First Words — 02 April 2016
Beyond all price: What is luxury to you?

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

I waited until the elegant man in the double-breasted navy blazer and tan slacks was alone in the swirl at Club Colette on Palm Beach before asking my question.

“Forgive my eavesdropping,” I said, “But did I just hear you say you’ve been going to the same hotel – the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc – for 65 years?”

“Yes!” he said, smiling. “The same hotel.’’

The same hotel on the rocky tip of Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera. The same hotel with as many star ratings as star guests. The same hotel that smooth-polished F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920s until he was tender as the night.

“What are they doing right to keep you coming back for so long?”

The elegant man – who you’d never guess will be in his mid 80s this year – smiled again.

“Oh,” he said, “it’s the best hotel in the world.”

I paused to consider the setting. The landmark hotel on the Mediterranean in the South of France had invited the elegant man and about 30 other habitués to dinner here at the landmark private club on the Atlantic in the South of Florida.

The bar was now fully open in the canopied courtyard – just past the decorative pillars that separate Club Colette from the reste du monde – and the Perrier-Jouët was perfect. In a few moments, the club staff would open the French doors to the main dining room, where courses of colossal lump crabmeat, rack of lamb and lemon curd soufflé would arrive in waves on tables spread with soft linen and white roses.

All of this, said Cap-Eden-Roc General Manager Philippe Perd, to thank these good people of Palm Beach for their fidelity to his hotel.

“They’re our best ambassadors,” he said.

I began to believe him, as his guests laughed and toasted their happy memories of the property with glasses of Puligny-Montrachet. I’ve never been a guest at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, but, with such ambassadors, I started to think it might be the best hotel in the world, too.

“Oh, I’ve been to hotels all over the world,’’ the elegant man said, resuming our conversation. “But no one does what they do better.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“The staff,” he said. “We’ve developed a relationship with so many of them over the years.”

The bellmen. The front desk. The florist. The valet de chambre, the femme de chambre.

“They’re like friends now,” he said. “Like family.’’

Like family.

The word luxury is so over-used these days. Better to ask, in this Luxury Issue of City & Shore Magazine, “What is luxury to you?”

For some of the people profiled in the issue, it’s a classic car, a fine wine, an excellent set of speakers.

But some are also looking for a connection. The luxury of a sense of belonging.

A feeling like family.

The soufflé dishes were cleared, the coffees poured and a three-piece combo played gamely to an empty dance floor as our evening wound down at Club Colette. I was telling my seatmate a story about an afternoon I’d spent with the late Jim Ponce, who’d led tours for many years at The Breakers across town.

“We used to have so many dances here,” said Mr. Ponce, a friend himself of so many guests at the venerable Palm Beach hotel. “People today, they don’t dance anymore.”

Just then, the elegant man in the double-breasted navy blazer and tan slacks got up from the table, set by friends and family from his best hotel in the world, and danced.

— mgauert@cityandshore.com

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