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Frances Allen’s Desert Roundup—New Trend: Dining With The Stars

Ever since the glory days of motion pictures, Palm Springs has been the get-away place for movie star gods and goddesses to take off their halos and live as normal a life as possible, even if it was for only one weekend at a time.

There’s a lot of show biz history in the Desert, and it best betold by the people who were in the middle of it; like around a table, after a good meal. And, with that in mind, it looks as if a new trend is beginning in the Desert.

Recently, Lyons English Grille in Palm Springs, itself no stranger to notoriety, hosted a “Dinner with Mickey,” featuring the now 92-year-old motion picture icon Mickey Rooney.

In what looks like the beginning of a trend, Melvyn’s Restaurant, located at the Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs—a historical landmark if there ever was one—is hosting “Dinner with Margaret O’Brien,” on Dec. 4. She will share show business stories and sign copies of her paper doll book depicting costumes from her various movies.

All the proceeds go to Canine Companions, an organization supported by Margaret which trains dogs to assist disabled people and veterans to walk.

Dinner with Margaret O’Brien is $65, and reservations may be made by credit card and calling Melvyn’s at 760-325-2323.

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Members of the Rancho Mirage City Council were extra thankful this holiday season, the issue of what to do with the moribund Ritz-Carlton hotel project was going to be erased as one of the city’s biggest problems. Or, so they think.

It all looked great about six years ago when what was then an operating luxury hotel closed with big plans, including a major financial commitment from Lehman Brothers, for a new Ritz-Carlton and development of the surrounding acreage.

Then, four years ago, Lehman Brothers was history, along with its funding for the hotel project. Numerous efforts were made to get other operators to take over the project, only to back out or fail to perform their contractual obligations. In the meantime, the city was losing about $1 million annually in “bed tax” income.

The council’s new hope rests on the shoulders of Ronnie Lam, president of the Arcadia-based hotel developer, Kam Sang Company. Although Kam Sang is reported to have an annual net income of $100 million, to help them carry the load, Rancho Mirage is granting it an “incentive loan” worth $20 million.

The hotel portion of the project is 80 percent complete, with the bulk of the remaining work needed for the grounds, including the pool and public areas. However, since the most of the hotel’s interior just needs cosmetic work, Lam believes occupancy can occur late summer or early fall of 2013.

Because so much money had been put into the project before it was shut down, Lam estimates the new Ritz-Carlton will be able to offer rooms starting in the $300 to $350 range, about one-quarter of the starting rates at other Ritz-Carlton hotels worldwide.

By contract, construction of the Ritz-Carlton must begin by Jan. 6, so it won’t be long now before Rancho Mirage City Counselors can know if it’s okay to let out a sigh of relief.

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Tourists and visitors now have a new way to spend money and have fun at the Spa Resort Casino without ever having to go inside. Starting on the black-and-blue Saturday which followed the bruising of Black Friday, the casino’s parking lot opened as the site the Palm Springs Open Air Market, which organizers hope can operate every Saturday during the season, features more than 100 vendors selling mainly handmade jewelry, art work and house wares. The market is also pet friendly, with dogs permitted if they are on leashes.

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The post-Thanksgiving weekend presented another way for people to come together and shop while at a casino. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, hosted hundreds of Native American dancers adorned in authentic dress in celebration of the 31st Cabazon Indio Powwow.

In addition to shopping for native craft items, visitors could take part in the celebrations, joining dancers representing more than 300 tribes from all over North America during the non-competitive intertribal dancing event.

In the past, Powwows were a means for various tribes to socialize, renew old friendships and create new ones. Powwows still serve as a means of getting Native Americans together, only now, in place of athletic competition, the powwows offer participants cash prizes for dance and custom contestants. Not only are powwows a true American cultural experience; as in any modern-day gathering that draws thousands of people, there is also the opportunity to purchase native food and other items from a variety of vendors.

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What can you get for $135 or less these days? Quite a bit, thanks to the creative minds at The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.

For $135, about what New Yorkers would expect to pay for mediocre seats at a hit Broadway play, Desert residents and tourists can get premium tickets to the Follies plus dinner (including tax and tip) at Palm Springs’ legendary gourmet French restaurant, Le Vallauris, where you’ll get to meet the cast and ask questions of the performers.

This dinner show package is set for Dec. 6, but if you’re unable to attend don’t despair; there will be 11 more show-and-dinner packages throughout the balance of the Follies’ season.

Not all dinners will be at Le Vallauris, so you will get to sample a variety of the finest local restaurants, with some packages going for less than $100 per person. How can they do it at these prices? Follies impresario Rif Markowitz must be in the back washing dishes.

More information is available at 760-327-0225.

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