Polo is a classy sport. No wonder Americans haven't really taken to it. But add alcohol and motorized vehicles, and voilà! At the International Polo Club, you can customize a company outing featuring a polo match with an announcer explaining the rules, food and drinks, and a "divot stomp," at which participants (champagne glasses firmly in hand) march onto the field to flatten out turf that's been kicked up by ponies' hooves. But the best part: After eating, grab a mallet, get in the golf cart (the polo players drive), and tear ass around the field for a match on four wheels. What's that sound? Ralph Lauren weeping with jealousy?
The tradition of kitsch is unique to our region, and the Mai-Kai is the king of kitsch. This tropical time warp has been owned and run by the same family for more than 50 years and boasts the amazing Molokai bar. Built out of an old movie set's pirate ship, this plank-floor rum factory is quickly disorienting. Water runs down the exterior of the submarine-style windows, and the lighting is always dark and warming — soon the outside world is just a hazy memory and your new, much funner, life revolves around tiki-tacky drinks served in hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples. If you go at the right time, you can catch the bar band playing Don Ho covers next to an archaic drum machine that we can only imagine was salvaged from Gilligan's Island. If you're feeling flush with cash, make a reservation for the floor show. You'll hardly notice the mediocre cuisine when you become hypnotized by the gyrating, fire-throwing Polynesian dancers on stage. In between sets, take a stroll through the tiki gardens and pay homage to the statues placed throughout — most of which resemble large-scale versions of the "bad luck souvenir" from the famous "Brady Bunch Hawaiian Vacation" episode. When you pick up your car from the valet, your guests will say, "Screw Disney!"
The trains make a helluva fuss as they pull into the station. And they show up only once an hour. But for car slaves in South Florida tired of sitting in north-south traffic along Interstate 95, Tri-Rail is a good alternative. Flying into the Miami Airport and not sure how to get to West Palm Beach? Hop on the train. Rather than slogging behind the wheel of a car for 70 miles, possibly through bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can sit back and arrive in a cool 101 minutes. On the way, you can read the paper, watch a movie on your iPod, or — heck — take a nap. And the cost? On a weekday, that sort of one-way ticket goes for $5.50, $4 on a weekend. Although the Tri-Rail isn't the perfect solution for our commuting dilemma, it's a good start.
Living on a peninsula is awesome — until you want to get out of town. From South Florida, driving north or west will only get you more of the same scenery. Going east will just get you really wet. So it's no secret that the Keys are the most obvious and most charming destination — it's just that the drive sucks. U.S. 1 for 200 miles? Ugh. But about three months ago, Key West Express, a company that's been offering trips on a high-speed catamaran from Fort Myers and Marco Island to the Keys for more than a decade, added a Miami-Key West route that runs daily Thursday through Sunday. You can leave your car at the dock at the Miami Seaquarium — it's free, and yes, there's security. The 155-foot-long vessel has two hulls (for a stable ride), massive engines (to get you there in about four hours), indoor and outdoor decks (bring sunscreen), and a full bar (so you can get started on the margaritas before you get anywhere near Margaritaville). Round-trip tickets cost $98 for adults, $66 for kids.
If the sprawling, luxurious Breakers Resort is the famous grand dame of Palm Beach hotels, the Brazilian Court is its sexy little sister. Instead of welcoming guests through an ostentatious lobby with a two-lane valet, the Court seduces them through three discreet entrances. Instead of dressing up in formal, palatial, and immaculate lawns, this place flaunts its tantalizing assets: a heated pool, a wine butler, and an intimate, flower-filled patio. The Spanish-style compound has attracted diplomats, movie stars, and Kennedys since opening on New Year's Day in 1926. In the past couple of years, the hotel has upped its chic factor with celebrity power by adding Café Boulud (the menu was designed by Chef Daniel Boulud), opening a Frederic Fekkai salon (Mr. Fekkai won't be your hairdresser, but his products and techniques are used here), and starting a breakfast series with bestselling authors (so you just might bump into Gay Talese or Nora Ephron in the library). But besides being a nice place to sleep (for $550 to $950 a night), it's not a bad spot to gold-dig. Tuesday- and Saturday-night parties draw businessmen in blazers as well as 20-somethings in tank tops, and the scene is so hot right now that even the grand dames can't resist coming in for a peek.
Roger Dean Stadium is all about spring training. It's known for its up-and-coming ballplayers (see next year's Marlins now), its cheap seats, and its famous Dean Dogs (hot dogs almost as long as your forearm). This place gets a lot of things right — even down to the men's bathrooms. Although the facilities manager and his workers deserve most of the credit for keeping the porcelain spiffy in there, they do get a lot of help from an unlikely sponsor: pest control company Nozzle Nolen. Not because Nolen sprays for insects but because the company decorated the urinals. Complete with, um, paintings of little bugs down at the drain. What are those for? Stadium General Manager Rob Rabenecker explains with a laugh, "Gives guys something to aim at." The decorations are offered along with gentle reminders like "Nozzle Nolen says ÔAim high in life; aim low here.'" Sorry, ladies — no word on when NN's coming out with a home version.
