While the bulk of the nightlife is in Palm Springs, there are two winning spots in Cathedral City as well. Trunks, the first to open in town, boasts a kind of vintage gay bar look, with rainbow flag hanging from the ceilings, dark walls, a front room with U-shaped bar, large second room with tables and chairs, pool room, and a patio. The very sweet bartender is the only person in the room under 40, and there’s a neighborhood-y feel that’sfar from the cruisy atmosphere of Palm Springs bars. Similarly, Studio One 11, in a little strip mall next to a taco joint, feels a little more modern but just as comfy, with a rainbow flag on the wall at the entrance, hanging cone-shaped lights above the long bar, smoking and non-smoking patio space, and dark walls. The crowd here is also all male and mainly middle-aged, and the bar staff is nice as can be. If you need a break from the more high-powered Palm Springs spots, I definitely suggest these two down-to-earth and welcoming places.
When it comes time to eat, you’ll find a wonderful array of creative, culinary options from which to choose. I start at Workshop Kitchen + Bar, and it’s a fabulous start. If (unlike me) you plan ahead, you can snag one of the booths, or a table in the pleasant courtyard. I’m happy, though, with my bar seat and a house-made ginger beer. Then begins one of the best meals I’ve had in ages: a “cauliflower steak” that’s a thick slab adorned with swirls of tahini and little cilantro blossoms. More wonders to come with possibly the best chicken breast in the history of chicken breasts, moist and flavorful, an orange-roasted carrot lying insouciantly on top and surrounded by more roasted vegetables and a green curry chicken jus. It’s (dare I say it) a work of art, and at Workshop you get that rarity: food that tastes as good as it looks.
Another favorite: Grand Central, located in the erstwhile Desmond’s Department store in La Plaza, a 1936 outdoor shopping strip. It’s a friendly gathering spot that just happens to have great food. There’s a gallery at the back featuring local artists, a large clock that reminds me of the one I’d meet friends under in that “other” Grand Central, and a look that effortlessly combines vintage (like the original stamped concrete floors) with a thoroughly modern overhaul. As I tuck into the world’s best avocado toast, livened with blood orange vinaigrette and arugula, owner Rita Capponi, who opened Grand Central with her husband in May 2018, tells me of the warm welcome she’s received in Palm Springs: “There’s a kindness and a friendliness, that if I were to imagine a small town, this would be it, but with a sophistication level.” That could be a description of Grand Central itself.
Just around the corner lie’s everyone’s beloved Lulu California Bistro, a spacious and buzzing spot at the heart of town where I start with fabulous ahi tuna on wonton “tostadas” and continue with a rich wild mushroom soup, lovely chicken piccata (yes, I get hungry), and, why not?, a humongous glass filled with cotton candy. The Lulu owners opened Acqua California Bistro in Rancho Mirage in 2017, with many of the same menu items in a chic, modern spot. There’s a lot of glass, an open kitchen, a patio with misters for hot weather, and (of course) an amazing mountain view. The food is just as fab as Lulu (I indulge in an avocado and tuna tartare tower that’s the epitome of what a “California bistro” should serve).
In Palm Desert, AC3 offers food that’s so beautiful it could be a work of art, but one taste of the sweetcorn/fennel soup with lobster and a balsamic glaze, and pappardelle with roasted mushrooms, onions, and peas, and you realize it’s as much about beautiful flavors as beautiful presentation!
You’d expect the Design District to have great dining, and it doesn’t disappoint. In addition to Workshop, there’s Eight4Nine, a sophisticated spot with a lovely patio and a wide array of culinary delights. Just three minutes’ walk away is my favorite coffeehouse in town, Ernest Coffee, where I have my usual espresso at a high wooden table under the mural of book-laden shelves, before my curiosity gets the better of me and I order the seasonal special, a fig/honey iced latte. Surprise: it’s amazing, rich, sweet, and refreshing.