The Ace Hotel and the adjoining King’s Highway restaurant are recent additions to the desert getaway scene in Palm Springs, Calif.
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - “They chose Ace because it can be the high or the low card in the deck,” said Chef Craig Mattox about the recently renovated hotel in Palm Springs, Calif. The Ace Hotel & Swim Club (http://www.acehotel.com/palmsprings). Stylish and budget-friendly, the Ace hotel founders wanted to build hotels that artistic, creative types would like and be able to afford. “A place where starving artists can live and feel inspired and comfortable,” said Mattox.
This hipster update on an old motel has the cool factor built into the bohemian camping-style rooms, retro-diner restaurant and shaded hammocks along two pools.
The hotel’s exterior, a former Howard Johnson motel, and the unassuming location away from downtown Palm Springs make the rooms, public spaces and food feel like undiscovered treasure. The building was abandoned and ramshackle before the Ace owners came in, 2008. “There were squatters. They ripped it down to studs and be built from scratch,” Mattox said. The Ace business model– finding old buildings in emerging locations, renovating on a budget, using recycled materials and local artists–has been successful in Seattle http://www.acehotel.com/, Portland and New York. Among magazine Bon Appetit’s hot 10 list for 2009, the hotel group has garnered media and guest approval for their eco, stylish design.
“They take what they’ve been given and repurpose as much as they can,” Mattox said.
“This had been part of Spring break ally. The word in town is (then mayor) Sonny Bono passed and enforced laws,” explained Mattox about laws making the area unwelcome for rowdy, partying college students. Away from the downtown core of shops, restaurants and galleries, the area became irrelevant according to Mattox.
But Ace is bringing life back with evening activities such as Sissy Bingo, Lucha Libre Live Music, and Cinemathéque Film Night to entertain guests in the restored Amigo Room.
Mattox, 37, is bringing diners back with an approachable, ordinary-seeming menu that far exceeds expectations. (see below).
A Denny’s was transformed into King’s Highway with the coffee shop/diner aesthetic left intact. The original terrazzo floor was unearthed and the booths recovered in leather. The appearance of a French press is the first hint that this is not Denny’s. Dish towels instead of paper napkins hint at eco-friendliness and just plain friendliness.
“The trend now is flavor focused. Simple, unpretentious and approachable,” Mattox said about food trends and his own at King’s Highway. “We make food that makes sense in the desert. Spicy food is often found in hot, dry places along with cooling, refreshing counterparts.” He uses as much local and organic produce as possible. His Jidori chicken comes from Petaluma in northern California, his grass-fed beef from Paso Robles.
The chef makes his fries from fresh potatoes. The pastries, chorizo and lox are also house-made. He shops the farmers’ market. He shared recipes with a local bakery, “They produce my stuff.”
The chef, originally from upstate New York, graduated with a degree in biology. His parents both worked so he became fairly independent and learned how to feed himself. “I went to regular college and started cooking for girls,” he said.
After graduating, he got a job at a lab. “ I worked from 6 to 2 then went to my restaurant job until 11 at night. I ended up much preferring the restaurant,” he recalled. For a while he split his time between Cape Cod, Mass. and Boston, cooking in delis and bars.
Next he decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. “I thought: If I’m doing this, I’ll do it right,” he said.
After earning his culinary degree, he worked for famed chef Todd English in three of his restaurants until transferring to Olives at Bellagio in Las Vegas. He spent several years there at Bellagio and at Caesar’s Palace in different positions before moving to Los Angeles as exec sous chef at the Roosevelt Hotel.
He drove out to Palm Springs to do a tasting before the hotel had been renovated and impressed the right people. “I was the 11th hire,” he said.
Mattox describes his food as “unapologetically seasoned”. He said he also believes his approachable, flavor-focused and unpretentious food dovetails with nation-wide trends. “There’s no more fine-dining. Everything is upscale casual. We’re able to grab onto that.”
Ace Hotel & Swim Club
701 E. Palm Canyon Dr
Palm Springs, CA 92264
Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trendsfor 15 years–and is now a contributing writer. If you have a great restaurant, recipe or food you’d like to share please send an e-mail. You can reach her at email@example.com or Linda@culinarytrends.net.