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A South Florida Staycation at The Ben, Autograph Collection in West Palm Beach

Just a short train ride north from Miami, waterfront scenery at a leisurely pace

by Celia Almeida

December 2, 2022

The Ben lobby / Photo: Courtesy of The Ben

South Florida has experienced a remarkable population boom in recent years as businesses and remote workers have begun to look at Miami as more than a destination for snowbirds. For a respite from the crowds—and a staycation with familiar scenery at a leisurely pace—I checked into The Ben in West Palm Beach.

Avoiding the frenzy of a 70-mile drive up I-95, I took a ride on the Brightline, an intercity train with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm and, next year, Orlando. One reason to skip the highway: the chance to savor a couple of refreshing Cool Spindles—Hendrick’s gin with fresh cucumber, mint and lime—at the station’s Mary Mary bar before boarding the train.

Just over an hour after leaving downtown Miami, I arrived in the heart of West Palm Beach and eschewed cars once again, opting instead for a ten-minute walk to The Ben along lively Clematis Street. As the doorman opened the bulky wooden double doors, my eyes danced from fringed chandeliers to swinging wicker basket chairs to the lobby’s focal point—a bookshelf stacked with salvaged books overlayed with the painted silhouette of a woman, her likeness reflected in a photo on the elevator doors across from the display.

Spruzzo restaurant / Photo: Courtesy of The Ben

This is how I first learned of Byrd Spilman Dewey, the eccentric author and conservationist whose joie de vivre serves as the prime inspiration for The Ben. Dewey, a grandniece of President Zachary Taylor, relished entertaining at her estate, Ben Trovato, in the late 19th century, during the first of many mass migrations to South Florida. The Ben is named after the home, one of the first in the area. Its lobby bookshelf pays homage to Dewey’s writing career, as does The Ben’s Book Butler program, through which guests can request a book from a rotating menu curated by The Palm Beach Book Store.

At check-in, I received two olive-green RFID wristbands that doubled as room keys. I stuffed one in my wallet and wore the other one during the entirety of my stay. In my room, the bed beckoned with Turkish linen and a plush leather headboard, but I zipped past it in favor of the furnished balcony, where I was treated to golden-hour views of Palm Harbor Marina and Palm Beach island. The Ben is the first waterfront property in downtown West Palm Beach, and it was luxe enough to make me feel as if I had made my way across Lake Worth Lagoon to the ritzier side of the bridge. But a glimpse of The Breakers resort’s twin towers reminded me I was still on the mainland, steps from the restaurants and nightlife on Clematis.

PB&J old-fashioned / Photo: Courtesy of The Ben

My one-night solo getaway proved far too short, so I returned to The Ben a few weeks later, this time with my sister and two girlfriends. The black-and-white lobby portrait of Dewey briefly split in two as we stepped into the express elevator and exited at Spruzzo, a Mediterranean-inspired rooftop bar and restaurant. A massive mushroom-shaped canopy resembling interlocking tree branches hung over the bar and vied for our attention, but we were quickly distracted by the panoramic waterfront vistas.

With glimpses of the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in the distance, we contemplated employing the hotel’s car service to take us across the bridge to the beach. The house car—named Bruno after Dewey’s dog and the subject of her namesake young adult book—shuttles guests to Palm Beach and anywhere within four miles of The Ben. The hotel also offers bike rentals—an ideal way to explore downtown West Palm Beach.

But my companions and I elected to maximize our time on the property by sitting poolside at one of the rooftop cabanas. We filled up on Margherita pizzas, and our gracious pool attendant, Mario, brought us a few rounds of drinks. My favorite was the Rosa martini, made with Drumshanbo Gunpowder gin, St. Germain, lavender rose syrup and lemon. I watched as its pink, rose-shaped ice cube disappeared into my glass, scorched by the South Florida sun.

Banana bread French toast / Photo: Courtesy of The Ben

As it turned out, I was pretty zapped, too. I passed out on the cabana couch for what felt like 15 minutes but was actually an hour. My friends took a break from soaking in the pool to photograph the moment for posterity. In the picture, the relaxation registered on my face even as I slept.

We pushed our departure back a few times until we realized we were not quite ready to meet Spruzzo by night, when the rooftop takes on a clublike atmosphere. Begrudgingly, we grabbed our bags and made our way to the Brightline station. On the ride back to Miami, we plotted our return to The Ben.