Nestled in an antique wicker chair, Russell Hibbard sips from a martini glass and leafs through his favorite book, the 1930 edition of The Savoy Hotel Cocktail Guide, as the mournful wailing of blues-harp legend Blind Mississippi Morse floats through the air. Hibbard's passions for blues music, antique furniture, and vintage cocktail-shakers are evident in his Lake Worth club, the Bamboo Room, which he says mixes the indigenous music of the United States -- the blues -- with "cocktails as culinary art."
"I've always been interested in the cultural aspects of socialization," says the retired graphic designer who owns the club with his wife, Karen McKinley, a financial consultant. Socialization, in Hibbard's case, is fueled by his encyclopedic knowledge of the cocktail. Mixology began in earnest during the late 1800s, and hundreds of recipes have been developed since then. "Today many mixologists rely on flavored vodkas and rums," says Hibbard. "And it's the older recipes that are much more interesting, relying on an artistic approach,... mixing certain spirits so that each one of their characters is imbued in the final product."
One of his favorite cocktails is the sidecar, invented shortly after World War I at Harry's Bar in Paris. "It's named after a guy who always showed up at the bar on the sidecar of a friend's motorcycle," Hibbard says of the refreshing, lemon-tinged brandy drink served over ice.
Shortly after the invention of the sidecar, the building that now houses the Bamboo Room was built in 1923. It has served as both dance hall and billiards room. The club, which opened in March, features a 22-foot-high ceiling, walls covered in bamboo, and a long serpentine bar made of copper and (you guessed it) even more bamboo. The decorating theme is an homage to the Loggia Room, a Lake Worth nightspot Hibbard frequented in the early '70s, which was also decked out in bamboo. According to Hibbard, "that club had a real interesting patina as a result of 40 years of tobacco smoke on the walls."
The Bamboo Room hasn't developed that sort of rustic feel yet, but the ambiance is perfect for enjoying an exotic drink and taking in some blues. The original maple floors from the club's dance-hall days have been restored, and, Hibbard says, "with my extensive collection of old wicker furniture, the room has a real feel of 1930s Florida."
Also on display is a portion of Hibbard's 900-piece collection of antique cocktail implements: martini shakers, swizzle sticks, glassware. "We actually joked that the reason we built the place is so that we'd have somewhere to display the cocktail shakers," Hibbard says. The old-time feel, though, is balanced by contemporary accouterments. The club is equipped with a replica Wurlitzer jukebox filled with hundreds of blues CDs and a state-of-the-art sound system. Blues music is sometimes piped in via satellite, and on weekends top local and national blues musicians perform. On July 2 and 3, award-winning blues guitarist Keith Brown, who plays Son House in the motion picture Stop Breakin' Down, the story of blues legend Robert Johnson, will take the stage.
"Our mission," says Hibbard, "is to provide a venue for these musicians to play. They are keeping their art form alive, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
He's also happy to be keeping cocktail culture alive, and his antique barware isn't just for show. The art of mixing and presenting cocktails is just as important to Hibbard as the art of drinking them. By way of example, he points out that "we offer a pitcher of kamikazes delivered in a vintage shaker."
-- Chuck Mason
The Bamboo Room is located at 25 S. "J" St. in Lake Worth. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Cover varies. Call 561-585-2583.
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