Alligator Alley was one of the most distinctive venues we had in South Florida. Where else could you munch on savory gator ribs, sip on a crisp microbrew, and listen to funky New Orleans zydeco all at once? Sadly, it is no more — after a weekend-long sendoff, Alligator Alley shuttered its doors last Sunday.
And although it looks like there'll be no more poor boy sandwiches in proprietor and veteran bass player Carl "Kilmo" Pacillo's future, there is a silver lining. The charismatic owner promises that a larger, music-only version of Alligator Alley will open next spring. "Food has never been the main part of my business, despite winning many accolades," Kilmo said. "It's 2 to 3 percent of the profits and 90 percent of the headaches."
The venue lasted seven-and-a-half years at its Commercial Boulevard location. But a new $2,000 tax on alcohol sales after midnight, levied by the City of Oakland Park on October 1, was the straw that broke the camel's back. "The city wanted the money right away and was not accommodating," Kilmo says. "I simply couldn't afford it."
Meanwhile, he's been scoping out new locations for the music-hall version of Alligator Alley in Margate and in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Currently he favors Fort Lauderdale, because he feels there is a demand for original live music that's not being met in the Himmarshee District. "It's gone to hell there lately, becoming very DJ/dance-oriented, and I think people are tired of it," he said.
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Employees and regulars, though, mourned the old space this past Friday night, which featured a set by Kilmo and the Alligator Alley Allstars. Susie Goldberg, who began bartending there in 2002, said it's the best job she has ever had. The self-proclaimed "life-time" waitress fell in love with the venue's "great food and amazing music" while attending an NRBQ show at the club's previous Sunrise location and stuck around ever since.
Regular Bob Rogers, a hairpiece manufacturer from Fort Lauderdale, said he used to frequent blues bars in Chicago and found them to be "very formulaic" and felt that Alligator Alley "broke the mold." "It's a hangover from the good ol' days of blues, and I love it," he said.
The Alligator Alley Allstars, meanwhile, featured Kilmo's nasty plucks on bass and former James Brown sax man Jeff Watkins' deafening dog-whistle highs and sonic radar lows. Local blues-guitar legend Albert Castiglia went on to entertain the packed house one last time with his virtuoso riffs. Highlights of his set were stellar Elmore James and Chuck Berry covers and a reggae-tinged version of the Allman Brothers Band's "Whipping Post."
Kilmo, who calls South Florida "the music apathy center of the country," warns that the lack of support is causing artists to move away. His call to action: "Get off your ass, turn off your computer, and get out there and support the music scene. Have a real life, not a virtual life."