Agua Caliente: Serenity Now in Palm Springs

Fire, rain, and spa-induced flashbacks during a rejuvenating stay in Rancho Mirage

Ron Donoho in Pivet Cigar Lounge.

Ahhh, Agua Caliente.

What do you think about while you’re getting a massage? Do you clear your mind? Fall asleep? Use the hour to plot your next business startup? Do you worry about body image? Or, are you uninhibited and prepared to be kneaded into a state of bliss?

Everyone’s different. Right now, I’m lying face down and naked under a sheet. Here at nationally-recognized Sunstone Spa at Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa in Rancho Mirage, a matronly masseuse named Jeanne is five minutes into a Serenity Massage. She applies light, but firm, pressure. Blue quartz and magnesite gemstones are heating my back. Jeanne’s rubbing warm, zinc-rich sesame oil into my left calf muscle.

My mind is in flashback mode. I’m remembering and reliving the past couple days of a top-shelf respite in Palm Springs…

…I’m picturing the expanse of my executive suite and re-thanking the travel gods for the room’s panoramic, desert mountain view. And smiling about this Agua Caliente suite’s massive, dual-counter bathroom that includes a shower serviced by five—five!—showerheads.

Now, I’m warging back to an on-property dinner at The Steakhouse. My wife and I were dished up melt-in-your-mouth Waygu beef and Australian lobster tail. And a spell-binding appetizer of garlic-and-brie-infused escargot en papillote.

Oops, I’m drooling on the massage table headrest.

During the past couple days, with a hat tip to James Taylor, I’ve seen fire (coming from a silver-plated lighter in a new upscale cigar lounge) and I’ve seen rain (unexpectedly falling from the desert sky). Like Celine Dion sang, it’s all coming back to me now…

Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage

360 Sports Bar.

Jeanne switches her focus from one leg to the other…Mmm-meanwhile, I’m recalling that it’s been two years since my last visit to Agua Caliente. This 340-room, AAA Four-Diamond casino property has made a few upgrades just since New Year’s Day 2019.

I’m pleased the 71,000-square-foot casino floor still includes Coachella Valley’s only poker room. Near the cardroom’s 24/7 flop, turn and river action is a flashy, new, state-of-the-art sports bar. It rivals any in Las Vegas. Called 360 Sports, the space is full-bar/long-menu and serves up 1,400 square feet of TV screens.

Jeanne is unknotting my hamstring, but the vision of 360 Sports connects to one of my passions: March Madness. I’d happily watch opening-round college basketball tournament action here. There’s a giant LED sports ticker to keep track of real-time scores. Rows of comfy lounge chairs. And Waygu beef sliders and burgers to nosh on. 360 Sports shoots and scores.

Agua Caliente’s Pivat Cigar Lounge

Pivet Cigar Lounge.

Hang on now, Jeanne is asking me a question…Yes, thank you, the room temperature and music volume are just fine…So thoughtful.

Music, music, music…calls to mind the soundtrack playing yesterday evening in Agua Caliente’s new Pívat Cigar Lounge. We’re vibing in the lounge to “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest. Then a perfect cigar tune fires up: Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You.”

Much like getting a massage, I find that smoking a cigar is a chance to kick back and chillax. I take a deep puff of my Diamond Crown #5 Robusto. Hang on, now here’s a quick Inception-style flashback within a flashback—to halcyon days and simple pleasures.

As a younger man, I used to go out to the backyard barbecue on a semi-regular basis to fire up steaks—armed with two bottles of Miller Genuine Draft (before the Craft Age) and a stogie. I’ve never been a cigar aficionado, but when the beers and the cigar were gone, the steaks would be ready. Those were pre-cell phone moments of idyll.     

Now back to Palm Springs. Literally translated, Pívat is a Cahuilla Indian word that means “smoking tobacco.” These days, I save cigar puffing more for milestone moments—and the existence of Pívat Cigar Lounge is itself reason to celebrate.

This elegant, dark-brown-hued lounge offers comfy, oversized leather club chairs. There’s indoor/outdoor seating, a full bar and a select menu of small bites and entrees (yes, more Waygu).

And of course, there’s a voluminous walk-in humidor stocked with more than 100 hand-selected cigars. There are internationally recognized brands (Cohiba, Davidoff, Montecristo) and some with fun names (Piston, Fat Pig, Knuckle Dragger).

If you love the smell of burning ash; if you appreciate knowledgeable servers who can perfectly match cocktails and cigars; or if you’d just enjoy clicking on and off a silver-plated Pyro Star “torch” (gas lighter), you will delight, as I do, in an hour spent in Pívat.

Yes, it rains in Palm Springs

Calm before the storm in Palm Springs.

Jeanne is nimbly de-stressing my neck and shoulders. OhhhhAhhh-hem. Minus her magic, it’s possible the memory of this trip to Palm Springs could have been slightly clouded by oddly unseasonable weather.

As promised, from fire to rain.

Know that it’s late May. Two weeks ago, the local temperature hit 100 degrees. We’re experiencing a 55-degree day, with scattered showers. They say it’s been snowing in the mountains.

My wife and I had wanted to do a touristy walkabout, and considered cruising the upscale shops of El Paseo but opted for downtown Palm Spring’s main drag, Palm Canyon Drive.

It’s a 20-minute trip by car from The Agua Caliente in Rancho Mirage to downtown Palm Springs (where the property has a sister casino that’s also been upgraded, sans resort and spa).

With on-and-off rain splattering against the windshield, we ask our Uber driver to drop us off at the new Kimpton Rowan Hotel. The property is gorgeous—however, it’s raining on the rooftop bar, and the lobby bar doesn’t open til 4 p.m. Thirsty, we puddle jump toward the also-new and highly recommended Wilma & Frieda’s bar/eatery. Not open on Wednesdays. We’re directed to the Village Pub…which is closed for remodeling.

Back out in the drizzle on Palm Canyon Drive, one of my wife’s leather sandals breaks. We’re in front of a dive called Shamrocks (formerly known as Hair of the Dog). All we can do is belly up to the bar for an Irish coffee. Alanis Morissette might consider it ironic that the juke box is playing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” The shivering local dude next to us shrugs and notes, “I wore a sweater today—I wasn’t even sure I owned a sweater.”   

Don’t you hate when a massage ends?

Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Hang on, what? Jeanne is saying something. I don’t want to hear it, but my time is up. All good things—including a mind-blowing scalp massage—lead to a finale.   

It’s back to reality, which includes the following Palm Springs truths: 1. The saddest part of a massage is the jarring cognizance that it’s over. 2. If you head out to the desert this summer it’s quite likely you won’t need to pack an umbrella. 3. If you stay at the Agua Caliente in Rancho Mirage, you’re setting yourself up for a highly satisfying, rejuvenating getaway.  J&J

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