There are few hotels in America that combine incredible architectural splendor, spectacular oceanfront settings and opulent amenities like Palm Beach’s The Breakers hotel. Legendary luxury and Gatsby-esque glamour permeate the atmosphere from the moment you turn onto the dramatic palm-lined drive and spot the famous twin turrets topping the Italian Renaissance-style edifice.
The hotel’s incomparably rich history adds gravitas to the experience in the very best way. Staying at The Breakers is a bit like traveling back in time to the Gilded Age, when the Astors and Vanderbilts ruled American society and style was of paramount importance in all aspects of the well-lived life.
Originally known as The Palm Beach Inn, it was first opened in 1896 by Standard Oil founder Henry Morrison Flagler, a tycoon with highly refined taste whose own 55-room mansion nearby is now the famed Flagler Museum. Renamed The Breakers in 1901 due to its dramatic setting on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the original wooden structure and a later replacement were damaged by fire; the current 550-room hotel, designed in homage to the Villa Medici in Rome, opened in 1926. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, it is still owned by Flagler’s descendants and today occupies 140 acres of incredibly precious real estate that encompasses the hotel, beach club, swimming pool complex, shopping arcade and 36 holes of championship golf.
The Breakers boasts a half mile of private beach, fronted by four oceanfront pools and five whirlpools, a luxurious oceanfront spa and two fitness centers. There are 10 Har-Tru tennis courts; 11 on-site luxury boutiques, including Guerlain, Ralph Lauren and Lilly Pulitzer; nine restaurants and nine bars.
Some 2,000 employees—about 30 percent more than can be found at resorts of comparable size—see to guests’ every need. One of the very few hotels of its stature that is still independently owned, the property is refreshingly distinctive and free from the homogenous features of the big luxury chains that tend to detract from a property’s individuality. The Breakers remains the epitome of Palm Beach style, often imitated and frequently referenced by designers of all kinds, but never duplicated.
The palatial hotel’s magnificent architectural details are truly awe-inspiring. Soaring painted coffered ceilings, rich gilding, elaborate molding, lustrous paneling, Corinthian columns, carved marble fireplaces and grand cornices adorn every interior space. Hallways and conference rooms alike are as lavishly appointed as Buckingham Palace. The fact that it is all original rather than some decorator’s recreation makes it that much more impressive, and the sheer scale of the place means that there is always a new discovery waiting around the corner. Walking into The Circle for breakfast one morning our jaws dropped at the majesty of its 30-ft. frescoed ceilings and eye-popping architectural elements usually only seen in museums.
The owners spend around $20 million each year to revitalize the historic property without encroaching on its legacy; over $250 million has been invested in the past decade. All the guest rooms were renovated in 2011 in a classic Palm Beach palette with pastel pink and green accents. Much of the modernization has taken place behind the scenes, but most recently a sparkling adults-only pool was added for a relaxing experience while soaking up the lush Palm Beach sun; an al fresco bar overlooking the beach called the Surf Break was opened; and the resort’s signature Flagler Steakhouse was given a complete makeover. The most impressive update however is HMF, a re-imagining of the hotel’s historic Florentine Room entertaining hall that opened in late 2012, which takes its name from Flagler’s monogram.
A veritable cathedral of decadent glamour, HMF is where one can truly indulge one’s inner Gatsby, a gastronomical and mixological ode to the ‘20s when the hotel’s current incarnation first opened its doors to society’s most discerning vacationers. Renowned designer Adam Tihany of Per Se and Restaurant Daniel’s fame was commissioned to create a décor scheme that could hold its own against the resort’s most spectacular public space, patterned after the 14th-century Palazzo Davanzati in Florence. Its most elegant element is a huge glass and chrome wine library anchoring one end of the massive room. Cocktail waitresses decked out like Jazz Age party girls proffer perfectly-crafted cocktails, gourmet bites and of course a world-class wine list—featuring 1,600 varietals from around the globe—while a DJ spins a customized soundtrack of suitably stylish dance music with a Roaring Twenties twist.
HMF has quickly become the city’s hottest nightspot, and during peak season it is thronged with beautiful people, despite the space’s heroic proportions. It’s one of the sexiest and most stylish venues we’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world, with impeccable food and drink to match. It is a fitting homage to Flagler, a self-made man and billionaire (by today’s terms) who founded Palm Beach and thereby created one of the most enduring cultural icons of American society (he also came up with Miami in his spare time). Certain menu items pay tribute to the gourmet food truck movement with ethnic overtones such as wild boar empanadas and duck Bao buns with blood orange ponzu sauce.
High rollers have of course made The Breakers a second home, and a row of Bentleys parked outside its impressive portico is a not an uncommon sight; though the hotel houses a wide range of accommodations from classic ocean view rooms to the 1,700-square-foot Imperial Designer Suite.
In 2011 a Saudi princess threw herself a $2 million birthday bash at the hotel, flying in Usher and Ne-Yo for the occasion, and at least six U.S. Presidents have stayed at The Breakers as have a slew of celebs like Cameron Diaz, Gwen Stefani, Alec Baldwin and Elton John. But it is the property’s own personality rather than those of its A-list guests, which truly sets it apart.
Jared Paul Stern
Jared Paul Stern has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the New York Times' T magazine, GQ, WWD, Vogue, New York magazine, Details, Hamptons magazine, Playboy, BlackBook, the New York Post, Bergdorf Goodman magazine and Luxist among others. The founding editor of the Page Six magazine, he has also served as a judge for everything from the International Best Dressed List to the F...(Read More)