Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Having celebrated its fifth anniversary in April, this joint rocks on. With its funky, Hawaiian-themed décor -- surfboards on the walls and television sets showing big-wave videos on a loop -- the Surf Café seems the perfect spot to hang ten -- or just hang out. (It also ain't bad for the FAU college crowd to take a breather from all those tests.) And you don't even have to wear a Quicksilver shirt or carry a Jensen backpack to enter. Secretaries, construction workers, and just folks come in after work for their happy-hour fix (served 4 through 8 p.m. daily, till 10 on Friday), which includes a variety of beer, shot, and wine specials. As evening progresses into night, there's no need to go elsewhere. On most Thursday through Sunday evenings, the café transforms into a nightclub, with local rock, reggae, and alternative bands as well as electronic, hip-hop, and underground DJs. The place also offers a grill, three pool tables, homey couches and sofas, a small stage for the bands/DJs, and plenty of seating so you can kick back and enjoy the show.
Good things do come from Boca Raton: fine matzo ball soup, for instance. The blue hair rinse is divine. And Baby Robots, Boca's resident art-damaged combo, provides the town with a slightly deviant edge that it has long lacked. Why? Because the 'bots -- product of a team of visual and sonic artists creating in a virtual vacuum -- rip up the South Florida rock rule book. Irrepressible guitarist/singer Bobby Baker is exploding with ideas, some just as likely to dissolve into a mud puddle of distortion as to reach sonic transcendence. But more often than not, the Baby Robots strike a remarkable balance between psychosis and eloquence. And that's something Boca Raton could use more often.
Nice guys rarely finish first, especially nice guys with way-over-the-top baritones. But local legend John Cain Reilly is so serious about his art that he puts other frontmen to shame. From his mid-'90s days in Basketcase to his newest role leading ex-Marilyn Manson guitarist Scott Putesky's band (Three Ton Gate, née Stuck on Evil), Reilly uses his church-organ pipes to project a palpable aura of glorious Grand Guignol gloom. Suntanic, Stuck on Evil's 2001 release, vacillates between semi-shocking imagery and a cheeky, erotic/occult plateau; and Reilly is indisputably its focal point. From the core-breaching opener "Died of Me" to the chaotic/melodic Beatles cover ("I'm Only Sleeping") through the poetic (and formerly a capella) closer "Non-Photo Blues," Reilly is Fort Lauderdale's worship-worthy rock god.
There's nothing quite as thrilling as catching an up-and-coming young act on the threshold of a national French kiss, which is what audiences have witnessed over the past year with Boca Raton's Dashboard Confessional. And when these saviors of the emo set, led by diminutive, tattooed love god Chris Carrabba, brought the show home to Pompano Beach's now-defunct Millennium Club from a national tour this past December to the thunderous acclaim of a hometown crowd (who were just as proud as pleasured), it gave rise to feelings of validation and redemption, as well as more than one misty eye. Although he's been fortunate enough to chill with Conan O'Brien on the late-night talk-show circuit, sad-sack lyricist Carrabba hasn't yet exploited his hunky heartthrob status. When that happens, it's likely all over. We feel your pain, Chris. Glad your hard work is finally paying off.
On and off the podium, the former music director of the Florida Philharmonic was interesting. He often began concerts by regaling the audience with pithy comments about the music or the composer, then turned around and incited impassioned performances from the orchestra's players, many of whom loathed him. Judd deserves much of the credit for raising the philharmonic to its current level of prestige. His abrupt resignation this past November 19 came on the same day as the restructuring plan to save the philharmonic was released. Sour grapes? Megalomania? Maybe. But it's clear that for 14 years, Judd, with his sparkly blue eyes, wavy mane, and Continental manners, charmed South Florida into giving chunks of its many fortunes to keep the philharmonic afloat. To rescue the orchestra from the musician's strike of 2000, Judd donated part of his salary to help meet payroll. Judd works on the other side of the world now -- in New Zealand, to be precise -- and continues to guest-conduct many of the world's orchestras. And though he was a real character, the Florida Philharmonic has weaned itself from him and is now standing on its own wobbly feet.
There is no bastion of cool like the Poor House. Located in an ostensibly historic district (whose anchor is a new $65 million, pastel-shaded mall) in the center of a town bent on cannibalizing its own past, the rough wooden interior of the Poor House is as impervious to change as it is to termites. With no wet-T-shirt contests, frozen and microwaved artificial cheese sticks, displaced Abercrombie & Fitch models, or any of the other insufferable indignities other watering holes foist upon us, the Poor House specializes in a late-night ambience that isn't manufactured by a frat-boy focus group. It features actual live music, not Sublime cover songs. Its taps dispense real beer and microbrewed ales. It is bereft of pretense, and for that reason alone, it will remain Broward's best place to grab a beer or five.
The chi-chi atmosphere at this CityPlace nightspot simply oozes hip. The toasty faux fire in the fireplace, recessed ceilings set off with red and blue indirect lighting, marble-lit bar tops, and live jazz in the background provide a perfect stage for the martini to cut loose and show off. Mr. Jenkins, the suit-wearing Tanqueray poster boy, would definitely give his nod to the sleek watering hole. Among the more popular of the 20 varieties of imbibable treats at the prime people-watching locale: The Masterpiece Martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives, the Chocolate Martini, a Sex and the City martini, and, of course, the bar's namesake drink.