It was late into a local comedy showcase at the Improv Comedy Club last year, and the crowd was getting restless. The night had been good, mostly, but after a couple of lifeless sets, people in the audience were ready to pack it up and hit the door — that or grab a pitchfork and storm the stage, unruly-mob-style. But just as the tension was about to blow, Cuban-American comedian Adrian Mesa took the mic. With a swagger afforded by a combination of confidence and booze, Mesa launched into an aggressive set of jokes that, like some airborne pathogen, spread a cloud of funny around the room so thick that everyone in the audience had no choice but to start cracking up. He sang faux American Idol-style tunes about rotting garbage, he shot boundary-crossing jabs at Miami's Cuban population, and he mined material from his personal resemblance to Super Mario (complete with billowy mustache, lovable paunch, and Grandpa-esque flat cap). And after his set was over, people's asses were not only glued to their seats; they were screaming for an encore. It's not easy pulling a 180 on a room like that, but Mesa did it.

The minds behind the Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival approached the organization of their festival around one clarifying idea: It's all about the beer. With a reverence for the frothy beverage that's clearly palpable, they gathered the best of Florida's independent brewers and brewpubs and a small but enviable list of national craft breweries. They found a spot conducive to a day's worth of drinking in the idyllic Abacoa Town Center and invited only as many beer fans as to ensure both maximum comfort and easy access to the unlimited brews. They kept ticket prices low at under $25 a head, and on-site vendors followed that up with affordable eats. The beer took over from there. People danced and sang and drank to complete excess, quaffing pale ale from Tequesta's Corner Café Brewery, homebrew from BX Beer Depot, and all manner of obscure and amazing beers in between. Good times were had by all — especially the festival's ubiquitous Beer Monks, humble servants who preach the good word of the brew. With the fourth-annual incarnation of the festival due early in 2010, one can only hope that the very same spirit that made this one day in late January such a success lives on.

Ritter has for years been perhaps Broward's foremost political heiress. The Broward County mayor's father is Ed Portner, longtime commissioner and mayor of condo-rich Tamarac. Her husband is Russ Klenet, the hustling lobbyist who knows his way around the block. They all pitched in to build her political career — and a castle in affluent Parkland that she calls home. The problem is, she keeps getting snapped up in conflicts of interest with her hubby — and a big one was revealed this year involving a giant Ponzi scheme led by con man Joel Steinger. Steinger's fraudulent firm, Mutual Benefits, paid $117,000 to renovate that Parkland home — at the same time Ritter was voting on bills in the state Legislature that helped the company. Last year, State Attorney Michael Satz dubiously cleared Ritter of wrongdoing — but now the FBI is having a crack at her. And this time, that tiara might just fall.

She's a phenomenal talent whose excellence just happens to be in an obscure sport. Tunnicliffe races boats — specifically, the Laser Radial, a dinghy sailed by a single person. The 26-year-old Plantation resident was born in Great Britain and spent part of her childhood in a town in northern Ohio bordering Lake Erie, where, at age 12, she raced small boats. By 14, she was a full-blown prodigy, entering international competitions where her diminutive frame was her only obstacle. Tunnicliffe led her Old Dominion University sailing team to a string of national championships, but she didn't reach the pinnacle of her sport until several years ago, when she moved to South Florida to train full-time on Fort Lauderdale's coast. For the past four years, Tunnicliffe has been a finalist for the highest honor in her sport: the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. This past year, after Tunnicliffe reigned as her sport's top-ranked athlete and took home a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, the Rolex trophy was finally hers. Yet for all this, coverage of Tunnicliffe's sport is so sparse that she must be her own press agent. On her website, Tunnicliffe files detailed blog reports each day of a regatta. In an era of larger-than-life sports figures who churn out meaningless clichés, it's exhilarating to read a first-person account by a world-class athlete — especially one who is so honest about her challenges and so genuine in her respect for her competitors and in her love for her sport.

Covenant House Florida

In a world of random cruelty, Covenant House is a blessed constant — a place where homeless teens can go at any time of the day or night to find food and shelter. If they elect to stay, they have the option of using Covenant House's in-house programs to save money, further their education, and find employment. Unlike the Salvation Army, Covenant House is never too full to take in one more person: There is always a bed, and if there is no bed, there is at least a mat and a blanket in a cool, clean room.

