, the women know how to have just as good a time as the men. Each in his or her own way.
So with all the emphasis on the single life, why would I--as half of a 15-year couple--choose Palm Springs as a vacation spot for my partner, Christopher, and me?
Simple: We wanted to relax in the sun for a long weekend, without a care in the world. We wanted to have cocktails by the pool and gourmet dinners by a fireplace. We wanted to wander through galleries and shops and maybe even visit the famous mountain tramway outside of town--where those Dateline lovers had been--to gawk at the view from 8,000 feet up. And then head back to a comfy gay resort for cocktails by the pool. Etcetera.
So that's what we did.
The author at 8,000 feet above Palm Springs
While some friends recommended the luxury hotels in town, or maybe the East Canyon Hotel & Spa, which caters to a gay clientele, Christopher and I opted to check out one of the many smaller men's resorts in town. After eliminating those that seemed just a little too determined to sell the sex angle, we chose the Triangle Inn, whose Web site promises "No labels, no attitude, just right!" as well as both "Clothing optional" and "Warm & inviting."
The Triangle Inn sits on a tree-shaded corner of a quiet, secluded street.
It was an excellent choice. For less than the cost of a luxury hotel room, we got a one-bedroom suite that was in fact a small apartment, complete with dining area and full kitchen, with coffeemaker, cups, glasses, dishes, and some cookware. (We didn't cook, but we did stock up on orange juice, sandwich makings, and wine.) It had VCRs in both the bedroom and the very comfortable living room, which also had a full-size stereo. We settled right in.
Enough about the cookware, you say--what about the "clothing optional"? Well, it means exactly that. Some guests wore swimsuits around the full-size pool, some didn't. Most went buff in the six-person hot tub. The emphasis was not on the nudity but on the "optional"--no one felt pressured either way. Christopher and I did get the impression that some of the guys were making themselves available for more than conversation (to us? to one another?), but we weren't interested and no one made a big deal out of it. As for some of the other guests--to quote Brittany Murphy in Don't Say a Word, "I'll never te-e-ell."
There were ample opportunities to hang out with the other guests in a more platonic way: continental breakfasts by the pool; afternoon sunning and swimming; and an early evening cocktail hour, during which the hosts provided pitchers of margaritas and vodka-cranberry. Christopher and I headed off to dinner with one couple and their traveling companion and made an evening of it. Other guests--and more than half were couples; all, as far as I could tell, were gay--seemed to keep to themselves, and that was fine too.
Dinner. Well, that group outing was to a Japanese steakhouse not far from the Triangle, and while it was fine, if you've been to one Japanese steakhouse (or several, as I have), you know what it was like, say no more. If knife tossing and blandly grilled food are your thing, go for it. Personally, I wish we'd been more adventurous.
The next night we opted for a more luxurious (and yes, more expensive) meal at The Chop House in downtown Palm Springs. If you enjoy impeccable service and amazing food, I'd suggest you make reservations ahead of time at the Chop House. Meat eaters only, I should add, all apologies to my friends at PETA. Christopher and I spent a most relaxing two hours at the Chop House, in a comfy booth with a view of the amazing faux Egyptian mural pictured on the restaurant's Web page. We had a variety of delicious appetizers, the "wedge" salad (a surprisingly pleasing quarter-head of iceberg lettuce with house dressing), and the Chateaubriand for two, cooked to perfection (medium rare). Wine with dinner, and coffee with dessert, where we broke our usual habit of sharing one order and instead splurged on separate portions of a deadly divine chocolate mess and a fresh slice of cheesecake. We were fat and very happy by the end, having been attended to by a pleasant waiter, a wine steward, and a couple of servers.
Nighttime in Palm Springs suggests the obligation to go barhopping, so we dragged ourselves over to Hunter's, a roomy video and dance bar that was packed with 300 or so people, men and a smattering of women, all watching that evening's showing of Queer as Folk. No one moved, talked, or ordered a drink until it was over. Life then returned, and as always I found the diverse, unpretentious atmosphere of gay bars everywhere outside of New York and West Hollywood (where I live) to be a joy. Imagine! Women and men socializing together! Regular guys outnumbering the body fascists! Go figure.
Nevertheless, we didn't stay late. We wanted to get up the next morning to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Just outside of town, the tramway has two 80-person, rotating cable cars that take guests from the bottom of a mountain to the top, a 10-minute ride that lifts you to an elevation of 8,500 feet. The temperature drops 30 degrees along the way, so dress for the top, not the bottom.
Don't look down! The view from the back of the tram
I've talked to countless gay men who've been going to Palm Springs for years who have never been on the tramway, but I highly recommend it for a few hours change of pace. Yes, it's "touristy" and very straight and packed with middle-American families. But the view of the desert from the mountaintop is spectacular, and if you've got time, there are some easy trails through the Mount San Jacinto State Park at the top. (Warning: Stick to the paths, or you may wind up lost, chasing lizards for dinner, and explaining your stupidity on Dateline.) There are also a bar, a restaurant, and--of course!--gift shop, but the trip is really about the startling contrast between the heat of the desert and the cool of the mountain, and the scenery. Have a drink if you like, but have dinner back in town.
The beauty of Mount San Jacinto State Park
Christopher and I also enjoyed shopping, visiting the galleries, and several other delicious meals--but you've heard enough about our trip. Each couple can create an itinerary to suit their interests, from golf to horseback riding to doing absolutely nothing for days on end. Or dance your butts off and party till dawn.
I'll finish with a story from one of our Triangle Inn hosts: During the White Party, he said, his guests tend to divide into two shifts. There are the regular visitors (not unlike Christopher and myself) who enjoy spending much of the day by the pool, mingle for evening cocktails, head out for dinner and some barhopping, then return for a late-night hot tub soak under the stars, and bed. Then there's the second shift, the White Party guys, who might get up in time for evening cocktails, spend all night out dancing (and whatever), and return to the resort after dawn, just in time for breakfast, and bed. The two shifts meet only for breakfast and, sometimes, for evening cocktails. But it works nicely for all concerned, and everyone has a good time. So it is, I imagine, any given weekend in Palm Springs, with or without a White Party. Pick your shift, and enjoy.