Best Hotel 2004 | The Chesterfield Hotel | People & Places | South Florida
You gotta love a hotel that encourages you to get busy between its luxurious sheets. The Chesterfield offers a "Sex, Body, and Soul" package that includes a one-night stay, a bottle of massage oil, chocolate truffles, bath salts, a spa treatment, and -- dig this -- energy bars. It also comes with "a romantic book that offers ways to maximize you and your partner's enjoyment of each other," according to the hotel's website. Uh, could the title of that book possibly start with a "K" and end with an "ama Sutra"? Of course, you'll have to pay for this fabulous service. The intimate, English-style hotel -- located just two blocks from chi-chi Worth Avenue -- rents rooms for $200-plus a night, and the aforementioned package costs $395. During the summer, however, when the hot, hot weather sends plastic surgery survivors scurrying, you can check in for just over $100. Hotel guest or not, you simply must come hang out at the bar. The Leopard Lounge is campy and classy at the same time. Decorated from its leopard-spot carpet to its hand-painted ceiling, you're not sure whether you've wandered into a fabulous mansion or into a velvet painting. Every night of the week, a jazz band or Spanish guitarist plays. Elegant ladies dance with cigar-smoking men in dinner jackets while the bartender (in his leopard-print vest and red bow tie) mixes another round of martinis. This is the life, man.

Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons
By the age of 5, most South Floridians would rather watch their television flicker than have a close encounter with nature. But perhaps because of the popularity of Lord of the Rings, it "Ent" impossible to get those kids interested in the gigantic Lofty Fig at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. How could they resist the opportunity to hang out with the shaggy monster that so resembles their beloved Treebeard? The 70- to 85-year-old giant -- like those pesky invasive Australian pines that got hacked away a few years ago -- is non-native, according to rangers at the park, but has historical value because it was likely planted by Mr. Birch, who donated his estate as a public park (opened in 1949). Since the tree is located next to a covered picnic spot ($80 to rent for a day) and a playground, you can admire its winding, cavernous trunk while you drink cold beer and play volleyball. Of course, there's always the option of sitting around the house watching Billy and Jenny's soft little arms maneuver Playstation controllers while you try to figure out how to pay for their ADD meds, but it might be nice to try natural light -- and we don't mean the beer -- for a change. The beachside park with winding trails and preserved natural habitats opens at 8 a.m. and closes at sundown. Entrance is $4 for a carload and $1 per person for walk-ins.

The Broward County library system offers a zillion free resources in its one main, five regional, and 33 branch libraries. There are also three reading centers and four bookmobiles. If you're not into, like, reading, man, then try the 35,243 DVDs and 184,539 VHS tapes, which give you a selection that makes Blockbuster a real bust. Then there're the CDs -- everything from Frank Zappa's Jazz from Hell to a recording of Dr. Phil's Self Matters. And the guys who run this joint have balls. They recently turned down thousands of dollars in federal aid that they might have received if they had agreed to install pornography filters on computers with Internet access. Library Director Bob Cannon claimed that doing so would block users' access to sensitive material on abortion, gay issues, and safe sex. Then there are the librarians, who often double as babysitters and therapists. "I have regulars," says one librarian from the Hollywood branch who talks about her workplace with evangelical zeal and carries library card applications in her purse when she goes out. "I can tell when people have had a bad day, when they're falling in love, when they're heartbroken." One persistent customer calls almost daily for help with her crossword puzzles, and the librarians oblige. And don't even get us started about the free computer classes, puppet shows for kids, art exhibits, and the Small Business Resource Center at the main branch. The only thing this place lacks is beds; otherwise, we'd suggest you move in.

You'd think being landslid out of office might end the average would-be author's hope of writing a how-to on becoming a political success. But that didn't stop Tim Smith, who was routed by Jim Naugle in last year's Fort Lauderdale mayoral race. The former city commissioner didn't let the sudden and bitter end of his political career stop him from coming out with a vanity book called Politics 101, subtitled The True Story of the Life of a City Commissioner. Now if that tease doesn't prompt lines at the local Barnes and Noble, what will? "Required Reading for the Inspired Citizen," boasts the cover. What the hell does that mean? To give you an idea of the depth of the 176-page book, consider that it is virtually all in italics and contains more exclamation points per page than a 16-year-old girl's diary. It's actually kind of fun, though. Smith suffers from a severe case of inflated self-importance, but he also comes across as a naive, almost boyish fellow who thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of his six years in office. The problem is that the book doesn't deliver. Smith promises in the forward that he will tell tales, but either you already knew most of what he's telling or the stuff's just not all that interesting. For instance, he alleges that his arch-enemy Naugle, an out-of-the-closet homophobe, once inferred to him that he'd had a gay experience. Now, this should be quite scintillating, especially since guessing the mayor's true persuasion is one of Fort Lauderdale's great pastimes. But even that anecdote lacks a good punch in the saccharine way Smith tells it. (Naugle, of course, denies it). "I'm guessing that my experience was stranger and more unique than most elected officials," the washed-up pol writes in the forward. The problem is that it really wasn't.
Ignore the text-only design that seems a throwback to the early days of the World Wide Web. The Miami section of -- which includes browsers from across South Florida -- is arguably one of the most dynamic in the online subtropics. Craig Newmark founded the nonprofit online community in San Francisco in the 1990s at the urging of friends. Over the past decade, the website has expanded to cover more than 30 metropolitan areas, including the website for South Florida, which launched in October 2002. What has made South Florida's so successful is its decidedly local edge. It's a communal bulletin board designed for neighbors to exchange opinions, advertise services, discover new loves, find an activity partner, or locate an activity partner for whom you have to, well, uh, pay. The site receives several hundred posts per day; a good number are from Broward and Palm Beach counties. Posting a message is free since is noncommercial. It costs money only to post a job advertisement, and the revenue is used to operate and maintain the site. Of course, you can be completely anonymous when you post, even if you're the 25-year-old straight dude who recently advertised for "someone to give me a prostate massage." So log on and talk politics, give away your old couch, adopt a pet, breed your snake, sell your car, find a job -- it's all possible at

