ST. TROPEZ, France — It's hard to believe that the ever-changing tides of beach club popularity have yet to sweep Club Cinquante Cinq out to sea. On the contrary, the rustic, yet trés chic, establishment on the sands of Pampelonne Beach continues to reign at the peak of fashionable excess, more than 50 years after Brigitte Bardot put it on the map.
Reservations are next to impossible without Centurion prowess, long-standing European connections or a mega yacht with a captain who knows how to navigate the tricky waters of French social climbing. The parking lot is chock-a-block with Bentleys, Bugattis and Ferraris (tops down, of course) while the waters just off shore are peppered with the vast yachts of billionaires. In fact, Club 55, as it is known by Americans, provides sleek black tenders and uniformed crew to fetch customers from their yachts for the popular lunchtime outings.
The people-watching is as stratospheric as the menu with lunch for two easily costing $300.
Among those that have been spotted over the years disembarking here from the tenders are Hugh Jackman, P. Diddy, Paris Hilton, Bono and Elton John. One summer, we ran into Eckhard Pfeiffer, former CEO of Compaq Computers, lunching with yachting friends.
The rewards for securing a table are indeed worth the effort (perhaps a hundred or so euros slipped into the right pocket) for you'll seldom find a more glamorous gathering of European cognescenti and sprinkling of Americans fresh from their floating play toys. The scene is almost surreal with the beautiful tanned and taut men and their younger women lounging on white banquets beneath white canopies in the open-air area flanked by walls of swaying bamboo.
The people-watching is as stratospheric as the menu with lunch for two easily costing $300 to $400 depending on how many bottles of Provencal rosé, the de rigueur libation here, are consumed. No complaints about the food, however, with the white asparagus mousseline and grilled langoustine tops on most diner's orders. Not to be overlooked is the famous artichoke appetizer and the massive wooden planks of colorful crudite. The grilled filet of sole and veal milanese are popular alternatives. Then there are the heavenly desserts. Our table ordered platters of fraises des bois, woodland strawberries with a divine sweetness, accompanied by mounds of firm whipped cream.
Part of the Club Cinquante Cinq experience is grabbing a spot on the white-sand beach (another tidy sum required) where sunbathers are topless and the people-watching becomes even more intriguing.