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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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