Was Hurricane Matthew hitting South Florida just a bunch of media hype? Or an excuse to take the day off and drink?
At 5 p.m. Thursday, October 6, there was an unofficial hurricane party going down at the Blue Anchor British Pub in Delray Beach, one of two establishments in the city's downtown area that was open, willing, and ready to serve thirsty patrons before the district's 6 p.m. curfew.
The weather in this part of Palm Beach County had been mild all day, a gentle breeze and barely a drop of rain. The worst, it seemed, was yet to come.
With Matthew looming off the southeast tip of Florida, Delray Beach officials were quick to issue a mandatory curfew late Wednesday evening that suspended city services and shut down offices and parks Thursday. Businesses, including restaurants, were told they could operate until curfew, which took effect at 6 p.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Friday, during which time all alcohol sales would be banned.
In true South Florida fashion, and just hours before the outskirts of Hurricane Matthew were slated to reach the coast in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, dozens of Delray Beach locals gathered at the Blue Anchor British Pub just west of the Intracoastal bridge — and others further west at O'Connor's Irish Pub — for a final hurrah before the inclement weather forced them indoors for safety.
Delray Beach resident and local business owner of Nothingman Studios Matt O'Connell was among them. After a few hours of socializing he joked about the "namesake" hurricane headed his way. "I did everything I possibly could to make sure that it skirted Delray Beach... God bless us all," he said, adding that his only hope was for the storm to yield some good surfing conditions.
"I mean, this is what ya gotta do when a storm comes," said another Delray Beach resident, beer glass in hand. "You gotta drink."
In the hours leading up to impact, patrons were cheerful and — well, let's face it — drunk.
Many scoffed at the impending storm, arguing that it wouldn't be as bad as the media was claiming. Still more were quick to admit they felt the need to brave the elements and break free from their secured dwellings — most after hours of preparation — for a final drink before hunkering down for the night.
At 5:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before 16-year Blue Anchor bartender Courtney Geer's last call, the scene outside the Delray Beach pub was calm and peaceful. Cloudy skies offered nothing more than a light drizzle, and the mild 12 mph wind wasn't strong enough to keep patrons from gathering outside for a leisurely smoke while chatting with friends.
Inside, at least two dozen more patrons were bellied up to the bar or seated at tables in boisterous conversation. Most were just a few minutes' drive or walk from home. Many had been there since just before noon.
When asked if she was irked at having to tend bar before Hurricane Matthew's worst winds reached our shores, Geer was cheerfully pleasant.
"I'm alright. I'm ready to go home, but — ya know," said Geer with a smile, who also served Blue Anchor patrons before Hurricane Wilma hit the area in 2005. "I've been through every storm and hurricane in the last 20 years, so I'm not the least bit worried. As long as the boss man is happy, we're good. We are always open for every storm, either until the power goes out, or curfew."