A whimsical West Palm hotel pays homage to an eccentric author and animal lover
A monument of glass, steel and pixie dust, The Ben was chiseled from the stuff of legend.
The waterfront West Palm Beach hotel, which opened a year ago,
is named after the Ben Trevato, a Victorian-style mansion that once occupied an edge of swampland in Boynton Beach. Its owner, author Byrd Spilman Dewey, settled into the estate in 1887 and nurtured an environment of raucous parties and elite salons cluttered with a menagerie of animals.
Roughly translated from Italian, ben trevato means “a story well invented,”and the history of this proto-B&B is full of Barnumesque yarns. In one such tale, a baby elephant sauntered onto the property, clomped its way through the ornate trappings and rifled through the sock drawers. According to the hotel’s P.R. material, “hushed whispers passed around the room tell of people riding crocodiles through halls with glittering chandeliers.”
The literal location of the Ben hotel is more prosaic: It’s on the site of the former West Palm Beach City Hall. But the visionaries behind it have successfully channeled the nostalgic whimsy of the Dewey chateau.
Designer Malcolm Berg, who won a 2019 NearMuse Award for Boutique Hotel Design from Luxury Travel magazine, mixed concrete with delightfully anachronistic neon in an effort to combine, in Sales Director Thom Stewart’s words, “the luxury of Palm Beach with the grittiness of Old Florida.”The lobby features a dark-wood fireplace, animal-themed trinkets, a playable chess set and a towering shelf of antique books straight out of Arthur Conan Doyle, but take a second look at the bookshelf: It’s also a work of modern art, with a person’s face sprayed across the bindings.
All of the artwork adorning the Ben’s walls has been carefully chosen, and in some cases commissioned, to harken to the Dewey home and its beastly reputation. In one, a flock of sheep has taken over a sitting room. In another, an enormous flamingo scrapes the sky with the actual Ben Trevato well below; a pint-sized elephant is sitting incongruously on the bird’s head.
Dewey’s most famous book is the children’s adventure Bruno, about her beloved dog. In the Ben, there’s an oversized papier-mâché likeness of Bruno perched on every floor, just outside the elevators, alongside a rotary phone and giant novelty hourglass. It makes for the hotel’s most popular photo op.
Of course, a quality hotel needs to be more than a high-concept museum, and the Ben offers plenty of modern amenities alongside its quirky history. The rooftop pool, with its wavy, embedded chairs, adjacent cabanas and million-dollar view of The Breakers across the Intracoastal, is a popular hangout day and night. Monogrammed Ben bicycles, in Miami Hurricanes colors with helmet and knapsack provided, are free to rent, and are
a great way to access the Flagler Memorial Bridge onto Palm Beach, just minutes away.
For foodies staying at the hotel, the Ben offers two in-house alternatives to the bevy of restaurants just outside its doors. Nightly, the Ben’s upscale option, Proper Grit, opens, helmed by Executive Chef Andre Sattler, formerly of Miami’s Acqualina and Mandarin Oriental. His seasonal beet and goat cheese salad is one example of subtly innovating a classic: Its two main ingredients go together like a“Grease”hit, but it’s the nuanced details—cilantro and lemon crème fraiche and toasted walnuts—that lift it over the top, creating an off-“beet”salad that is both bold and light on its feet.
More casual options are available at the poolside Spruzzo, including the dynamite Manchego bites, which look like tater tots and taste like a more erudite version of mozzarella sticks. For breakfast—or weekend brunch—back at Proper Grit, do not miss the French toast, an indulgent way to start any morning, complete with spiced mascarpone, melt-y spheres of butter, fresh maple syrup and sprinkled berries. It’s the sort of gastronomic nirvana that, like leashed crocodiles and tiny elephants, lingers in your dreams.
One more thing
PUP PERKS: The Ben is a dog-friendly hotel that goes the extra mile to make Fido happy. The $100 pet fee includes free takeaways both practical and adorable, from rubber collapsible water bowls to waste pickup baggies in their own carrying cases to cotton doggie bathrobes that match those provided for human guests. Post-COVID crisis, pet owners can expect to receive a signature Ben dog treat and a letter “written” by Bruno, canine companion of Mrs. Dewey.
The Ben Hotel, 251 N Narcissus Ave, West Palm Beach, 561/655-4001, https://www.thebenwestpalm.com/