Florida is a bizarre, sunburned place, there's no question about that. Thankfully, however, not everything strange in our state ends up as a joke on The Daily Show. Sometimes we actually manage to produce oddities that are quite delightful.
Makers Square, a membership-based "makerspace" and social club in Fort Lauderdale, is just such a fantastical creature. Founded in 2013 by John “Jack” McNulty; his wife, Elaine Scantlen; and their friend Brian Weiner, Maker's Square is a 14,000-square-foot wonderland of industrial tools, shared learning, and colorful ideas.
A cursory glance at the Maker's Square website or Facebook page just doesn't do justice of what it's like to join such an endeavor. Located a short distance from Oakland Park, the grounds for Maker's Square looks like the backyard of an eccentric collector who couldn't decide between starting a junkyard or an art gallery. As a way to offer a taste of their unique world to the general public (and an excuse to engage in shenanigans), the folks behind Maker's Square hosted the grand opening of their social club this past Friday night, an event six months in the making. The festivities also marked the two-year anniversary of the business' inception.
During a tour of the club and work spaces, Weiner explained the founders' desire to make the social club a different alternative to the typical “bro”-infested bars and lounges in downtown Fort Lauderdale. They want a crowd who are actively seeking their brand of fun instead of catering to stumbling drunk frat boys and their vacuous dates. Indeed, it does take some effort to find Maker's Square. Tucked away behind some unremarkable buildings and trees, simply getting there is a small adventure.
But once you're there, you'll definitely know it.
For starters, a giant glowing arrow directs visitors to something special. The Social Club grand opening was free for members and ten bucks for everyone else. Live music, including an appearance by Miami based electro-pop duo, Afrobeta, filled the evening air. Inside, past the smiling faces munching on bags of sliced apples and fresh spinach, there was a medley of cultures, metalwork, and ramshackle good vibrations. A metal lathe in a garage sits only a few feet from a wooden bar adorned by intricate graffiti murals that hover above a cargo container that houses deeply comfortable couches where customers can relax and listen to the sweet sounds coming from the stage. In other words, everything is happening all at once. It's a feast for the senses.
After the fire eaters and fire poi spinners joined the celebration by putting on a show, they extinguished their flames and mingled with friends. A friendly gentleman showed off the 3D printer by scanning a woman in a bumblebee costume and then replicating her action figure likeness in a clear plastic box. The bartenders came out from behind the bar to dance with a man in a seahorse outfit, complete with glowing fish eyes. Even the knight in his scale armor made of beer tabs was friendly enough to allow amateur squires to try on his proud garbs. During these instances, one witnesses the heart of a place like Maker's Square.
This collection of makers and street artists and musicians and burners (a reference to those who embrace the Burning Man Festival lifestyle) have found a home in, of all places, Fort Lauderdale. They have a playground where their manic minds are free to create and build with their hands, whether it's a mobile disco cityscape or a mangrove garden growing in a kiddie pool.
Best of all, if you don't know how to do that cool thing you really want to do, there's a class for it. Say for example you'd like to be a pyromaniac Indiana Jones and crack a fire whip, there's a class for that. Aspiring blacksmiths, carpenters, glass blowers, gardeners, and beyond will all find mentors ready, willing, and able to teach those hungry to learn.
The inherent atmosphere surpasses camaraderie. This is a community. There's a small neighborhood vibe that ignores boundaries and county lines and other inconsequential demarcations we impose on ourselves. People from Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, the Tampa area, and other far flung locales all made the trip for the Social Club's grand opening.
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The mission statement for the company declares, in part, that: “Makers Square believes that life is continuous education, that given the right teachers one can learn anything, and that no idea is too 'out there' when the right people are involved. Make something out of anything. Make something of your skills. Make something.”
Between the tools, workshops, mentors, flowers blossoming in recycled soda bottles, and the newly minted social club, Makers Square may not be the trendiest joint in town, but in addition to making physical constructs of their passions, members end up making something less tangible, but perhaps just as enduring: friendships.