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Florida’s Delray Beach: Funky, Faded Tropical Glory

June 25, 2008

By Glen Warchol, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jun. 25–DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — When the afternoon thunderstorm hit, the palms outside the hotel began whipping and shaking like the pom-poms of a meth-addicted drill team, lightning strobed the flooding streets and the horizontal rain forced its way through window frames and skylights. The bartender moved a garbage can under an especially bad drip and continued making gin and tonics. Everyone else stared gape-mouthed out the open doors at the pounding deluge.

Even the dogs stopped fighting.

If it weren’t for the retina-frying tropical hues on the Colony Hotel and Cabana Club’s walls, I would have thought I was watching a restored print of Bogart’s “Key Largo.” A couple of the dyspeptic codgers ensconced in the lobby’s rattan, in fact, looked like Edward G., and the place drips that 1920s Florida ambience.

I had yearned for a vacation that promised a break from all that is Utah — and boy, had I gotten it in Florida’s Delray Beach, 20 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale. I traded in lip-cracking dryness and sleet for skin-plumping humidity and a tropical storm; the Great Salt Lake for the Atlantic Ocean; and jackrabbits and mule deer for iguanas and gators.

The historic Colony Hotel, built in 1926, has not been remodeled — its condition would best be described as rehabilitated and patched up. The furniture isn’t antique, but it’s old. And relics of the hotel’s past linger, including an old switchboard that doesn’t work and a tiny, cranky elevator that does — most of the time.

As far as I’m concerned, the Colony is perfect. I love the slightly seedy atmosphere and the competent but sometimes lackadaisical service. Add to that bonuses like funkily painted, brightly lit rooms, a tiny, well-stocked bar, a free breakfast (a real, last-all-day breakfast), yoga classes on Sunday and a private beach.

That guests-only beach includes the Cabana Club, which serves delectable lunches, including fresh-caught fish on salads or in sandwiches and tacos. It also offers the best Key lime pie I’ve encountered. Did I mention the saltwater pool?

For the duration of your stay, you are an exclusive member of it all. I suggest you buy a seersucker suit or a pink blazer. Still, even at the beach club, the Colony tilts — in a good way — toward the seedy side. For instance, members can bring to the beach their own evening meal, from PB&J sandwiches to take-out from a local eatery. And their own alcoholic beverages. (Did I say I’d left Utah behind?)

A handsome pair of longtime members, whom we came to call the Champagne Sisters after their ever-present bottle of screw-top Andre and Lexan wine flutes, advised ordering a pizza to be delivered to the beach.

Instead, we followed their example and packed a chilled bottle of Domaine Chandon bubbly along at sunset to meet the rising tide. We watched the Big Dipper appear high above the pounding surf and scurrying sandpipers. Pretty swell.

Finally, about those fighting dogs. The Colony Hotel, including its beach, is “dog friendly.” (Though a Russian blue cat seems to control the dining area of the Cabana Club.) Dogs being dogs, and over-indulgent owners being what they are, it’s inevitable that a few dustups broke out on the patio between pug and poodle.

Make no mistake, Delray is no Miami. In the place of glitz and beautiful people, you’ll get faded tropical glory and geriatrics with nasal Northeastern accents.

–GLEN WARCHOL can be contacted at gwarchol@ sltrib.com or 801-257-8739. Send comments about this story to livingeditor@sltrib.com.

Colony Hotel info

THE COLONY HOTEL AND CABANA CLUB is at 525 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, Fla. Room rates go from $100 to $150 a night in the off-season. (Double that during the winter season.) For reservations, visit www.thecolony hotel.com/florida or call 561-276-4123.

Things to see

FOR AN AFTERNOON AWAY from the beach and Delray’s convivial bar and boutique scene, drive 15 minutes west to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. It’s the last remaining shard of the destroyed northern end of the Everglades. You’ll see great blue herons, purple gallinules, egrets and, yes, alligators. The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is at 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach; 407-732-3684; www.fws.gov/ loxahatchee. There is a $5-per-car admission fee.

Where to eat and drink

–DESPITE MY JOKES ABOUT SEEDINESS, Delray Beach’s restaurants excel. We had an incredible meal at 32 East, 32 E. Atlantic Ave., 561-276-7868 or www.32east.com/home.html; a near-perfect late-night Middle Eastern snack at Boheme Bistro, 1118 E. Atlantic Ave., 561-278-4899; and a traditional Italian coal-fired pizza at Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza, 115 N.E. 6th Ave., 561-278-7911. Finally, there’s Doc’s All-American, a old-fashioned burger joint, at 10 N. Swinton Ave.; 561-278-3627.

–AS AN ALTERNATIVE to bubbles on the beach, Delray has a 150-year-old English pub. The Blue Anchor was torn down in London and reassembled in Delray Beach. Sounds awful, but somehow it works. And a pint of stout is the best way to wash the salt out of your mouth after a day on the beach, especially when you realize Winston Churchill knocked back a few within these hallowed walls. The Blue Anchor Pub is at 804 E. Atlantic Ave.; 561-272-7272.

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