The days of block parties characterized by rancid potato salad and screaming children have come to a timely end. The Sunset Blue Block Party is putting a new twist on the old-fashioned neighborhood soiree —one that involves cool blues and chilled booze. Sunday night, I sojourned deep into the humid cul-de-sac of NE 33rd Street only to stagger out hours later with a buzz in my brain and blues ringing deep in my ears.
When I arrived, I found that NE 33rd Street — near the beach just north of Oakland Park Boulevard — had been completely blocked off and the whole "happening spot" (as the street's official website dubs it) was dotted with vendor tents, tables, small yappy dogs, and people toting plastic cups. I slipped into the first open bar I came upon, hoping for an explanation.
Blue Jean Blues: "I've never even heard of this place," I said as I squinted around Blue Jean Blues, a three-month-old blues and jazz bar nestled deep in the block party.
Annie, the bartender, had reddish hair, a thin frame, and a pleasant disposition. "Well, with this block party," she said, "we're hoping to draw people out to experience places they've never heard of before." Damn. I hate it when marketing tactics actually work.
An older man tickled piano keys and doo-bee-dooed at the back of the room. Large blue- and yellow-hued paintings of 1920s-style nightlife scenes hung on the walls. Mounted saxophones and clarinets filled the space between the paintings. At the small, white-tiled bar, the elderly woman next to me ordered a vodka tonic; clear across from her, two tattooed lesbians snuggled. The dull hum of outdoor conversation wafted in through the white French doors.
"I think I saw a vendor outside selling soaps," I told Annie.
She shrugged and gave me a bemused smile. "Absolutely—why not?"
Eager to check out the rest of the action, I slipped out and wandered down the street before running straight into my facially hairy companion, Beard. He didn't notice me because he had both hands full with a roast beef sandwich roughly the size of a small galaxy. He had procured it from a nearby chow vendor.
"They have cheese pizza by the slice, too," he offered, when he saw me arching an eyebrow at the excessive wads of meat.
A1A Dive Bar: I passed the soap vendor (all surrounding air smelled like a botanical garden had exploded), glimpsed a crew prepping an outdoor stage for the night's talent, and lingered briefly near an anti-aging clinic booth before heading through the door of A1A Dive Bar. This local hangout is homey and comfortable. The twang of country music floated in the air; boats, inflatable monkeys, and fairy lights decorated the place; and most of the furniture looked like something you'd slouch in while drinking a brew on your patio. The room was centered by a vacant stripper pole, and strobe lights illuminated tiny international flags and bottles of booze at the back of the room.
That's about the time I met Danielle. She was a pixyish brunet who looked adorable wearing what I estimate was a negative-sized dress. While sipping up the last drop of her handsome friend Emi's "Piece of Ass" shot, she revealed herself as the mastermind behind Sunset Blue. She hoped that the block party would continue indefinitely."Barring any sort of violent activities, we hope the city will renew us to do this through the winter," she told me. Currently, Sunset Blue will continue every Sunday through September 20.
"So, what is the exact intention here? There's a soap vendor out there." I just think soap and booze don't mix, OK?
"Well, I went to school for alternative medicine, so I'm hoping to create kind of a cool vibe, with all kinds of different booths," she said. "I hope to, in the coming weeks, get enough vendors to pack the entire street."
I didn't doubt she would succeed.
I asked Terry, a Dive Bar regular whose blond hair was spiked to a point on the top of his head, what he thought about the whole thing. A self-described "fun guy," he shrugged.
"I come to this area because it's stumbling distance from where I live," he said. "It's great, because a lot of people don't know about the cool places over here. It's kind of hidden." Well, if Danielle had her way, that wouldn't last.
Terry said the Dive Bar was "for ages 21 to 71. There are no enemies here," he said. "We get fishermen, boaters, out-of-towners, locals, all kinds."
Outside: When I slipped out of A1A Dive Bar, the Joey Gilmore Band had taken the stage. I had to stop and listen when the female vocalist let loose with rip-roaring lyrics from "Summertime"—your daddy's rich—and your ma is good-looking. A woman in a long floral-print dress slow-danced with her much-taller beau as their little brown dog looked on patiently. Old folks sat drinking nearby; a teenager with inline skates wove through the crowd; young women ogled the wares of the clothing and jewelry vendors. Sporadically, people would clap as the songstress hit a soaring chord. Tom, Suzette, and Suzette's tiny white puppy Lucy hung near the back of the crowd.
Tom, tall and dignified with a bit of gray hair, surveyed the scene and nodded appreciatively.
"It's a great place for people to come and bring their dogs," noted Suzette, who had long blond hair and glowing skin. "Some of the vendors are interesting though. Two people were trying to sell salsa—but it was all vinegar. They asked for my opinion, and I gave it to them. They were kind of, you know, hippies."
"It's always best to be honest," I said sagely. Ironically, that's probably not true.
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"I love this," Tom said. "The music is wonderful."
"I'd never have come down here if it wasn't for the dog salon down here," Suzette said. "People don't know what's in here until they come."
After the band finished, I popped back into Blue Jean Blues, where Danielle and her friend Emi were seated in the corner and bartender Annie was yelling "Shot o'clock! Shot o'clock!" I immediately repositioned myself cozily between my new acquaintances, and Annie served up a round of Cherry Bomb shots. We clinked glasses. "To the block party," said Danielle. "I'll drink to that," I said.
After a deep swig and some pleasant conversation, the music faded and the crowd dispersed. I said my goodbyes, passed the soap vendor one more time, and hightailed it to my car. Thanks to the the bluesy music and mellow vibe, I was feeling pretty good (in retrospect, that might have been the free shot). If those forced neighborhood block parties of my youth were half as fun as Sunset Blue, I'd probably be way cooler.