We've often thought of starting a weblog to dump all of our mad, misplaced, and most brilliant thoughts, but the need isn't pressing as long as we have Steve Koppelman around. Koppelman, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, runs the wonderfully named, a website where he unloads his mind on readers lucky enough to find him. Also called "Steve Koppelman's Catologue of Poorly Catologued Things," the blog basically serves as a condensation of one man's existence in South Florida and the world. The 34-year-old real estate agent by trade writes without a trace of pretense about whatever is inside his hatless head, whether it be the most recent crop of Indian River grapefruit or the time he vainly waited for a Broward County bus at the airport. He writes about music, film, media, politics, and barbecue joints. In the past few months, he's sounded off on the FCAT, Vladimir Putin, Haiti, the BSO crime report rigging investigation, Everglades restoration, and Halliburton. The relationship is simple -- he writes, we read. But we want to give Koppelman one bit of advice/encouragement: Keep that hat off, brother.

If you can't beat science, join it. Or at least appropriate its patois, as this institute has done. The brainchild of Tom DeRosa, an acolyte of D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Church of Intolerance, CSI wants to prove the Bible is fact using science; this is a somewhat inverted notion of how scientific discovery works. "Without Creation, then God's Word is not true," DeRosa has posited. "Without God's Word, there is no foundation for the Gospel." (Wait a minute, would that mean no more Mel Gibson films?) Anyway, that kind of logic can lead only to the conclusion you've already decided upon, which in this case includes a major role for Noah's Great Flood in laying down fossil deposits. DeRosa and gang have concluded that the seven-day creation scenario is the most difficult part of the Bible for nonbelievers to accept. Why? "Satan has deliberately vested huge amounts of effort in an attempt to cloud and/or obscure altogether its true significance," DeRosa wrote on CSI's website. Of course, the countless fossils layered in sediment over several hundred million years don't help the institute's case either.

Parking on Las Olas Boulevard is a renowned pain in the derrière. The finicky, quarters-only meters prompted one restaurateur over the holidays to hire an 18-year-old fellow on a full-time basis to stand around a side lot making change for customers. The ravenous meters on the street slurp down spare change like Pac-Man gobbling power pellets. Fail to feed these steel sentries and your reward is a $25 ticket, which, come to think of it, would buy you a mere 20 hours of street parking anyway. The only chink in the system is to hit the meter spots on the side streets after dark, when those meters aren't monitored. Maybe it's the fear of parking a $60,000 SUV slightly off the beaten path that keeps the gentry coming back to the expensive spots along the main drag. Whatever. If you're hitting the Floridian for a slab of pie after a night of wine-fueled suck-face, you deserve at least the option of gratis parking on somewhere south of Las Olas. Because you, dear friend, are keeping it real.

Imagine God giving you his blessing to play a practical joke. That's what it feels like -- even if it's clearly not the case -- when you give the kids in the youth group at St. Joseph's 30 bucks and the street address. They'll arrive at your buddy's abode in the middle of the night with their truck full of two-foot-tall plastic flamingos and spread them throughout the front yard. Thirty flamingos for 30 bucks, 60 flamingos for $60, 90 for $90, and so on. Your friend wakes up to find that his home is a major source of rubbernecking. Since your money helps the junior God Squad organize church-related events and the kids even come pick up the flamingos after a few days, you get all of the amusement and none of the guilt. Besides, how many times will your friends fall for "Pull my finger!"? This particular St. Joseph's fundraising occurs only in the fall. Set up a prank with the youth director, Steffi, in November.

You just spent three months chipping ice off of your front steps and hunching your shoulders against the frigid north wind, which keeps coming like a sumo wrestler. Those Anglo-Saxon, winter-resistant genes are wearing thin. So jump in the car and drive the 2,500 or so miles to Hollywood Beach, mate. See what a doughty little Florida city can do for your battered Northern soul. Well? For starters, stick your bony white feet into the Atlantic. It's the icebreaker. It's also the only thing that comes cheap. That and the free playground and a few pizza joints, where the pies are thin and acidic. Hell, if you're Québecois and speak French, greet thousands of your pale fellow countrymen, who dominate the Broadwalk seven months a year. Au revoir, you locals. This place is ours!

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