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Palm Beach Power Structures

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27th Dec 2016

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Palm Beach has long been a haven for international power brokers and wealthy industrialists, a fashionable stop on the society winter circuit. As Donald Trump takes the reins in the US, it looks set to become much more - a place where new power structures are set to coalesce.

In reality, Palm Beach is very small and very private, a narrow barrier island with beaches eroding from ever-stronger tides and refilled each summer with imported sand. It is hemmed in by a wide western bay, and ringed by pleasant but less influential places like West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Shores, Palm Beach Lakes and other beachy sounding villes, like Leisureville and Briny Breezes.

The social scene here plays out primarily in private clubs and palatial homes, but the historic Breakers Palm Beach plays the role of community living room, where everyone gathers to see and be seen at important moments, especially between the holidays or early in the New Year. The main bar, HMF, is a veritable scene, where the drinks are excellent and so is the people watching. Down the road, the Chesterfield is also an important host to many of the seasonal galas and fundraisers that dot the Palm Beach social calendar.

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The magnificent homes and clubs of Palm Beach straddle the AIA Florida State Road like double vertebrae, stacked north to south with homes of billionaires and corporate rulers representing old family money and new tech empires.

At the base of the spine, like a coccyx, sits Mar-a-lago, the private club of Donald Trump and a resort that looks set to become iconic - in the way that Kennebunkport and Praire Chapel Ranch played outsize roles in previous administrations. Mar-a-lago is of course a private club, but a place of a higher power everyone can join is the Church of Bethesda by the Sea, just down from the Breakers and open to all.

This is where Donald Trump married Melanija Knavs on January 22, 2005. The Church of Bethesda by the Sea is both a historic power broker haven, having been the go-to Church for Palm Beach residents and probably America's new primary presidential place of worship, especially after he attended Christmas Eve services there shortly after being elected. For the area's very large and influential Jewish community, its Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach, one of many conservative and orthodox places of worship.

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For lunch and evenings, there are a few important restaurants. Ta-boo, where the one window table and the back corner hidden tables signal both power and intentions, has been hosting secrets, affairs and low cut blouses since the 1950s with remarkable precision.

Renato's comes highly recommended by and for locals, and for a quick but casual afternoon, nothing beats the unpretentious and well presented E.R. Bradley's Saloon, where a the Semper Fi mottos and friendly valets provide a man-of-the-people moment.

At the other end of the scale is Buccan, widely acclaimed to be the best restaurant in Palm Beach - excellent fare and a lively atmosphere - younger than the Palm Beach average - which make it nearly impossible to get a reservation.

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If you're not splashing out on the Breakers or staying with friends, the Grandview Gardens Guest House in West Palm Beach has a lot to offer. Situated in the historic district of Grandview Gardens, it features well appointed service, a renowned breakfast beautifully presented, and bougainvillea everywhere. The hosts work hard to provide comfortable experiences for their guests, which include Europeans, Chinese, Russians, and other international types who find their way to the area.

Palm Beach is refined and quiet, presenting an air of silence that is appealing and relaxing for many reasons, not least the knowledge that behind closed doors all sorts of things are happening. Even out and about, the person at the next table could be a Colombian oligarch, a 'retired' 40 year old Wall Street broker, or an architect who specializes in ridiculous requests, none of whom are probably aware the beaches that made Palm Beach famous are eroding by much larger forces. Then again, no one is there for the beach.