Besides delivering first-rate performances, Florida Stage artistic director Louis Tyrrell this season struck the right chord with music lovers and theatergoers alike. His productions of Syncopation, The Music Lesson, and The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith proved theater can sing, dance, wail, and waltz. Syncopation, the story of two immigrants in 1911, underscored the basic human need to dance and hear music. As the characters awkwardly stumbled through the waltz and fox trot, they became more human. The Music Lesson transformed classical music classes into moving instruction on life and loss. The Devil's Music was a closely woven tapestry of the blues great Smith's music and harrowing life. Actress Miche Braden gave the role the electrifying singing voice and powerful stage presence it warrants. All three shows enlivened good theater with impressive, live, musical accompaniment. In each piece melody became an integral part of the cast as well as a vibrant and multifaceted vehicle for the excellent drama Florida Stage continues to produce.
The bare-wood, dimly lit, rustic interior of the Poor House is a stark contrast to the majority of nightlife locales around downtown Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee Village. Likewise, denizens of the Poor House are likely to be locals hoping to groove to live, original music (from the likes of Hashbrown, Plutonium Pie, Mr. Entertainment, or the Hep Cat Boo Daddies) rather than the canned dance fare booming from its neighbors. Here you'll rub up against a velvet Elvis, not velvet ropes. The suds selection is also top-drawer. During the steamy summer months, quaff a tall Tucher studded with a lemon slice. When it's cool outside grab an Amber Bock or a nutty Newcastle. The barkeeps are amateur comedians, which adds to the fun. The music's loud enough that you can hear every note, indoors or out. And you can get close enough to the performers to see the whites (or at least reds) of their eyes. If you're put off by the chi-chi crowds prowling the downtown streets on weekends, dip into the Poor House -- it feels normal in here. And is that so wrong?

If you live in or around the "Venice of America" that is Fort Lauderdale and don't have a boat -- or even that much more economical option, a friend with a boat -- try attending an event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Architect Benjamin Thompson designed the Au-Rene Theater to replicate the experience of being on an ocean liner. He perched it on a hill overlooking the New River and pointing toward the Atlantic, curved the structure and filled in the front with a stories-high wall of glass to resemble the prow of a ship, and finished the theater's ceilings and balustrades in lapstrake cypress. The blue-and-green waves in the carpeting underfoot add to the sensation of being on the bounding main. Oh, did we mention that the acoustics are perfect? Or that there's not a compromised sightline in the auditorium? Or that the venue offers the crème de la crème of national acts from the symphony to the Broadway musical to the Grammy Award winner? No? Silly us.
Mai-Kai
CandaceWest.com
With its rum-voiced narrator nattily attired in white à la Fantasy Island's Ricardo Montalban, the nation's longest-running Polynesian floorshow could easily be played as a joke. But while the enormous restaurant trades on fantasy, it is refreshingly free of irony. Opened in 1957, the Mai-Kai hails from a time when exotic meant chic, fondue was fun, and women dressed for dinner with gardenias in their hair. This was pre-postcolonialism, of course, but even so, the feel of Mai-Kai lies somewhere between dated and timeless. The beautiful, long-haired dancers (male and female) are in fact trained by Mai-Kai owner-choreographer Mirielle Thornton, a native Polynesian. So while they evoke South Seas signifiers, the dancers never stoop to cruise-ship camp. Instead they perform a storytelling medley that's fun -- and funny only when it's meant to be.

Maguire's Hill 16
If you're driven to drink as soon as you punch out, chances are it's not because you're dying for loud Top 40 drivel and preternaturally perky service. You want to get down to business after a day of conducting business. That's why New Times staff members have long been fixtures at Maguires -- where dark wood paneling and photographs depicting the old country lend a genuine, drinking-as-art atmosphere that could not exist at a yuppie watering hole or tourist trap. Bartenders and waitresses attentively fill your cup of cheer with fine liquor or earthy draft beer. Thirsty patrons who are thrifty like the prices: From 4 to 7 p.m., imports cost $3.25, domestics $2.75, and well drinks $2.50. Plentiful free food (sometimes mediocre) is available, and a full menu of pub-style comestibles is offered if you're willing to pay. Every Thursday through Sunday, a live combo plays traditional Irish melodies -- much better accompaniment for drowning your workday woes than cheesy renditions of the latest pop tunes.
Mango's Restaurant and Lounge
Where is it written that a jazz club must be a bar? Something about the form lends itself more to lingering over dinner than the tenth beer. The jazz kicks in around 9:30 p.m., and the local jazz bands booked there play to a packed house. In the smoking section, which is closest to the stage, an open table is as rare as desert rain. One recent night a woman belted out jazzy covers of Stevie Wonder with a backing group consisting of a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a saxophonist/flutist. The notes mingled with the tastes and smells of hearty, homey fare such as the herb-roasted turkey breast in cranberry chutney sauce, cementing Mangos' stature as a culinary and musical force with which to be reckoned.
Tropical Acres Steakhouse
If you're visiting Fort Lauderdale and you rent a car at the airport, chances are you'll drive by this sign, which is nestled amid the foliage along Federal Highway. The aqua and pink tubes of its classic roadside advertisement have flickered since 1949, beckoning would-be diners to the table. The sign would seem a good omen for visitors and locals alike, hearkening back to a simpler time when all a South Floridian really wanted was a tropical cocktail with a surf and turf. Some things change. Newer neon often stamps out the old. But the Tropical Acres sign still stands. So, if you pass this little landmark on your way into or out of town, don't forget to say goodnight.

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