Saying the desert is dry is just like saying water is wet. Until recently, this was disappointingly true in terms of the Palm Springs drinking scene. Sure, Palm Springs has long held the lion’s share of midcentury martini steakhouse holdovers, which, don’t get me wrong, I adore—Melvyn’s, et al, never change. But be honest: after seven poolside hours under blistering UVs, will a martini quench your thirst the way a crisp, sweating glass of something skin contact would? You see what I mean.
That’s why it’s an exciting time to consider the new wave of wine culture in the desert at large, from bottle shops to wine bars, and a couple who flip-flopped during the pandemic and now are giving us the best of both worlds. Not just for tourists, of course, spots like Dead or Alive actively foster a supportive local community under the desert sun, especially during the massive income hits the pandemic brought to this visitor-driven economy.
Here are four that will make you excited to quench your desert thirst, whether you’re just passing through, or looking to stay awhile.
Dead Or Alive
In the very heart of Palm Springs sits Dead or Alive, the desert’s first natural wine destination turned pandemic survival-mode bottle shop. In normal times, it’s inconspicuous on the outside, and a glowing Mars-red den with a relaxed bar and intimate booths on the interior. When Christine Soto and Kristin Bloomer opened DoA in 2016 (Soto also founded the Golden Grapes event at the nearby Ace Hotel, part of Palm Springs Wine Festival), it granted the downtown tourist district a desperately appreciated update for sophisticated drinking. During the pandemic, Dead or Alive, like wine bars everywhere, pivoted to a bottle shop to make ends meet. With a recently built-out patio that will, fingers crossed, survive the pandemic to offer fresh air on those desert nights, Dead or Alive made it out with the same tenacity its name suggests.
On one recent (COVID-safe… don’t yell at me!) trip to the desert, co-owner Christine Soto hand-delivered a few bottles to me at my hotel. On one hand, I felt a twinge of sad helplessness, wondering how much my couple bottle purchase would outweigh the time cost of such a delivery in desperate cash flow times for bars. I felt different after we visited with each other for a moment, her offering me suggestions and some cute branded trinkets. You know what it felt like? A brief moment of small talk, one I’ll never take for granted again, with a bartender. This was a welcome and friendly reminder of the drought of social spontaneity we were all enduring, the brief joy of meeting a like-minded person, happy to be sharing wine with you. It was truly refreshing. Just like desert creatures, their resilience through punishing times is one to celebrate, so go relish in the sweet glow of their survival.
Las Palmas Brewing
Another welcome addition to Palm Springs-proper is the desert’s only microbrewery, Las Palmas Brewing. Something to celebrate, and encourage more of in Palm Springs, is the arrival of a casual, dog-friendly patio bar with something for everyone. To whom with financial backing this may concern: Palm Springs needs, like, at least three to four low-key restaurants and/or bars. Put your money there! At Las Palmas, a handful of by-the-glass options, supplemented by an exciting bottle shop for here or to go (with several piquettes, because what is more perfect than a fizzy, low-ABV sipper after a hot day?), is offered on the wine side alongside their own microbrews on tap, though admittedly, my LA-pilled gluten-free ass wouldn’t know anything about that. I was there for the wine, enjoyed my relaxed experience ordering at the bar and finding a spot for me, my parents, and dog to comfortably enjoy happy hour at a picnic table. Las Palmas is in Downtown Palm Springs, whereas Dead or Alive is in South Palm Springs, a couple of miles south of Downtown. Consider Las Palmas the casual, surfer-girl chill Skipper version of a wine bar and Dead or Alive as its sexier older cousin Barbie, who opens later in the evening. Make a whole night of it.
An LA export (the owners also maintain Atwater Village, LA’s most popular gift shop for designer incense and linen coulottes, Individual Medley) with the aesthetic to show for it, this gift store plus bottle shop kind of sums up the moodboard of Joshua Tree in the 2020s and who loves it. An excellent selection of natural wines and ciders, most $20-$30 range, will set you up for your weekend and be there for you when you run out and need to get more, as they are open seven days a week until 7pm. Their fridges are generously stocked with chilled beers, wines, craft hard seltzers, and even canned wine, which is perfect if you want a couple glasses of a refreshing chilled red but also need a target for your BB gun later, which is a very specific and crucial desert trip detail that this shop provides for very nicely.
Right on the main drag of 29 as you enter into Yucca Valley and onto Joshua Tree is a newcomer “bougie bodega” that suits all delicious picnic needs. Open and an hour or two later plus a few miles closer to LA than Wine & Rock Shop, they’ll be there for you when W&R has wrapped, or if you’re straggling in late Friday thanks to hellish 210 traffic and in desperate need to take the edge off. They offer kid-in-a-candy-store-high level of speciality snack options (charcuterie, tinned fish, exotic chips, locally baked breads) alongside a smattering of interest-piquing refreshments and spirits in addition to a solid, recognizable line up of natural wine favorites. For when you want to build out a little bar for the weekend and you’re craving more than wine (say, tepache and mezcal cocktails), Desierto Alto is easily your one-stop-shop.
Dylan Tupper Rupert is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Rookie, the Guardian, MTV News, Billboard, and the Pitchfork Review. Read more Dylan Rupert for Sprudge.