PALM BEACH — Miami Beach might be experiencing something of a resurgence lately, but Palm Beach hasn’t exactly been left out in the cold. The Brazilian Court, a 103-room resort that bowed on New Year’s Day in 1926 and has hosted the likes of Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Judy Garland, has been transformed by the Schlesinger family — Richard, Leslie and their son, Adam — into a full-service 80-condominium hotel, complete with a Frédéric Fekkai salon and an outpost of Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud.
In an unusual arrangement, but one that is becoming more common in the post-Sept. 11 travel industry, studio, 1- bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments for sale from $425,000 to more than $2 million can be placed in the hotel leasing pool (to pull in a bit of extra income). The restaurant opened in July and Fekkai’s salon will open in January; move-ins can begin in January and February, with the renovation completed by next September. It’s just the latest phase for the Brazilian Court, which has gone through a series of transformations in recent years and had earned a bad rap because of high-powered clients who conducted more than just business affairs there.
“I don’t want it to sound like a house of ill-repute,” says Leslie Schlesinger, over lunch at Café Boulud. “But it had a bit of a reputation for afternoon trysts. There were lots of liaisons because you can sneak in one door and out the other.”
The hotel, steps from Worth Avenue, underwent an $8 million renovation in 1984, which was when Robert Kennedy’s son David died there of a drug overdose. In 1995, the health-care entrepreneur Abe Gosman bought the place for $11 million with the intention of turning it into a senior housing facility, but then decided to keep it as a hotel. But the cachet had disappeared, and last year, the Schlesingers, who live in Palm Beach and retooled the apartment building Il Lugano into a luxury condominium, made an $18 million deal to give the place a complete image overhaul. They contacted Fekkai and Boulud in the hopes that they might come aboard. “We brought them down and showed them the physical space,” she says. “They were both turned on by the ambience.”
Boulud, who says he has declined many offers to open a restaurant in Miami, never planned to open a place in Palm Beach, either. But he appreciated the intimacy of the Brazilian Court and the creative control, although Leslie Schlesinger, who is an interior designer by trade, worked on the decor. “We didn’t want to have it look like Café Boulud in New York — we wanted casual comfort and elegance, but not too trendy, so it could last well,” Boulud adds. “The hotel was not appropriate to have something slick in it.”
The private areas, as well as a courtyard for open-air weddings, were also big selling points.
The restaurant has more of a California feel than a typical Palm Beach spot, and Schlesinger, who had the room painted mustard, describes the feel as somewhere between Provence and Napa Valley. “I also wanted the Tropics,” she explains. “The mirrors, for instance, are made of coconut shells woven together.”
It’s a scheme that permeates the rest of the hotel. “Form has to follow function. We want this to feel like someone’s second home,” she explains. “You come here to escape.”
Boulud, who also does room service and poolside service (there’s a club sandwich, natch), is one of the few star chefs currently represented in Palm Beach, and over the course of his visits, he noticed deficiencies in the island’s cuisine. He says there are three great restaurants — Café L’Europe, Chez Jean-Pierre and his — and after that, “I don’t think they have the same dedication to ingredients.” He’s also quite cognizant of serving size. “In Palm Beach, they give you two pounds of food on your plate. My motto is I’d rather put a little less on the plate that is of really great quality. I think sophisticated people in Palm Beach like it that way,” he offers. “They go out a lot, they socialize, they don’t want to eat too much.”
He is currently serving the DB Burger at lunch (Schlesinger asked for it), but so far it’s not on the dinner menu for fear of overrunning the kitchen with orders. “I created a little monster dish there, didn’t I?” he says. “We don’t want the place to be known for having the DB burger, but eventually it’ll be part of the story of the place, too.” And thus far, Boulud has no plans to open a competing restaurant anywhere in the area. “Not in Palm Beach, unless I maybe do a DB drive-thru,” he says. “Just kidding.”