Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Kim Ehly's Fort Lauderdale-based Kutumba Theatre Project is just two productions into its existence, but it has established a niche brand as a voice for the lesbian-American experience. Theatergoers have already witnessed growth from its first production, the pulp throwback The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, to its second, Julie Johnson, about a young woman's sexual and intellectual awakenings. That growth largely stemmed from the superlative casting of Valentina Izarra, whose performance as Julie elevated the work of those around her, not all of whom had professional-theater bona fides. In the play's first few minutes, she was a rumple of clothes on the floor of her modest apartment, her face buried in her own despair. Izarra emerged from this state like a turtle finally exiting its shell and experiencing life for the first time. Her character began taking computer classes (cutting-edge for the show's setting, in 1980s New Jersey) and developing feelings for her longtime, female best friend, who, like her, was stuck in an increasingly loveless marriage. Izarra expressed these changes with a radiant positivity and joie de vivre that couldn't help but ripple outward to the audience. It would be reductive to say Julie Johnson is a feel-good play, but if you didn't feel good watching Izarra hilariously and sweetly stumble and fumble and awkwardly navigate these life-changing choices, then you may not be human.
Sports bars should have two things: drinks and TVs. Bokamper's has both in spades. Owned by and named after Dolphins defensive lineman Kim "Bo" Bokamper from the team's glory years, his fifth and newest location in Fort Lauderdale is the most overwhelming yet. A full bar includes craft beers and specialty drinks, but more impressive is the sheer number of televisions that cover the place wall to wall. You will be able to catch a glimpse of the game no matter where you sit. There are so many TVs that on an NFL Sunday, the same holds true for whichever game you wish to watch, even if the Jacksonville Jaguars are playing the Cleveland Browns. If you hate sports and are dragged here against your will, this Bokamper's sits on the Intracoastal Waterway, allowing you to root for whichever sailboat is the prettiest as you down another beer.
This party enclave caters to the hip: the chic, live-music lovers and those looking for a serious cocktail and a sexy time. The 5,000-square-foot space opened in fall 2013 and boasts gorgeous décor throughout the three-level club. Revelers are treated to two bars, plush couches, a fireplace area, and a whimsical portrait of George Washington wearing sunglasses. The impressive drink menu was concocted by Miami mixologist extraordinaire John Lermayer. Toss back classics such as old-fashioneds and Tom Collinses , or a WGA Sour — shaken with Disaronno, 100-proof bourbon, lemon juice, and egg whites. Visit during the club's weekend happy hour for a showcase of whirling nipple-tassels and hip-shimmying burlesque dancers working the stage. Dim the lights, baby; it's showtime.
The best part about a neighborhood joint is that you make it what it is. With Muddy Waters, you can make it a mental vacation to Key West or a detour to a nautical bar on your way home from the office. The place is decorated like a pirate ship, and you can eat like you're on one too — 69 cents per raw clam or oyster, all day every day. (Don't forget your rum!) Known for a homegrown karaoke night and Floribbean food, Muddy Waters is by locals and for locals. Come in with your crew when you desire the wild South Floridian vibes or by yourself when you need a bite and a conversation with a stranger. Good service, food, and drinks — it's the neighborhood bar trifecta. This place is missing only one thing: a "Locals Only" sign.
When the Black Pearl Tavern shuttered last summer, a huge pained chorus of Boston-accented sighs shook through South Florida. Since 1995, the Pearl, a storefront bar crammed into a strip mall on East Commercial, was the go-to spot for Boston sports fans living in South Florida. Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins — the memorabilia hung from the walls. The games were on constant replay. The conversation pinballed from Tham Brahday to Bell Whalten to Hail Flutie. Then — poof! — it was gone. Luckily for these exiles, less than a year later, a new Pearl is rising from the ashes. The new location is east on Commercial in a space that once held the Gold Medal Wine Shop. The new space is no-fills — just a big square bar surrounded on three sides by stools. Boston sports continue to run from the flat screens, and it has Funky Buddha beers on tap. And the bar continues to pull in the usual crowd of neighborhood folks, off-shift restaurant-industry types, and Bostonians. Unless you want to be evil-eyed or shanked, don't walk through the door in New York Yankee gear.
You could sop up suds in bars across the land, and you'll never find It — that ineffable quality that the bards sing hymns to and bar hoppers sniff out like hounds hunting game. It — the perfect balance of down-home drinking, affordable prices, and friendly faces. It — what you'll never find inside an Applebee's or any other chain bar or restaurant named after a day of the week. But once you walk inside Walsh's Irish Sports Bar in Hollywood, the It-ness smacks you in the face. That's because owner Terri Walsh and her merry band of regulars have had plenty of time to get the whole bar thing down. Ever since Walsh worked at Hollywood's mainstay McGowan's in the '80s, she's collected around her a team of drinkers. Now, every night of the week, they pour into Walsh's own place on North Federal Highway, filling up barstools to swap stories and reminisce. But it's not a members-only affair. Strangers are greeted warmly and will likely be led through a whirlwind of intros by Walsh herself, all topped off with a tequila shot — a textbook It move.
