Here’s to Palm Springs! Raise your glass and propose a toast — this desert paradise is shaking up the look and taste of Southern California cocktails with an appealing blend of old favorites and new flavors.
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and other popular events, the renovation and rebirth of many historic hotels, and an influx of youthful energy are all helping to breathe new life into Palm Springs’ thriving local cocktail scene.
“The bar world is becoming more of a community in Palm Springs, which is something we have been working on for the past year,” says Chad Austin, Bootlegger Tiki’s head bartender and beverage director. “There are new cocktail-focused menus popping up everywhere. It’s a really exciting time to be a part of this growth in Palm Springs.”
Shiny new trendy hotspots now happily coexist with old-school Palm Springs watering holes, providing visitors with plenty of options for happy hours any time of the day or night.
“Palm Springs cocktail culture is highly polarized,” says Shannon Stiggins, mixologist and beverage program director for V Palm Springs Hotel. “You have contemporary bars and restaurants with a younger, higher-energy craft cocktail culture operating alongside storied establishments that found their roots in catering to the likes of Hollywood’s most illustrious individuals. Whether you’re enjoying a perfectly chilled classic martini at one place or a creative cocktail at another, you’re sure to find a good time.”
Perhaps one of the most legendary stops in town, Melvyn’s Restaurant at the Ingleside Inn has long been a dining-and-drinking destination of choice, regularly hosting a who’s-who clientele of glittering guests, including Frank Sinatra, John Travolta, Liza Minnelli, Larry King, Bob Hope and many others. (Be sure to take a closer look at the autographed photos that line the walls.) The vibe here? Palm Springs glamour meets Hollywood royalty.
“We’re one of the great piano bars with dancing every evening and a great celebrity history,” says owner Mel Haber.
In keeping with the retro atmosphere, Haber says more traditional cocktails like Old Fashioneds, sidecars and Moscow mules are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, in addition to signature offerings like Melvyn’s Coffee and the “Mel-Tini,” a tasty mix of raspberry vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice.
At the Bootlegger Tiki, Austin says he’s seeing more call for adventurous recipes and trendy ingredients.
“Vodka has always been a big thing out here, but lately we’ve seen more people wanting to try different spirits like mezcal and rum varieties,” he explains. “Light and refreshing is the name of the game during summer — mules, mojitos and daiquiris.”
Case in point, in-demand Bootlegger Tiki beverages include The King Slayer, a potent blend of Atlantico Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, pineapple, lime and Don’s Spices #2 syrup; and For Luck Sake, a concoction of La Niña del Mezcal Espadin, Tequila Cabeza, yellow Chartreuse liqueur, honey, basil, celery bitters and serrano tincture.
Along with a high-end champagne and rosé program, V Palm Springs Hotel’s tiki-chic Elixir pool bar showcases a modernized pina colada called Coco in Heaven and a Cucumber Crush martini that includes Grey Goose Citron vodka, a house-made falernum syrup that calls to mind the Caribbean, cucumber, pineapple and lime.
“Tiki tropical seems to be a dominating trend in Palm Springs, as well as in other cities with a developing cocktail culture,” Stiggins points out. “At the end of the day, it provides a bit of escapism and a fun, layered experience beyond just enjoying a drink. Also, who doesn't like flowers, bananas and other creative garnishes on their drinks?”
If the hard stuff isn’t your style, no worries. Most Palm Springs bars and clubs also stock a thoughtful array of craft and domestic beers, and maintain well-vetted wine lists. (This is still California, after all.)
With so many cocktails and so little time, just deciding where to start can be something of a challenge.
“Once you get into town, just ask any bartender,” Austin advises. “We all support each other and will not steer anyone in the wrong direction.”
And bonus — there’s no need to appoint a designated driver. The BUZZ Trolley system loops through Palm Springs to provide imbibers with a free, fast (and charming) way to get around safely.
For more information about the Palm Springs cocktail scene and where to enjoy it, go to VisitPalmSprings.com.
--Amy Lynch for Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism