With his finely honed senses on full alert, the first thing the Calibrator noticed as he strode purposefully into the maw of the weekly West Palm Beach event known as Clematis by Night was the pungent fragrance of beer in great abundance. The scent hung heavy in the fresh autumn breeze last Thursday eve in Centennial Square at the terminus of the Clematis Street retail district, its sultry fragrance driving the Calibrator mad with desire. A sharp, sober glance to the right, just beyond a rabid pack of squalling tykes frolicking in the Centennial Square fountain, revealed a veritable truckload of the hoppy nectar, all of it for sale in delectable 16-ounce increments. Beer at Clematis by Night runs $2 for a domestic, $3 per import. The prices aren't bad, especially compared to the relative larceny taking place in the upscale clubs and eateries just west of Centennial Square where beer routinely costs double what it does at Clematis by Night. Nonetheless, beer was even cheaper when the event was just getting off the ground in the spring of 1995, but wise civic leaders raised prices soon thereafter to discourage the excessive partying, if not the very presence, of impoverished young hooligans.
As the key component in the ongoing quest to revitalize downtown West Palm Beach, Clematis by Night was expressly designed with an eye toward that most elusive of modern concepts: family fun. The last things West Palm Beach's then-mayor Nancy Graham had in mind when she envisioned the project four years ago were decadent, bacchanalian beer blasts that at their worst could quickly devolve into public displays of shocking lewdness, the likes of which would emotionally scar innocent children for life and enrage their stupefied parents. Furthermore, rampant hooliganism would frighten off prospective business investors and surely send local property values into a precipitous plunge, thereby quickly remanding downtown West Palm Beach to its former status as a filth-ridden ghost town inhabited at night by little more than thugs and other sorts of common gutter trash.
So what does family fun presently amount to in downtown West Palm Beach in these jaded, waning hours of the millennium? Well, first of all, family fun clearly includes the consumption of lots of beer. According to a Clematis by Night fact sheet sent out on the letterhead of current West Palm Beach Mayor Joel T. Daves, "As of August 1999, 192 nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach County have raised more than $290,000 as a result of beer sales at the event."
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Family fun means affordable food and plenty of it. Vendors sold pizza, pretzels, Cuban cuisine, pitas, conch fritters, conch salad, and cracked-conch burgers -- I'll have a cracked-conch burger with cheese, please! -- as well as water, Smoothies, and soda, for less than $5 an item.
Family fun means the sounds of tasteful national musical acts such as Thursday night's attraction, the Anaheim-based Texas swing band Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys. Big Sandy was the perfect soundtrack to Clematis by Night: upbeat and interesting but none too frightening or electrifying.
Family fun was roughly 3000 people of all ages -- the majority of them white, polite, and seemingly well-off -- hanging around, eating and drinking, listening to Big Sandy, and enjoying each other's company to varying degrees. It was all very safe and innocuous. Sad to say there was no weirdness whatsoever to speak of. As a concept Clematis by Night was designed and is presently executed by well-meaning, community-minded folks with very traditional notions of what constitutes family fun which, come to think of it, can be pretty dang weird, after all.
Clematis by Night occurs every Thursday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. in Centennial Square, 100 Clematis St., in front of the West Palm Beach Public Library.
One thing the hardcore techno crowd hasn't had much of in Fort Lauderdale is choice. For the longest time, its members either took Ecstasy and danced 'til near dawn in the dark, smoky confines of Play, or they packed up the Mustang and headed south, where they took Ecstasy and danced in a trance-induced state at any number of Miami-area venues. But alas, variety has finally come to Lauderdale. Promising a steady diet of progressive house, hard house, and trance, the Hurricane Club opened for business Saturday night on Sunrise Lane, near the east end of Sunrise Boulevard. "Fort Lauderdale has never really gotten over its spring break thing," says the Hurricane's general manager, Tony Flora. "We're going for something different . Basically what we're doing is bringing a little bit of South Beach here."
On Saturday night the Hurricane blew a little life into the once vibrant and bustling neighborhood. The line to enter the club wasn't stretched around the block as it was when the Calibrator later stopped by Play around 1 a.m., but there was a steady influx of customers all night at the Hurricane, and the place was fairly swarming with young, nubile bodies when this intrepid measuring device exited the premises at 12:30.
Each of the three floors of the Hurricane serves a distinct purpose. The first and third floors accommodate conservation, though in markedly different atmospheres: The VIP lounge on the first floor is coolly lit and mellow; the third floor is open-air, the talk lighter and more boisterous. Both the first and third floors provide a moment's sanctuary from the crowded dance floor and the brain-rattling electronica bouncing off the walls on the second floor.
With the opening of the Hurricane Club, the Calibrator confidently predicts that it will only be a matter of a few short weeks before dance-happy Fort Lauderdale eclipses Miami as the reigning techno haven in South Florida.
The Hurricane Club is located at 900 Sunrise Ln., Fort Lauderdale. Women age 18 and over and men 21 and over are admitted. The doors open at 10 p.m., and the liquor stops flowing at 3 a.m.
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