Neighborhood bars are something special. There is nothing quite like a lack of tourist families and selfish snowbirds to know you have found your spot. Delray Beach is a place that gets down for big events but also has the comfort of offering weekly goodness that will satisfy your urge to party. On Atlantic Avenue, it's all about Bull Bar. It's a staple that's small enough to give you the neighborhood vibe but too well-run to be considered a dive. Location, location, location: Bull Bar has it and knows how to use it. It's the easiest place to pop into and avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Ave. But there's more than just a convenient location and a casual vibe keeping the drinks slinging. The live music lineup is stacked with local musicians who do it right. Warning: This place gets crowded. But only because it kicks so much ass.
Like a bunker in the Interzone — gay icon William Burroughs' comic/lurid dreamscape of lost leather boys — the squat bland box with glass brick windows that is Fort Dix sits amid the grit and dust of the Georgia Avenue industrial strip just west of the tracks in West Palm Beach, rainbow flag aloft. It's more appearance than reality, though, and the name's a dead giveaway, a punny homage — knowing and sassy — to those dark days of the closet, when gay men cruised the barracks and the bus station bathroom. In fact, it's (in some ways anyway) just another place where everyone knows your name: neon beer signs and other typical tavern décor on the walls, while on a quiet weeknight, the barkeep and a single customer at the bar talk about camping and campgrounds while the sounds of Family Feud come from the large-screen TV across the floor. Another, smaller TV above the bar tells a different tale — gay porn with a vintage look, a nice match for the Tom of Finland-style prints and very macho wrestling posters on the walls. You can be anything you want at Fort Dix; you just can't pretend.
It may be considered South Florida's queer mecca, but Wilton Manors tends to swing in favor of those with something swinging between their legs. (After all, you can't spell "manor" without "man.") And while a gal can throw down at Georgie's Alibi with the best of the boys, Wilton Drive might as well be called the Sausage Strip... until you come across this little gem. 13|Even is part-restaurant, part-bar, and all about serving up good juju. Here you'll find Fiona Apple coming through the speakers at that perfect, let's-enjoy-our-conversation volume. It has a selection of suds that will make your craft beer junkie friends foam at the tap. The space glows a welcoming shade of honey, thanks to pumpkin-colored walls dotted with artwork for sale and lights crafted out of recycled Napa wine barrels (... and the occasional SEC softball tourney on TV). And while it may be a place where the girls go, that's not to say 13|Even is exclusively for women; its selection of delicious small plates paired with its extensive beer and wine menu attracts the boys and the most hetero of sexuals. Good juju does not discriminate.
Cafe 27 embodies what every biker bar should be: It's far removed from civilian life, a little rough around the edges, and absolutely massive. To find it, follow Griffin Road west until it winds down to one lane and your eyes are filled with all sky and no scrapers. Drive any farther and you're waist-deep in the Everglades (they don't call this bar "an oasis on the edge of civilization" for nothin'). It's got more than a dozen picnic benches for you and your leathery crew to lounge on as you kick back with a few buckets of beer after that 50-mile Sunday-morning joyride along U.S. 27, and two massive chickee huts with industrial fans at each corner keep the no-see-ems off your callused hands. Is that a ZZ Top look-alike or the real deal? We'll never tell.
There's a time in all of our lives when we gracefully mature from picking up strangers with three-for-ones at Capone's to actually taking someone out on this heretofore-unfamiliar thing called a date. After the kids come along, the partying doesn't end; it just moves away from YOLO. Fort Lauderdale's soccer moms and business dads still know how to live it up — but now they've got decent paychecks, loyal babysitters, connected friends... and secret hideouts. The Sun Tower Hotel, just north of the Pelican Grand, has a boring façade and anonymous name — but that's just to fake out the too-cool crowd. In the back, right on the ocean, tables are packed full of joyous parties chowing down on amazing lobster rolls or expertly grilled red snapper, while friendly worked-here-forever servers come table to table to refill the wineglasses. If kids are in tow, they can jump in the pool or munch on some of the best Angus burgers this side of Texas. Before calling it a night, the grownups might gossip about city bigwigs and jibber-jab with local young professionals who've discovered the special spot. Tomorrow, they won't be too hungover to slide into their khaki shorts and Guy Harvey T-shirts and gas up the boat. Don't fear getting to this stage of life. It happens to all of us, and if we're lucky, it happens like this.
You know what's better than drinking in any old swimming pool? Drinking in a swimming pool while checking out the wavy Atlantic after spending a long day with skilled paws massaging your neck at the W's Bliss Spa. You'll smell of lemon and sage as you dip your toesies in the heated water at the W Hotel's pools — yes, "pools" plural. There are Eastern and Western infinity pools, so you can catch the sun rise or set with booze in hand. Wet West is open only seasonally, but it's private and thus perfect for those less interested in having the paparazzi snap a pic of their damp asses. Or you can let that booty dry off at your cushy cabana spot as you watch the Kardashians do the same on a 19-inch TV while sucking on some strawberries and surfing the web for best Fort Lauderdale restaurants using the W's free Wi-Fi. And if the heated pools aren't warm enough to make your muscles melt, there are hot tubs for a postworkout soak. Or you can just kick back in the warm water after you gorge on grub from Wet's grill or from Steak 954 downstairs. But let's say this time, you have the kids with you. How can you impress your unimpressible, internet-obsessed mini-zombies? There's a dry staircase running downstairs that cuts through one of the pools. As you walk down the steps, you can see the writhing legs of swimmers as they struggle to stay afloat. After the little ones indulge in a little peeping Tom action, they can get toasty at the fire pit, or you can dance to embarrass them as the DJ spins you straight into the night.