It's 102 degrees in the shade on a late July afternoon, but the staff at the Parker Palm Springs is just beginning to feel the real heat -- the kind that comes with exposure. In a few hours, the first of six episodes of "Welcome to the Parker," a reality TV show, will be broadcast on Bravo.
Time for a party. The hotel cooked up a concession stand menu, tossed fat pillows on the ballroom floor and invited local media, dignitaries, eccentrics and hotel guests for a Parker-style family movie night. Watching two episodes with the city's mayor cheering ("Publicity!") and the hotel's general manager wincing ("Foul-ups!"), it's clear why Bravo sought this location.
The place has character, as I discovered on a recent two-day stay.
It is, in fact, a character, says the hotel's designer, New York ceramist Jonathan Adler. The hotel opened in 2004, and at the time, Adler told me he envisioned the Parker as "your great aunt's estate. She's an Auntie Mame type who traveled the world and had innate panache." You either love her or hate her, and the resort too.
Mrs. Parker, as Adler calls her, likes the irregular, geometric shapes of '60s décor and mixes them with Peruvian wall hangings, statuary of exotic animals and sequins on her couch pillows. She revels in bright colors -- vivid orange on the front doors, lipstick red on the room chairs and her signature hot pink everywhere in between.
She puts featherbeds over the mattress, sheepskins beside your bed at night and caviar on her breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. She keeps a spotless house and pool.
She has tucked butterfly needlepoint pillows on guest room beds and shopped Middle Eastern bazaars for leather ottomans, bright baskets and giant round wicker chairs. She adores Adler's ceramics (he's known for his pottery, not his hotel design) and gives them prominent display on her midcentury modern furniture.
Adler's self-described quirky modernist style is an acquired taste, one that, three years ago, I didn't think would fly outside of design circles. The visual landscape was too manic; the references pulled from things too recently seen at flea markets. In hindsight, it appears that he mined a rich, influential vein. His look, in ceramics and décor, is going strong.
To appreciate the aesthetic, it helps to have grown up in the '60s, to work in fashion, entertainment or design, and to love a good laugh. If so, you may find the Parker is still a happy, funny, funky place. The lobby, for instance, features knights in armor, a twinkling glassware collection, hanging wicker chairs swinging beside the fire pit and a vintage store sign that says "drugs."
Its motel past has been nearly obliterated with lush exterior landscaping, red lacquered doors, marble bathrooms and generous use of fancy wallpapers. The floor plan, brick walls and hallway noise still betray its downscale past, but that's a trade-off for the room's king-size bed with down surroundings, stacks of books ("Scruples," "Fear of Flying"), 18 dresser drawers, double closets, Peter Thomas Roth sunscreen and a pot of Blistex.
My estate room was $125 a night, but the clerk gave me an upgrade because it was low season. What a deal. During the high-heat, low-price summer, it's a good destination to escape crowds and the everyday because the Parker is a hotel unlike any other. No wonder it's a great spot for a show.
I long ago planned to arrive on the debut evening to compare the two realities -- the actual and the televised.
The TV production shows that no matter how hard staff members try to be perfect, they still mess up. I had my share of nervous, awkward service, and a greater amount of friendly and enthusiastic attention. The staffers seem energized by the focus on their workplace and individual skills.
The 131-room and 12-villa resort isn't so much soothing as it is playful and entertaining. The spa is the Palm Springs Yacht Club, or PSYC for short. Ships' portholes and hardware distinguish the locker room, and soaring two-story curtains frame the check-in desk. The treatment room walls are deep navy and feel cozy, like an elegant yacht below deck. My favorite new spa luxury? Separate men's and women's indoor saltwater pools, each long enough for laps, curtained and columned, out of the sun, quiet, free of gawkers and, often, other swimmers. A standard massage or facial is $150, the new average cost at upscale hotels.
A $30 daily resort fee (not mentioned when you book rooms) covers access to the spa facilities, the gym, valet parking and, if there are any during the slow season, exercise classes. Two outdoor pools and courts for tennis, croquet and petanque welcome the active, hammocks and sling chairs the passive.
With a 2-year-old ballroom done in subdued taupe and mirrors, and a reconfigured spa building, the Parker is fine-tuning its identity. Although it aims to be a family destination, I saw only one child and no dogs during my two-day stay. It's been popular with businesses seeking to associate with its hipster chic. To round out the offerings, the hotel added a new boutique, Veri Peri, but staffed it with indifferent clerks and far too much wool for summer.
The food is as grand and international as the décor. Norma's, the breakfast and lunch spot, offers six variations of eggs Benedict and multiple takes on fancy breakfast carbs. The food at Mr. Parker's, the restaurant named for Mrs. P's wastrel husband, is a manly counterpoint to the place, although the missis adds her needlepoint, here on bar stools listing the seven deadly sins.
I do suspect that Mr. Parker has an extraordinary fear of vampires. How else to explain why I'm still reeking of garlic, two days past my $41 bouillabaisse at his namesake restaurant? Portions, however, are gigantic (a dozen shrimp in my stew, plus lobster and more), as they are at Norma's, where the garlic also is Dracula strength. Norma's entrees cost $12 to $25, unless you order the 12-ounce caviar frittata for $1,000.
The fine-dining restaurant is open only on weekend nights in the summer. Menu items include butternut squash ravioli ($29) and veal chops ($46); dessert is $14. Norma's closes at 3 p.m., so you must summon room service waiters, who will mount their tricycles with trays to deliver drinks anywhere on the property from 9 a.m. to sunset.
You'll need lots of frosty libations to stay cool out here. The media spotlight is shining just as hot as the sun.
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