One look at the dress code, outlined on a sign above the front door, and you know you're in the right place. It reads: "No muscle shirts, tank tops, cut-off or beach shorts, spurs, knives or guns." And for good measure, keep those cigars, pipes, and clove cigarettes in the car, buddy. You're at Davie Junction, the most Western bar in South Florida. The décor is pure country honk, featuring dark paneling, neon beer signs, and wagon wheels. For a reasonable price you can get yourself a longneck, scoot your boots, and tuck into a big steak. (The place bills itself as a "Western-style nightclub" but offers a full menu.) The bands play both kinds of music, country and western. And management offers line-dancing lessons so you don't have to look so dang stupid trying to figure it out.
Finally a nightclub does it right. Unlike typical dark rooms with bars and dance floors, Sutra has a theme that it sticks with. After getting past those velvet ropes and walking down a hallway with straw mats, one enters a place that can be described only as haremesque. The dance floor is small, but only because there is a bar on one side, some tables on another, a large bed heaped with Turkish pillows on the third, and on the fourth what appears to be a shrine to Buddha, a small room with couches and prayer rugs forming a semicircle around the jolly messiah. Slipping between the bar and the Buddha, one passes another bar then reaches the stairs. The second floor features yet another bar as well as a VIP lounge, which is made up of a series of oh-so-comfy couches and throw pillows surrounded by a gauzy, transparent curtain. All in all the only things missing from the scene are the harem girls. Oh, and by the way, the DJs this place attracts, including Nicco and Sweet Peach, are some of the best in town.
The last time we stopped at Sneakers, a guy was bellied up to the bar wearing a boa (constrictor, not feather), a woman was lying on the bar as the bartender poured a drink into her mouth, and a band was playing Skynyrd covers on the minuscule stage. We chatted with a tipsy dude who insisted he was a helicopter pilot and offered to take us for a ride. We declined, preferring to suck down Buds and endure the occasional cue in the ribs. In other words this is a slice of paradise, especially after a night tippling at the area's froufrou drinkeries. Sneakers is just like the town it serves: ragtag and eclectic with a hint of danger -- just the way we like it.

Artistic director Michael Hall did South Florida theatergoers two favors this season. First he brought the socially relevant and riveting docudrama The Laramie Project to his stage. It was the play's first production after its off-Broadway debut. Second he assembled a troupe with the range and experience to make the production not only important theater but good theater as well, including Kim Cozort, Jason Field, Laurie Gamache, Jacqueline Knapp, Pat Nesbit, Mark Rizzo, Robert Stoeckle, and Michael Warga. Dressed in drab brown tones, the ensemble of eight portrayed more than sixty characters, from townspeople to ranchers, doctors, reporters, and friends of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die by two local boys in Laramie, Wyoming. With fluid and subtle transitions, these characters switched roles seamlessly, revealing an unforgettable cross section of small-town America and a staggering array of attitudes.
Did you know alligators can climb trees? Or that they can hear your pinky hit the water four miles away? Or that the blazing color of bougainvillea comes not from its flowers but from its leaves? These fun facts and more can be had for a buck and 30 minutes of your time at Knollwood Groves in Boynton Beach. Originally owned by the vaudeville comedy team Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, better known as Amos and Andy, the 71-year-old orange grove offers visitors a slice of Old Florida and enough trivia to win bar bets for years to come. A tractor-pulled cart leaves every hour on the hour for tours of the pesticide-free grove, traveling through a genuine Florida jungle hammock, past a 1000-year-old water oak and a four-story-high bougainvillea vine, as well as gumbo limbo, ginger, and coffee trees. For the kiddies it makes stops to visit turtles, a wild boar, and of course gators. On Saturdays at 2 p.m. the grove also features an alligator show with Martin Twofeather. At $6 for adults and $4 for kids, it ain't half bad -- you can even pet the gator. Still the $1 tram tour, which begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m., is better. The grove is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week in season. (It's closed Sundays in the summer.) There's even a gift shop that sells funky Florida stuff, like plastic gators that sing, and a fruit stand where you can pick up oranges, green pepper or papaya jelly, and vine-ripe tomatoes for, you guessed it, a buck a pound.

