Looking at a trivia night at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida was anything but trivial. Nor was it modest. Quilted pockets said “money”. Feathered bags said “peacock” along with tiaras, sky-blue blazers, slim white jeans and tweed hot pants. Men wore velvet slippers. Women wore white ankle boots, espadrille wedges and Chanel spectator pumps, a perfectly named shoe for a voyeuristic poolside scene.
The 20- to 30-year-old crowd was surprisingly young for a remote resort town known for its seventy-something snowbirds, discriminatory private clubs, long-standing celebrities and former President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Social observers have dubbed it the “youth quake.”
They embrace venerable old places like the Colony, a mid-century gem rediscovered during the pandemic after suffering as a staid relic of pink and bamboo. Now it’s become something of a social media sidekick, according to hotel management, tracking half of its bookings through Instagram links.
“Young people are discovering all the old things down here and posting about them, and the old people are amused when they see them making such a fuss,” said Celerie Kemble, 48, the interior designer who, with her mother, Mimi McMakin ( both are from Palm Beach), renovated the Colony’s lobby and 90 rooms. “It’s all kind of a hoax, but it’s fun.”
The social facelift isn’t limited to the colony. The narrow island of Palm Beach — 16 miles long with many billionaires according to a 2021 Forbes ranking and a median single-family home sale price of about $9.9 million according to Redfin — has attracted young comers from New York City and elsewhere who are looking to fled during the pandemic. Many initially stayed with their parents, then bought houses and, finding life and partying better, chose to stay.
Sofia Vergara, Kris Jenner, Kelly Klein, Daisy Soros, Tommy and Dee Hilfiger, Sylvester Stallone and his daughters and more have been spotted in its sun-drenched courtyard this winter. Inside, dinners go until midnight in an interior reminiscent of a yacht off the coast of Sardinia, which throbs like a nightclub, in an area where restaurants used to close at 10pm
But now the social focus is shifting to newer restaurants that are popular with the see-and-be-seen crowd.
The trickiest reservation on Worth Avenue, the city’s luxury window strip, is Le Bilboquet, an outpost of French-inspired bistro Upper East Side that opened in Palm Beach in 2021. Lola 41, a Nantucket seafood restaurant, opened at the White Elephant Hotel in 2020 with a lively courtyard that’s great for multigenerational people-watching. Nearby is Cucina Palm Beach, a small Italian restaurant that’s turned into a late-night hotspot with a disco ball and bottle service.
A new English-style social club, Carriage House, designed to appeal to a younger demographic, is slated to open later this year. It’s modeled after London’s Annabel’s, with bars, dining and games rooms – but no dance floor to disturb the neighbours.
“Palm Beach can be an intimidating place to be when you’re disconnected,” said Sarah Wetenhall, 45, who bought the Colony Hotel from her father-in-law with her husband Andrew in 2016, giving him a refresher. the elimination of the jacket and tie dress code at dinner, the booking of celebrity trainers like Isaac Boots, and the replacement of the old-world cabaret space with pop-up shops.
“We wanted to lower the wall and the privet hedges,” added Ms Wetenhall, “and now people are saying we’re like a non-contributory association.”
Places like the Colony Hotel, which has become an influencer-friendly destination for the younger crowd, offer something different from the local clubs, which are traditionally centered around golf, tennis, bridge, and cocktails. Recent events have included a dinner for Vogue, a party for Martha Stewart’s CBD gummies, a Veronica Beard runway show and art talks from Christie’s.
Bettina Anderson, 35, a third-generation Palm Beach resident who models for magazines and works for the Paradise Fund, a nonprofit she founded with other young philanthropists to protect the environment and vulnerable citizens, said she saw how the hotel came to life . “It’s still like it was when my parents came, but it’s much younger.”
Nick Hissom, 29, runs the Wynn Fine Art Gallery on Worth Avenue and sells his casino mogul stepfather Steve Wynn’s blue-chip contemporary collection, as well as up-and-coming artists via Aktion Art at the same location. He moved from New York City in 2020 and joined a wave of other gallery owners settling down during the pandemic, including Pace and Lehmann Maupin.
“I used to come visit on the family boat, and now we’ve moved here and immersed ourselves,” Mr. Hissom said of himself and his friend Kameron Ramirez, a 23-year-old film producer.
Michael Gregson Reinert, 30, relocated to Palm Beach from Charleston, SC a few years ago and positioned himself as a social media expert and liaison for fashion brands.
“I just sort of blended in here, with no pretensions,” said Mr. Reinert, who was recently featured in a spread in Palm Beach Illustrated magazine, posing by the sea with his chin against the horizon. “I can fill a room with the right people so that when a brand wants a shoot or dinner, everyone is beautiful.”
Some longtime locals are angered by the younger strata of society demanding immediate entry into clubs or suddenly overcrowded private schools, or pressuring the architectural review board to allow larger homes that raze gardens.
“These are less the problems of the rich and more the challenges,” said Liza Pulitzer, a real estate agent whose mother was Lilly, the local fashion icon. “But it’s part of buying a life here.”
On a Thursday evening, the Cavalier Galleries held a vernissage for the photographer Christophe von Hohenberg and drew the well-heeled bon vivants. Nick Mele, 39, who is known around town as the slim Aarons guy, photographed the scene.
“In the eight years that I’ve been here, it’s a different place and it’s booming,” said Mr. Mele, lamenting the lack of parking on Worth Avenue. “I just hope we don’t lose all of our old Palm Beach characters.”
One of those characters walked in moments later: Jane Holzer, Warhol’s “It Girl” and the subject of Tom Wolfe’s 1964 essay Girl of the Year. She has deep roots in Palm Beach and rents her space to Le Bilboquet. An exhibition of her Warhol portraits, including one of herself, was held at nearby Ben Brown Fine Arts. Ms. Holzer, 81, doesn’t mind the influx of young people.
“You’re all my friends and I think that’s the best thing that’s happened to this town,” she said as a stream of well-wishers, including Mr. Hissom and Ms. Anderson, greeted her with awe. “Andy used to love watching the kids in New York and now I get to do the same down here.”