Ducking into the dining patio of Le Bilboquet last March, I couldn’t tell if I had come upon Brigadoon, Shangri-La, The Emerald City, or the lip of a volcano about to blow. The pandemic wasn’t close to over, although the high-rollers who had colonized the island from New York, Chicago, and other cities (where dining meant eating in huts in Canada Goose parkas) had already gotten their vaccinations in Florida whether they qualified for them or not.
The gloves—and fur hats along with the masks—were off, and there was even a bit of table hopping and air kissing. But mostly, it was the ineffable chic of the tanned, bejeweled, and defiantly dressy crowd that caught my attention and made me think of Saint-Tropez, Saint Barth, or any white-hot high season social cyclotron where France rather than America sets the tone.
Indeed, the sun-dappled courtyard and its white cloth-covered tables contained the kinds of players that made me feel smug for being among them. Over there, Tommy and Dee Hilfiger with Kris Jenner. Over here, Sofia Vergara. Kelly Klein. Fanjuls. There’s Norton Museum Director Ghislain d’Humières with philanthropist Daisy Soros. Jane Holzer, who owns the building. Sylvester Stallone‘s daughters, in town since their father bought a house. It was a puffed pastry of a multi-layered scene (with seating as complex as trigonometry) by a stucco wall where even the ivy seemed to be social climbing.
Alvin Valley, the new-to-town women’s designer, had invited me to join him at his regular table. “I call this my cafeteria because I always run into whoever I want to see when I eat here,” Valley told me as Le Bilboquet’s own vin rosé flowed and the classic and rigorous salad niçoise justified an order of impeccable pomme frites. “And it’s always so chic.”
Conspicuous dining has a new home on Worth Avenue, which was up until now quiet by 9pm and completely dead by 10pm when Renato’s, Bice, and Ta-boo ran out of customers. Along with the younger crowd who migrated to the once staid little island city during the pandemic, Le Bibloquet arrived last winter in time to draw them out of their newly renovated homes and throw them into a heady mix of young and old. In no time, it reconfigured a tired social scene dominated by charity balls, private clubs, and discreet private dining.
“Bilbo, as we call it, has added a much-needed late-night energy to Worth Avenue,” says Sarah Wetenhall, who took over the nearby Colony Hotel and brought the scene at Swifty’s down by several decades, turning it into a kind of club without dues. “When Palm Beachers see faces they know, they feel comfortable and let their hair down.”
It’s easy to understand the attraction. Even without the beautiful diners and the staff animating the place, it is perfectly designed to suggest a sort of ineffably casual elegance. Inside, beyond its coveted patio seating, the décor is understated, yet modern, with old school Florida terrazzo floors, pleasing jewel tone banquettes, tropical rattan sconces and curved lines wherever you look. It oozes private yacht sailing cruising to Sardinia, Patmos, or Ravello.
Novelist and writer Bob Morris takes in the scene at Le Bibloquet, photographed by Jun Lu, for PALMER; read his full dispatch in PALMER Vol. 1, available now.