“It’s cocktail hour at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, and a steady stream of picantes is snaking its way from the kitchen to the packed-out booths as the crowd settles in for Monday Night Bingo. Nobody seems bothered that it’s a Monday night. Nobody has work tomorrow and even if they did, they wouldn’t care. This is Palm Springs, where hedonism rules and rules are optional.
OK, that’s not entirely true. There are definitely rules to bingo, which the host, drag performer Bella da Ball, is explaining to a rapt audience of twentysomething girls on their first road trip, retirees in baseball caps, actors on the lam from LA and black-clad New York ad execs, all of whom will later whoop and cheer with the frenzied enthusiasm of lottery winners when someone scoops the prize of a bottle of shampoo.
“It’s Palm Springs, we go both ways!” da Ball sings, holding up a bingo board and explaining how to flip its switches. At 1.9m in flats, and considerably taller in her signature stilettos and pink beehive wig, the host and her rapid-fire bon mots have become an unmistakable mascot for this Californian desert city built on good times, good looks and good people.
Liberalism is baked into Palm Springs, just as solidly as its reputation as the world’s mid-century modern design capital. In 2017, city residents elected the US’s first all-LGBT city council, and its world-class Pride Festival is California’s largest outside San Francisco.
But Palm Springs is a shapeshifter that has lived many lives…”