Back in January a group of dirty, greasy hippies decided they'd had enough of the lack of jam-oriented music in South Florida. The form is dear to the hearts of all these types, years of following the Grateful Dead having inured them to hours of musical enterprise. They wanted to create a happening that would gather the bands they enjoyed as well as fellow fans. Thus began the Festival Tribe Musical Event. Now a three-day party for the pot-smoking, patchwork pants-wearing, patchouli-sniffing crowd is held the first weekend of every month just a few blocks from the Broward County line in Miami-Dade. "This is not a one-person operation," says organizer Barry Sacharow. "It is a loosely knit organization, and we have a lot of fun." The music is not just for wastoid white boys with dreadlocks. Sure, groups like Grateful Dead cover band Crazy Fingers participate, but the festival boasts excellent bluegrass, percussion, tribal, and world tunes as well. The Festival Tribe Musical Event -- it ain't your daddy's Woodstock.
Last year we honored the FLIFF in this category almost begrudgingly, in part because it was "pretty much the only game in town." Well, after a decade and a half it's still the biggest game in town and at 28 days has expanded to claim the dubious honor of being the longest film fest in the world. (Palm Beach, of course, has its own affair, but it just doesn't stack up.) Fortunately the FLIFF has clung to the things that have long set it apart, including its predilection for films with little or no commercial potential, its support for gay and lesbian cinema, and its occasional sixth sense when it comes to anticipating Academy Award contenders. The most recent festival gave us samples of each: the shamefully overlooked Maze, a fascinating study of an unlikely romance between a Tourette's-afflicted painter (Northern Exposure actor Rob Morrow, who also directed the flick) and a friend (Laura Linney, whose excellent work was overshadowed by her Oscar-nominated performance in You Can Count on Me); the knockout, Cassavetes-style gay drama Straight Man and the uneven but worthwhile lesbian-themed coming-of-age tale Swimming; and the Oscar-nominated Shadow of the Vampire, as well as the surprisingly overlooked State and Main from director David Mamet. The festival also reaffirmed its commitment to independent filmmaking with a tribute to John Waters, including a screening of his underrated Cry-Baby, a showing of a documentary about him titled In Bad Taste, and an appearance by the rogue moviemaker.

Formerly known as Ed Matus' Struggle, the recently rechristened Disconnect is one of the area's most popular rock bands. Occupying a niche in the psychedelic/shoe-gazer/emo realm, the band's surreal, shifting songs allow listeners to lose themselves in an intoxicating haze of swirling guitar. That his band was once briefly dubbed the Juan Montoya Experience is a joke with a kernel of truth at its core: Come to watch Disconnect, and you'll end up staring at the diminutive, Colombian-born maestro of the six-string. Using his Gibson SG and rack of pedals as a sonic flamethrower, the flamboyant Montoya makes a joyful noise; the pleasure of watching him lose himself in the swells of sound is why Disconnect continues to please old fans and rack up new ones.

Some national movie chains continue to shrink, while others focus on constructing mammoth multiplexes. Our Best Movie Theater of two years ago, meanwhile, has survived by morphing into that rarity, a true independent. The Gateway still snags the occasional mainstream flick, but it has become the best bet for such edgy independent fare as Requiem for a Dream, Nurse Betty, and the recent Memento. More specifically it has become a haven for the small but thriving genre of queer cinema. Edge of Seventeen, Trick, The Broken Hearts Club, Boys Life 3, and the Oscar-nominated Before Night Falls are just a few of the gay-oriented flicks that have played there. And a corner of the theater's lobby has become a virtual gay community-resource center, featuring magazines, newsletters, fliers, brochures, and business cards. No wonder some members of the gay and lesbian communities refer to the Gateway as the Gayway.

Elaine Roberts wants to make one thing perfectly clear: K&E's II Doors Down is not a lesbian bar. It's not that Roberts is lesbian-averse. After all she and co-owner Kathy Spatenga have been together -- both personally and professionally -- for more than 20 years. It's just that this is a new millennium and it's time to quit classifying things. "I don't want to be labeled a lesbian bar, because we aren't one. We're an alternative-lifestyle bar. We're a straight bar. We're a gay bar. We're a lesbian bar. We're just a bar. We're for all kinds of people," she says. "What is a gay bar, anyway? Are we running around naked with our wangs hanging out?" Hardly. This bar, which justifiably calls itself the "best-kept secret in Lake Worth," is a classic neighborhood joint -- the kind of place where you walk in, order a $2 draft, and instantly feel comfortable. Located just across Dixie Highway from Lake Worth's recently revitalized downtown, K&E's is often overlooked by those rushing to crowd into upstart imitators along Lake and Lucerne avenues. And if clubbers overlook the bar, it's understandable. Located in an old storefront, K&E's doesn't look like much from the outside. But inside, its décor borders on quaint, including the handmade pine bar, which Kathy designed and Elaine's brother-in-law built, and the small dining room, complete with paisley-print tablecloths, low lights, and framed posters on the walls. Elaine says the bar got its reputation as a lesbian bar because it's the successor to Kathy's Bar, a private, women-dominated club that Spatenga operated from 1979 to 1986. But when Roberts and Spatenga opened K&E's eight years ago, Elaine said she wanted to redefine "gay pride" and attract a diverse clientele. She got her wish. And it's easy to see why: The drinks are affordable, the food is good, and the conversation is lively. What more could any bargoer -- gay, straight, or in between -- want?

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