Where in the world can you take in beautiful modernist architecture, desert landscapes and beautiful bouncy penises all at the same time? Why Palm Springs of course. John Howard explored all three.
‘And this is the smoking area,’ says the nice man from Santiago (santiagoresort.com) as a hefty penis bobs past at eye level. We’re sitting by the fire pit at what everyone agrees is the nicest swimsuit-optional gay resort in the whole of Palm Springs, the desert town famous for, in no particular order, Hollywood movie stars, mid-century modern architecture and gay men. Gay men happy to hang out at swimsuit-optional gay resorts among others.
Even our sat-nav that has got us the two hours from Los Angeles, through the desert landscape and the valley planted with 4,000 massive wind turbines to this funny little town out of nowhere is obsessed with the swimsuit-optional thing, repeating over and over, ‘You are arriving at Santiago, a swimsuit-optional resort for gay men. Santiago, a swimsuit-optional resort for gay men is on your right. You have now arrived at Santiago, a swimsuit-optional resort for gay men…’ Alright already, perv!
When our press liaison person told us that he had lodged us in Santiago, a swimsuit-optional resort for gay men, we weren’t sure. We’re here to check out some of the most beautiful mid-century modern architecture in America – the world! – and maybe take in a gay bar and discover cracking new hotels like the Kimpton Rowan (rowanpalmsprings.com), with its destination rooftop bar with a view onto the desert mountains, and The Sands (sandshotelandspa.com), which comes over a bit like Chiltern Fire Station but with a pool, fire pits and desert heat. We’re not here for hefty cock. Well, not specifically.
We needn’t have worried about not fitting in though. Not only is the atmosphere at Santiago laid-back rather than sexually charged (some of the resorts here are racier with slings and things; one even shoots gay porn live on the premises while you watch), but everyone is so friendly that even if you do get out your cock – hefty or otherwise – everyone’s over it within moments (though a foreskin can cause a stir!)
‘Why are you not taking your swimsuit off?’ we ask the French Canadian reading a very clever book about psychology on the sunbed next to us. ‘Because it would cause a sensation,’ he laughs. We can work with that.
And the friendliness that you find in the pool, where everyone talks to everyone, translates into the rest of your stay in Palm Springs. Santiago doesn’t have a licence, so you bring your own booze and pour in your room with ice and mixers they provide… making it cheap, especially if you pick up a $12 quart of vodka from Ralph’s up the road. And the free-flowing booze means folk get friendly.
So friendly that by day two we’re making out with a married couple in the pool, while every night is party night with a hot tub and the hotel staff leaving everyone to their own devices. And yet somehow it never gets intimidating or porny.
And so friendly that if you do want to go into town for dinner, you’ll always find someone to come with you. And there’s always someone who’ll come with you if you want to go out on the gay scene – a gay scene which, for a town this size, is incredible: there’s a video bar where they play showtunes, a bar/club next door where they have go-go dancers poking your eye out with their bulges before a drag queen goes on, a club across the road with a proper dancefloor and more go-gos for you to stuff your singles into the underwear of, a harder-core bar… Oh, yeah, they’re very well served when it comes to gay options.
But the reason most people come to Palm Springs is that architecture, especially during Modernism Week, when you actually get to go inside places that once belonged to American royalty from Elvis and Marilyn, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant through Liberace and JFK to Goldie Hawn and Leonardo DiCaprio, even the Obamas, all of whom clearly knew a nice piece of real estate when they saw it. There’s the Sita House from 1959, with the world’s first infinity pool, Casa Liberace, a kitschy Spanish-style number and, perhaps most famously, Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, a beautiful box of a thing set back from the road behind some desert boulders and artfully arranged cactuses.
And you don’t have to be a multi-squillionaire to enjoy the mid-century modernism of Palm Springs. The interiors stores are crammed with the stuff, hotels like the charming Villa Royale (villaroyale.com) make more than a nod to their glorious architectural past, meaning you feel you’re in some sort of 60s movie as you laze around the pool, while Acme (acmehouseco.com) will even rent you a whole mid-century modern pad of your own. Ours had three bedrooms, a huge pool and hot tub, an outdoor kitchen and furniture that if we’d thought to take a removals van, we would have nicked every stick of.
So, whether you’re here for the beer, the queer or the sheer beauty of those bricks – or all of the above – in temperatures that rarely fall below 90 degrees (and can go way up above 100! But dry and delicious), then you’re all set.
As for the man in the Speedos who was worried about causing a sensation… He did finally remove the offending garment. And did in fact cause a sensation.
Photographs at Santiago resort by Kim Utley
We flew to LAX with Norwegian Air (norwegian.com). Modernism Week runs from 13 to 23 February 2020 (modernismweek.com). Thanks to visitgreaterpalmsprings.com