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Fifteen years ago in West Palm Beach, music and people were joined in a union that has lasted longer than the average broken marriage in this country (11 years, in case you're curious). Respectable Street Cafe, one of the best venues in which to catch live independent musicians in South Florida, celebrated 15 Years of Oblivion on November 30 by roping off a block of Clematis Street, opening its doors, and placing free drinks and food into happy hands and mouths. The party featured 20 local acts, including Billy Boloby, the Livid Kittens, Poulain, and Remember the Ocean.
Though shiny, well-conditioned Manolo Blahnik purebreds sparkled hither and thither under the occasional streetlight that night, the mood and brood were predominantly let-go and welcoming in their respective niches of urban disarray.
According to owner Rodney Mayo, the locale has fared as well as it has for not seeking the ephemeral loyalty of A-list anybodies: "We've always stayed true to the music." The preferred chemical accelerant for achieving oblivion may have changed several times over since the club's opening in 1987, but Respectable's reputation for fathering intimate performances from cult favorites has not. In the next month, the flavor of hipster sidling up to the bar will shift, from snarling punks bristling with facial piercings (for Pank Shovel at the New Year's Eve Party) to short-haired women who tuck in their shirts and drink Rolling Rock from the bottle (for Melissa Ferrick on January 25) to tout en noirstudents who wear complicated sneakers (for Luna on January 28). Same place, different faces -- it's a community built on a dedication to enjoy music in relative comfort.
Pete Staniec,34, of Lake Worth, has been around since the beginning, before the club earned its stripes by showcasing the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the eve of their fame. "It hasn't changed thatmuch," says the man whose six-foot, four-inch stature and permanent pukka Mohawk have practically made him the Respectable Street mascot. "New music here and there, but it's been pretty steady all along. Rodney has good taste in music, and everybody who works there is pretty hip."
Staniec counts shows by Killing Joke and Sick of It All as his second and third favorite performances, respectively. His first: "Stripping on-stage with Southern Culture on the Skids. They asked for belly dancers, and I looked down and saw my beer gut and thought, 'I must qualify.' I was just about to take off my pants, but then the crowd stopped me."
Alan Crosby, 33, is a Respectables veteran who remembers the day the doors of alt.music opened on Clematis. "It was different than most of the clubs," he says. "It was almost like you were going to hang out at somebody's house. It's like Cheers in a New Age, alternative sort of way. Everyone knows your name."
Respectables (as it's commonly known) is a comfortable place, but that status took some work to achieve. Mayo was renovating commercial buildings in 1984 when he came across the old Salvation Army building at 518 Clematis St. It took three years to restore the space, turning what was once a soup kitchen and upstairs sleeping area into a club and office spaces, respectively. Now, through the main entrance, a corridor of couches and booths allows for more private interaction, while the dance floor and stage are nestled off to the right. Even though the venue holds just a few hundred at capacity, shorter listeners can always gain an inch or two on the ledges, tables, and platforms benevolently placed throughout the room. Out back, a courtyard enclosed by local vegetation keeps everything mellow for those seeking moonlight and fresh night air.
"It's the club that you go to in order to relax and enjoy yourself," Crosby explains further. "It's not 50,000 little jocks and college kids trying to get their groove on with each other. I like that you can go out to that little back patio and chill out there. I like being able to hang out at that front door and greet people and talk to people. It's a very entertaining place."
When asked to define "entertaining," Crosby offers an anecdote: "Once, I saw this girl run from the very back of the bar and tackle this guy face-first into the floor," he remembers. "Then she started punching him in the back of the head."
Respectables has taken a few knocks too. Mayo recalls the time a man fell through the skylight during a reggae show and also the night the Chili Peppers made their mark on the building. "The drummer started tearing things off the wall," he says. "Then he punched right through my Joy Division poster. The hole's still in the wall."
But, as Mayo said, all Respectables spectacles take a back seat to the music, and Steve Rullman is one of the wizards behind the curtain. For the past four years, Rullman has booked concerts for the club in addition to promoting and marketing local bands through TheHoneyComb.com, a musical website de jour that has practically become the stage name for the show that is going on inside Rullman's head... that is, until he brings it to Respectables. The Faint, American Analog Set, One Line Drawing -- bands that coast under the radar but close to the honey -- have been some of his favorite shows to put on and then enjoy.
Aside from its commitment to the underground sound, the club is known for its history and sense of community, according to Rullman. "It's not a fly-by-night place," he says. "People seem to come back."