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Northern Exposure

South Beach is known for its swanky, passion-soaked clubs, and Fort Lauderdale — excuse me, Fort Liquordale — is known for its easy, beach-bum booze scene. Somewhere amid the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, West Palm gets a little left out. So, on a whirlwind tour of Clematis Street, I set out to experience the steamy, sophisticated nightlife of the north. Let's just say it involves shot-forcing bartenders, scant clothing, and rock 'n' roll.

O'Shea's Irish Pub: This seemed like a good spot for a Clematis Street warm-up, so I hopped up to the dark-wood bar, facing a sign that read, "Help wanted — no Irish need apply." The walls are green and white and decorated with framed photos, Guinness posters, and miniature houses on shelves. Stone Celtic crosses and liquor bottles festoon the area behind the bar, and the whole place crackles with subtle Irish accents. Bar manager JoAnne, who is small-boned with kinky dark hair, actually used "ay" in pleasant conversation and told me that 75 percent of the staff comes from Ireland. She then admonished dark-haired and cheerful bartender Pedro when he joked about boozing up small children. 

"Pedro has dated every girl in the city," joked Andrew, a patron who was attractive even in flip-flops and shorts. "I'm kidding — he generally dates 18-year-olds, and we mock him."

Turned out, Andrew was a young trial lawyer with his own practice who lives next door to the bar. He handed me his card.

Just then, Pedro slammed a bottle of Jose Cuervo down in front of me.

"Pour it yourself," he said. "It's on Andrew's tab."

Andrew shrugged. "I only pay my tab once a week."

"We know where to find him," Pedro said ominously.

I hesitated, but Pedro picked up the Cuervo, sloshed two oversized dollops into the shot glass, and presented it to me. I clinked glass with Andrew, manned up, and gracefully swallowed.

With the shot burning deep in my gut, I bade farewell to Pedro and Andrew (who told me in parting that if I get a DUI or kill a transient, I should come straight to him) and slogged past a family of five playing a wholesome round of pool. The father said O'Shea's was great as long as they had their kids out by 9 p.m., and the itty-bitty blond daughter, pool cue in hand, gave me a glowing recommendation of the bar's food. Sorry, kiddo, no time for chow. More boozin' awaits!

 Feelgoods: I didn't mean to wind up here, but I saw a shiny motorcycle sitting in the middle of this place and had to at least pop in. Feelgoods (yes, named for the Mötley Crüe song) is decorated with over-the-top rock 'n' roll glam — giant shiny guitars, a red-light-bathed serpent statue on a pillar, the biggest disco ball I've ever seen, and a giant psychedelic mural depicting album art from various legends (Nirvana, AC/DC, the Beatles, the Scorpions, etc.). A bachelorette party was ensuing, but nobody seemed to be tearing up the dance floor yet. I stopped for a second to talk to Buddah, the polite manager.

"New condos are going up," he said. "There's gonna be an economic upswing around here — soon."

He also advised I check out Monarchy — owned by the same folks who run Feelgoods. I promised I would. Meanwhile, a petite woman in a skin-tight gold miniskirt was on the dance floor dancing alone and clapping, clearly trying to rouse the 11 o'clock crowd. To help out, a bespectacled stranger in a polo shirt and high-tucked jeans ran to her side. With feet planted and torso swinging like a pendulum, he boogied white-boy-style until the end of the song, when she darted from the dance floor. As a Blink-182 song started up, Polo Shirt kept tearing it up. He even started clapping and pointing in a distinct Saturday Night Fever sort of way. Just when awkwardness was starting to permeate the room, a couple jumped out on the dance floor and close-danced nearby. Then another couple. Then another. Consider the party started. 

Monarchy: "What do you think of that horse?" asked bartender Sean, who wore a classy white tie over his slim-fitting black shirt.

"Kinda want to ride away on it," I confessed. We were staring at Monarchy's carousel-horse-shaped disco ball. When the strobe light struck it, a dazzling array of color and light splattered onto the surrounding walls.

Monarchy is classy, low-lit, and decorated with shimmering candelabras and prints of plump Renaissance-style nudes. Standing at the bar, I glanced around. There were girls wearing next to nothing (literally — I had to avoid making eye-to-chest contact with a girl who appeared to have a torso-sized hole cut out of the front of her shirt).

The VIP section took up the middle of the room, demarcated by rows of waist-high cubicles. At the far left, a giant window flaunted the club's second-story status. I staked out a small bench right under a giant stylized painting of a green-clad Lady Anne Boleyn. Anne was cartoonish and haunting, with giant rolling eyes, running mascara, a crimson-splattered neck, and angelically clasped hands. The artist (a girl in her late teens, according to Sean) had painted several nightmarish versions of famous rulers, including Queen Mary, Marie Antoinette, Lady Jane Grey, and Vlad the Impaler.

Distracted by the throbbing trance, I sauntered over to the dance floor.

"Who's your favorite historical ruler?" I asked unsuspecting Nick, a slight young man sitting near the dance floor.

"Napoleon," Nick answered after a moment of contemplation. "He was short, like I am." I turned to his taller, broad-shouldered friend, Dave.

"Well?" I asked.

"How about Alexander the Great?" