Spotlight: Escape Resort for Men
The gay resort that serves as a sensual safe haven for gay travelers
By Kevin Perry
Mark Hunter is the consummate caretaker. In addition to assuring his guests the best getaway possible at the aptly named Escape Resort, he also embodies the vibrant humanity and decadent hospitality of our hallowed hometown.
“It is a bubble, even within California, in Palm Springs because well over half of the full-time population is gay and we have the city council that’s LGBTQ, as well. Every place you go in town is welcoming and it’s like no place other.”
Hunter’s voice positively glows as he continues, “Just going down the street, you see people holding hands and just being comfortable wearing whatever they feel comfortable in, and being themselves. It is a bubble and when you get out of it, it’s a big reminder that [inviting laugh] that we’re very fortunate to live in this place and we’re very fortunate to have a vacation place like this in the continental United States. There are more gay hotels in this city than any place else in the world.”
It was this allure of out-and-proud resort life that beckoned Mark across the country and out of his comfort zone. “My partner and I met in Denver, Colorado, and we decided that we were ready to get out of the corporate world,” he recounts.
After several visits to Palm Springs, he started tabulating all things naughty and nice about the gay tourist landscape of the Inland Empire. “We were like, ‘Well, yeah this is something we could do.’ We basically just started trying to keep track of what every place did right and started keeping notes and after a while, it was time to quit writing off our trips and either do it or stop, one or the other. So, we did it.”
It was a leap of love, but they didn’t leave the property’s history behind. “We bought an existing resort; it’s one of the longest running gay resorts in town. Before us, it was called Chestnutz and before that, The Enclave.” Hunter savors the campy nature of Escape’s past lives before soldiering on. “We haven’t been able to determine exactly how many years it was a gay resort before us, but we’re thinking it was roughly 30 before we took over. So, it has a long history here.”
Escape’s recent years have borne witness to a veritable Renaissance in the desert. Hunter and his partner flex their passion for renovation on a daily basis, and the transformation has been seismic in its sophistication.
“We took it over in 2010 and we rebranded it, re-imagined it, brought it to a different format. It was a gay resort, but the style was completely different than what we tend to do here. We do what we call ‘modern with a mid-century nod.’ Our property is a mid-century property, opened in 1956. That’s not our main focus, but we don’t want to ignore some of the awesome characteristics that it does have.”
Hunter gleefully elaborates, reeling off the cardinal amenities at Escape with a sense of paternal pride. “What sets us apart, our #1 thing is our courtyard. We’re right up close to the mountains,” Mark narrates, “So that view in the courtyard is what we get a lot of our compliments on… And it faces east-west, so there’s lots of sunshine all day long.”
And when the sun goes down, so do some visitors’ inhibitions. This clothing optional paradise bubbles and brims with warmth, as another of its signature features can attest. “We have one of the larger hot tubs, as far as the gay men’s resorts in town, a 15-person hot tub, so that is also another nice amenity.”
As our conversation dives deeper, Mark Hunter grows soulful.
“We felt like it was really important to have a solid business where gay men could be comfortable with themselves and not feel like they’re being scrutinized and have their own place to hang out and just be comfortable. That was back when ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was still the rule of the land.” Referencing his partner once more, Mark shares, “We both had brothers in the military, so we started right then doing an active military discount, which we carry through to today.”
An astute observer of the gay landscape over which he presides, Hunter assesses our precarious place in current LGBTQ politics, history, and empowerment. “It seemed like things were getting a lot better and a lot easier and opener. Then, in the last two years, we’ve felt more of a surge of people coming from other parts of the country that are really searching for a place where they can feel comfortable again.”
A sadness shrouds his demeanor as Mark critiques, “I think it’s gone backward, unfortunately, and I think having a gay-owned business and a property where everybody’s safe and feels comfortable to be themselves is becoming more important than, unfortunately, than it was a few years ago.”
Striking tone that is equal parts protective and passionate, Hunter concludes, “Everybody can find exactly what they’re looking for, as far as the vibe that they’re looking for in a property, whether they want something high sexual energy or low sexual energy or clothing optional or not clothing optional. Just so many choices, and it makes it, really, a one of a kind destination.”
Mark Hunter has carved out his nurturing niche in this nirvana… this oasis… this ultimate Escape.