Best Of :: People & Places
Ahh, South Florida. Sun, sand, surf, and shade. Shade? OK, so South Florida, with its wide-open beaches and signature palm trees, isn't exactly renowned for offering lovers of the outdoors much natural relief from the heat -- which is just one of the things that makes a milelong stretch of State Road A1A through the tiny, tony town of Gulf Stream so, well, cool. Along the stretch just north of Delray Beach, drivers and bikers are shrouded by a canopy of spectacular Australian pines that line the oceanfront highway. Can you believe that, if state transportation workers had had their way, the 400 trees would be gone? For years, well-heeled town residents fought to save the 80-year-old trees, which are on the state's hit list because they have a tendency to blow over during hurricanes. In 1996, in response to residents' appeals, the Florida Legislature finally passed a special law that protects this swath of trees from state chain saws in perpetuity. State road officials and environmentalists, who hate the trees because they're not native and crowd out vegetation that is, are still upset that the town won the war of the wood. But when it comes to stuff along the shore that crowds out natives and has a tendency to fall down during hurricanes, trees sure beat condos.
When the Norton Museum of Art asked the West Palm Beach city commission to overrule the city's historic preservation board and OK the destruction of a 1920s garage to make way for the museum's latest round of expansion, the trustees expected to get their way. Not in Mango Promenade. The residents of this narrow peninsula of a neighborhood, less than 12 blocks long and a block and a half wide, have watched the well-funded cultural Goliath grow and devour their district's northernmost blocks through the years. Not this time. Mango Promenade was the city's very first automobile suburb, said the working folk whose sweat equity had revived the neighborhood in recent years, and those old garages are central to its character. The Mangoistas took that argument to a packed city hall hearing in February, outdueled a team of Norton lawyers and architects, and convinced the commission, for once, to do the right thing.
Boca Raton is notorious for symbolizing South Florida's anticulture: stuffy, platinum-pated, insufferably posh, and full of itself. We wouldn't want to grow up there. But if worse came to worst, at least there's one small pinpoint of hipness in this vast bad-jewelry-and-plastic-surgery capital. It's stuck behind a 7-Eleven off the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Dixie Highway. It's dark, dank, and about as unpretentiously pretentious as can be. For Boca's disaffected youth (or at least those of legal drinking age), it's nice to have a walk-to watering hole sans $13 chocolate martinis or dress-code elitism. What it does offer, besides reasonably priced cold frosty ones, is music of the live, local, and loud variety. How does such a bastion of anarchy survive in tanned, tony Tinselville? We haven't a clue, but we're sure glad the Boca Pub exists. Maybe there's hope for Boca Raton after all.
Who would have expected Japanese colonists in South Florida? Well, they were here, nearly a century ago, and although their Yamato farming community in Boca Raton didn't last, their legacy lives on in the form of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Think of this 200-acre complex as an organic whole, the way a Zen Buddhist might, and you'll begin to appreciate the architectural splendor of the place, which is actually made up of two distinct museum buildings and an intricate series of gardens linking them. The original "Yamato-kan," which opened in 1977, is a replica of a traditional Japanese villa, wrapped around a starkly beautiful rock garden and set on a small island. Nearly a mile of carefully manicured trails winds through half a dozen styles of gardens, each magnificent in its own way, to take you up the hill to the new museum, which opened in 1993. It's a much grander structure, also inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, featuring galleries, a teahouse, and a 225-seat theater. Between the two buildings is a large lake stocked with turtles and big, colorful Japanese carp that gather at a feeding station on the island, where, by the way, you can take in a collection of bonsai trees, which demonstrate that, in Japanese hands, even nature can be transformed into architecture.
If David Lynch were scouting for locations around Fort Lauderdale to film his next bizarre odyssey, chances are that Charlie's Rustic Bay Inn would be near the top of his list. But even if Lynch doesn't introduce dancing midgets, locals can say with some certainty that this is one of the weirdest watering holes around. Wedged between auto body shops in a forbidding industrial neighborhood, Charlie's looks like a place you'd bring your truck to have the engine valves adjusted. But inside the tiny, smoky, wood-paneled room is a small range of liquor and bottled beers peeking from an old cooler. The clientele is rough, gruff, and seedy -- just the type you'd expect at a clandestine joint such as this. But the real attractions are the tag-team servers behind the bar. These pneumatic women exude a certain scent of naughtiness that makes one wonder what might happen if the mood were to strike them. Imagine the possibilities.
If you've done any B&B-hopping in your life, you know the stellar inns are historied, meandering mansions. Stay in those B&Bs -- often Victorian style -- and you can almost hear the echoes of butlers announcing guests and piano lessons in the music room. Trouble is, Queen Victoria held little sway in South Florida, and venerable homesteads are few. Though it doesn't date back quite to Her Majesty's reign, the mansionesque Caribbean Quarters, built in 1939, captures some of the feel of yesteryear -- and stands within a block of the beach. The three-story B&B's spacious courtyard is an oasis from the hubbub of the beachfront and features a spa, lush vegetation, trellis centerpiece, and tables from which to eat that namesake breakfast. Rooms are swank, some with hardwood flooring and tiles preserved from original construction. Prices range from $75 to $175 during summer season, $110 to $220 in the winter. We are amused.