James Randi's crusade began in the early 1970s, when Uri Geller convinced a bunch of Stanford scientists that he could bend spoons with the power of his mind. Randi painfully exposed Geller as a fraud in a segment on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. In the years since, he founded the James Randi Educational Foundation and has taken on faith healers, psychics, mediums, astrologers, redneck martial artists, homeopaths, theosophists, scientologists, spiritualists, fairies, and, beginning in 2003, gods. At the age of 36, Randi began offering money to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal ability under proper laboratory conditions. Randi is now 80, the prize has swelled to $1 million, and nobody's claimed it yet. Randi's fairly certain that nobody will before he passes over into the Big Nothing. But as always, he is willing to be proved wrong.

Good government needs checks and balances, which is why Mayor Lois Frankel needs Mitchell. Frankel has had notoriously close ties to developers. That, plus her close friendship with Joan Goldberg, project manager of the city's ambitious, expensive waterfront project, begs the question of whether the mayor could really be objective on the matter. Mitchell wanted to use that money in the city's blighted neighborhoods — and her instincts are usually right. Take the massive City Center project. Mitchell was the one commissioner who thought the city should delay construction until after the voters had cast ballots on the issue. By forging ahead, the city got hauled into court, which brought costly delays and legal expenses. Mitchell is such a forceful, pesky adversary to Frankel that the Palm Beach Post wondered whether Frankel had directed the city attorney to disqualify Mitchell's reelection candidacy based on a petty technicality. The maneuver cost West Palm taxpayers the expense of a special election, and Mitchell won anyway. Today, she's more powerful than ever and planning a mayoral bid in 2011, when Frankel is termed out. Perhaps then, Mitchell will finally get the wish she made during a commission meeting in August when, after a fresh round of harassment from the mayor, Mitchell said "Leave me the fuck alone, Lois," and stormed off the dais. Frankel's tough, but in Mitchell, she has met her match.

PRL Euro Cafe
Carina Mask

Start off with tapas at La Barraca. Sample the sepia a la plancha, the Mediterranean cuttlefish, grilled and topped with drippy garlic and olive oil. Or order bravely from the chilled menu with boquerones en vinagre, white anchovies cured in a vinegar, garlic, and parsley solution. Then stroll down the road and knock back cold Polish beers with strangers at PRL Euro Café before stumbling into Beefeater, everyone's favorite Argentine steak house. Once you've stuffed yourself full of chimichurri sauce, pasta, and skirt steak, go walk it off with a lovers' stroll through the now wonderfully manicured Young Circle. (If you can, make out under the musical tree.) You will, inevitably, reach a point where you must have espresso in order to close the evening, so sit a spell at Chocolada. Let the beautiful Eastern European counter helpers guide you through row upon row of salivation-worthy pastries (most of which cost less than $3) as they prepare your doppio sidecar. If your date isn't smitten by the night's end, immediately delete his profile from your Facebook page and move on to someone more adventurous.

If you're looking for all the games they play in Las Vegas, you'll have better luck at one of the Seminole casinos (or, you know, Las Vegas). If you're looking for a taste of the swanky, martini-in-hand, expensive-cigar, high-roller lifestyle, there's only one place in South Florida. Isle of Capri just spent more than $100 million to make what was an anachronistic harness track full of degenerates into the finest upscale gambling parlor in the tricounty region. The slots are diverse and plentiful, the simulcast betting opportunities abundant, and the comforting wooden walls and high-tech tables in the poker room make it seem more like a captain's lounge than a casino. For booze, there are no fewer than four bars. Food patrons can have a pastrami sandwich and an egg cream at Myron's or a steak and cognac at Farraddays'. It's not the Bellagio, but it's as close as it gets down here.

It's almost 9 p.m. You're on the patio at Rosie's with a bucket full of rum and pineapples and you're about to bite into a Young Ranch Hand (a chicken sandwich with ranch dressing). From the speakers blasts a series of fabulous but forgotten pop songs. Down the block, men scoot down the sidewalk to the sounds of trance music pouring from the open shops. Across the street, a parade of drag queens marches by. Some of them are singing Disney show tunes. There's truly something for everyone in Wilton Manors. It's much more than the safe, clean neighborhoods that make this the best place to live. It's pizza at Humpys. Or beers at Georgie's Alibi. Coffee at Java Boys. A night of candy from To the Moon. A burger at Bill's Filling Station. The freaks in the middle of the night at Peter Pan Diner and breakfast at Simply Delish. It's the smiling faces of the dog walkers. It's certainly the friendliest place in South Florida. It's the insanity of Halloween, the biggest night of the year, and the most elaborate Christmas decorations around. Most of all, it's the celebration of diversity and acceptance.

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