Best Dive Bar 2016 | Elbo Room | Arts & Entertainment | South Florida
Kristin Bjornsen

As far as dive bars go, alcoholics everywhere could do much, much worse than Elbo Room, where more often than not there isn't much, well, elbow room. Most dive bars are run-down shit-holes in crummy neighborhoods, but Elbo Room is a run-down institution on one of the most prized pieces of real estate in Broward County, where Las Olas Boulevard meets the beach. The first floor is often cramped and overflowing with sunburned drunks, and that's part of the appeal! Opened in 1938, this venerable bar owes much of its success to its sunny corner and to being featured in the movie Where the Boys Are (which launched the spring break phenomenon). Bathed in an Art Deco façade on the outside and lined with a rustic, woody Key West feel inside, Elbo Room hasn't changed too much in its almost 80-year history. Modern day shenanigans include drinking contests, spring break bashes, and live music. Save the uppity hustle and bustle for South Beach. Like a wicked hangover that won't quit, Elbo Room hangs on.

Readers' choice: Original Fat Cat's

A graybeard in the world of SoFla kava bars, the Purple Lotus, 11 years along, is where many a local first tried euphoria Polynesian style. Proprietor Jimmy Scianno, a serious student of kava and kava culture, has weathered (kratom-related) controversy and seen his enterprise expand to locations in South Beach and Delray Beach. But the original remains a favorite, and not just for the exotic beverages and chill South Seas décor. The whole block it occupies has a whimsical air and a storied past. The fortune teller next door has moved on, but the very cool Evernia Coffee House has moved in a few doors away — to a space that in the early '90s housed the Artsbar, a landmark of local alternative history. Dixie Highway is a sleepy two-lane street here; sit and sip in the Lotus' sidewalk chairs and watch the world flow by.

Angel Melendez

With the abundance of choices for nightlife in West Palm Beach, it's somewhat surprising that there's a dearth when it comes to the LGBT scene. It may not be Miami, but the struggle to find a quality gay bar in Palm Beach County shouldn't be so real. Thankfully, there's H. G. Roosters. Established in the mid-'80s, what makes H. G. Roosters such a delight is the perpetual activity. Every single night features a different form of entertainment: Monday bingo, Tuesday pool tournaments, drag shows on the weekends, Sunday karaoke, and so on. Despite the incessant busyness, though, the atmosphere couldn't be more relaxed, with nary a hint of pretension in the air. In addition to late-night happy hour on Friday evenings, the drinks are stupid cheap, and the bartenders couldn't stop smiling if they tried. Featuring hours made for night owls (the bar never closes before 3 a.m.), H. G. Roosters has partygoers up until, well, the rooster crows. And speaking of which, all you need to know about this place is in the marquee. When a gay bar has an animal in its name closely related to the slang for "dong," you know it doesn't take itself too seriously. That right there is an indicator of fun times.

Readers' choice: Rosie's Bar and Grill

Queerly beloved, we are gathered here today

To witness the fact that there exists not a single dedicated lesbian bar in this county,

Which is an unholy outrage in a city like Fort Lauderdale.

Who can name a place for women who love women to go for a drink

Without being surrounded by sausage, plagued by penis, choked by chest hair?

We mean not to offend those with chest hair, or those who love the D.

But for God's sake, bring back New Moon,

Lest bed death do us in.

(Runner-Up: A Bottle of Wine in Your Living Room)

Erica K. Landau

Blue Jean Blues features some of the best local artists in South Florida, like Jimmy Cavallo, Joel DaSilva, Eric & the Jazzers, and Kat Riggins. Live music is on blast seven nights a week — quite impressive for a club that sticks to just a few specific music genres. A big menu gives you lots of options: pizza or calamari for food, a glass of Prosecco or signature cocktails (Old Time Blues or Blue Jean Collins) for drinks. When you walk into this joint any night of the week, you'll find a packed bar, dancers on the floor, and men and women singin' the blues like it was in their veins. This is the perfect spot for a fun, sultry night on the town.

Walk along the Broadwalk on Hollywood Beach and you'll run into a little tiki bar that locals and tourists frequent all year round. The Riptide Hotel's beach bar is a simple thatched hut surrounded by chairs, tables, and a soundstage for live music. Underneath, you'll see fun, beachy sayings like "Drink until you're naked" and "No fish were harmed while making our fishbowls." Live music happens every day from 1 to 9 p.m. — the kind of tunes that pair well with a piña colada. The signature drink is the Riptide Lemonade: strawberry-infused vodka mixed with lemonade, a refreshing but lethal combination. You might actually end up naked drinking too many of those, but draft beers, fresh smoothies, and sparkling wines are also available for the taking. If you're hungry, create your own pizza or nab a Riptide Veggie Wrap or Cobb Salad. You can walk right onto the beach with a drink in your hand.

So apparently Rhum Shak serves food. Guess we never really noticed because the live music Wednesday through Sunday was always so great and the daily happy hour so satisfying. Located in the heart of downtown, the ocean-themed bar, with its pirate logo and mural of an underwater scene on the far main wall, is a dream come true for binge drinkers. The drink specials begin at 11 a.m. and run through 7 p.m., turning happy hour into a happy day. That includes $2.25 drafts and $4 house wines. If the cheap cocktails or specialty drinks like the Pirate's Booty or Rhum Shak Sucker Punch knock you on your ass, Rhum Shak can bring you back to life with food specials. On Thursday nights they offer 49-cent chicken wings, and on Saturdays the entire menu is 40 percent off before 5 p.m. Rhum Shak delivers on a wonderful promise: Get drunk, get fat, get entertained, and keep your hard-earned treasure in the process.

Readers' Choice: Mai-Kai Restaurant

Angel Melendez

With live music virtually every single night, Bull Bar has the air of a laid-back college bar, minus the frat boys and the sandal-wearing philosophers. It's small, and the party often spills outside the doors. Locals, young professionals, and tourists alike all pack the Delray Beach hotspot. They come for the daily happy hour and the half-off drinks, but stay — or swing back by at the end of the night — for the singer-songwriters and bands that take the stage, mixing original songs in with plenty of singalong covers. Perhaps the only negative is how busy Bull Bar can get, but taking the numbers into consideration, it's a wonder how clean and comfortable it remains. It's the perfect place to start and end a night of revelry along downtown Delray's Candyland of bars, clubs, and restaurants. It's both the pregame and the nightcap.

What qualifies someone as a great bartender? Is it someone who can make the perfect martini? A barkeep that can spot you walking through the door and have your favorite drink waiting before you even sit down? Or is it that person with so many followers, his or her bar is packed with loyal regulars? Brule Bistro's Randy Rapposelli scores on all of the above. This drink-slinger has been manning the bar at this beloved Delray Beach hotspot for the past four years, when the former gourmet market and lunch spot swapped to a more sophisticated full-service restaurant complete with a full bar in 2012. Now, whether crafting the perfect Old Fashioned, mixing up margaritas, stirring up an ice-cold martini, or offering the perfect wine pairing for your meal, this is one bartender that knows his stuff — and serves a little friendly banter along with it.

Readers' choice: Brett Robertson at Kapow!

Christina Mendenhall

What is it about sassy and fabulous waitresses, frozen cosmos, and a drag show that attracts groups of single women in droves? A popular destination for bachelorette parties, Lips gives the perfect combo of alcohol, glitz, and no-holds-barred humor during their dinner and drag show. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in a grumpy mood at Lips. The waitresses ooze contagious confidence as they strut around in various glamorous outfits throughout the night. This combined with a few cocktails perfectly primes any single women in the dining room for flirty conversation.

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