"Nipple laws and genital laws are in effect," one regular says, describing the Fetish Factory's monthly Alter Ego parties. "So women have to have the electrical-tape X's covering stuff up, and for men, a banana hammock is perfectly acceptable attire as long as the banana stays in the hammock." Funny but not quite accurate. Although there's a good dose of near-nudity at Fetish Factory parties, the company's point of distinction, actually, is its dress code. That's precisely the thing that keeps out, say, the pervy tourist in Spandex but brings in the young professional who just likes to walk around in a (rather tasteful) ball gag from time to time. In fact, Fetish Factory parties are more like fashion shows. They have themes such as "Apocalypse" or "Tribute to Bettie Page," and attendees take the dress-up requirement seriously. It's not uncommon for someone to have dropped $1,000 on a latex outfit or to show off her new customized catsuit. So the great thing about people-watching here is that the people don't mind you watching, especially the performers — like the two dancers who showed up in matching gas masks connected by a tube, or Rubberella, who might make an appearance wearing a clear plastic outfit and goggles. "The crowd is the most respectful and friendly crowd, better than sports bars or anywhere," the regular says. "You know, if somebody wants to have a threesome, they'll just come up and ask you — politely."
You can make fun of the $5,000 boob jobs and the codgers hopped up on Viagra, but while you've been sniggering, Boca Raton has thrown open one fantastic restaurant after another. Unless you're dining in Boca these days, practically the only eating of any consequence you're going to be doing is swallowing your own bitter words. The roster of restaurants that opened in the past year or survived their first couple of seasons is practically freaky, from classy additions like Bova, Opus 5, and Café Joley to Bogart's at the Muvico Palace Theater. Brit celeb-chef Angela Harnett is opening Cielo at the Boca Resort this year, and two excellent coal-fired pizza ovens — Red Rock and Coal Mine — are practically within spitting distance of each other. Bucky's is purveying serious barbecue, MoQuila has a list of specialty tequilas, and there's some of the best Asian fusion around at Fah. Respectable chains like Nick's Fishmarket of Hawaii, Seasons 52, Trulucks Stone Crabs, and Chops Lobster Bar are setting up shop. And the old favorites — Johannes, Saporissimo, Fran's Chicken Haven, and Gary Woo — along with a bunch of gourmet markets from Whole Foods to Kings aren't going anywhere. They recognize what paydirt looks like when they see it: It's driving a silver Beemer heading right toward them.
Wilton Manors was not always a fabulous place to live. In the mid-'90s, it was just another neighborhood of the kind that flourished throughout South Florida in those days: brown lawns sporting the occasional junker car, houses from the '60s and '70s that would have been pretty if only somebody had painted them, mom-and-pop businesses flashing in and out of business along Wilton Drive — and, for some reason, two Bible/Christian-paraphernalia stores. All of this changed with the Great Homosexual Takeover of 1997 (and '98 and '99 and so on). Wilton Manors has been blooming for the past decade. Crime rates have plummeted, and the funky businesses on Wilton Drive have stabilized into a mix of stellar restaurants to suit all budgets (Rosie's at the low end, Food Amongst the Flowers up top), one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques (Edgardo's, Zoo Two), community coffee shops (Stork's, Java Boys), and a massively friendly bar scene (Alibi, Boom, Big Dog, Scandals, and so on). The town has morphed into that rarest of communities that actually feels like a community. Nighttime in Wilton Manors is unlike anything else in South Florida: You can see the denizens of the neighborhood walking slowly along Wilton Drive, chatting with one another, drifting into the occasional wine bar or exotic candy shop and then out again, happily digging the vaguely upscale, exquisite downhominess of it all.
The best thing about discovering woodsy Riverland Road on foot are the secrets you'd never see from the street. Huge homes, old homes, ultramodern-homes, and slender waterways you never imagined existed. Doctors, lawyers, and college professors hide out down narrow, canopy-covered dead-end lanes that lie shaded from the sun and prying eyes. On the south side of curvy Riverland Road, the streets cut between the finger canals coming off the New River, and sailboat masts rear behind stately if staid homes. But on the north side, the jungle appears ready to swallow the sunlight itself, and exploring the verdant streets reveals a laid-back lifestyle with an Old Florida feel that's largely been chased out of downtown by development. Here, lots are large, the trees (tons of live oaks) are tall, and the houses just feel fat with history and mystery. Walk around long enough and you may see a manatee lolling in a canal, a huge iguana eating hibiscus flowers, even a pink pineapple sprouting from a pot. And if you find the right street, you may discover the heavily fortified back door of the secret island visited by the Jungle Queen tour boat. Just listen for a loud horn.

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