Above photo: The Riviera, now. Below: the Riviera, then:
Bar/Restaurant: Sidebar at The Riviera Palm Springs
Established: 1959 (Hotel)
Area: North Indian Canyon
Typa Joint: Midcentury Modern/Hollywood Regency, Vintage Hotel
Signature Cocktail: Strawberry Balsamic Martini
I recently returned from New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, where the Riviera Casino has closed for good. It’s good to see the Riviera Palm Springs still in business after 57 years. However, I would not say it is “going strong.”
The Riviera Palm Springs opened in 1959. By 1963 it was featured in the movie “Palm Springs Weekend” starring Troy Donahue, Stephanie Powers, Connie Stevens, and Robert Conrad.
Many of the pool scenes in the film were shot at the Ocotillo Lodge (now condominiums), but here’s a scene shot at the Riviera. Wouldn’t you just die for that outdoor furniture?
In 1964, the Riviera was the site of the first diplomatic meeting between the United States (Lyndon Johnson) and Mexico (Adolfo Lopez Mateo). Sonny Bono once owned the restaurant inside. All the majors in entertainment in the 1960s went through the Riviera, including Bob Hope, the Count Basie Orchestra, Elvis and his entourage, the Rat Pack, and so many more. Stylized black and white close-ups of the greats adorn the walls of the main thoroughfare.
In 2008 the Riviera was owned by Noble House Hotels and underwent a major renovation. The vibe became Hollywood Regency and Pop Art, with oversized chairs, crystal pool table, modern chandeliers, and lacquer furniture.
Very recently Tribute Portfolio has acquired the property, and a multi-million dollar upgrade is planned in the near future.
The state of flux due to change in ownership is apparent. I phoned the Riviera in December to inquire about festivities for Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday on December 12, 2015. I was transferred and ran around until I finally threw up my hands and hung up. The Riviera missed an opportunity to pay homage to Sinatra and to make some money that night. When I visited recently, the sun-bleached cushions around the pool and The Bikini Bar, once vibrant green and orange, are now just sad. No money is being plowed back into the premises for the time being. The local paper reported that holiday parties and fundraisers were canceled due to the change in ownership, but when I visited in January there was still no construction underway! Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews from November through January have been one and two stars mostly. Very dismal.
My friends and I ventured to the Sidebar at the Riviera for happy hour. Sadly, the $6 glass of Veuve Clicquot was out with the prior ownership. We were handed happy hour menus for the Starlite Lounge, even though we were in Sidebar – more evidence that no effort is being made for quality of service during this transition.
(The Starlite Lounge, at the front of the house, is open only on weekends.)
I opted for the Strawberry Balsamic Martini, made of simple syrup, lemon juice, Chopin vodka, strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Despite the vinegar the drink was very sweet.
During happy hour the bar food is 25% off. Don’t hurt yourself with that discount! So, during happy hour, one tuna taco, normally seven dollars, was a screaming deal (NOT) at $5.25. To underscore the poor value, the taco was presented on a tray meant for two tacos, all by itself, barely large enough to stand up between the two posts on the tray.
My friend’s flatbread looked very good, the sliders were okay, and the pot stickers were tasty. But, certainly not the best food or the best deal I’ve had in the Coachella Valley.
Now is a precarious time for the Riviera. It sits at the ass-end of Indian Canyon Drive, not really within walking distance to the village, and these blips in service could cause more harm than they realize. I would like to return after Tribute Portfolio implements its vision for the property, but they’d better hurry. Cool furniture alone won’t save them.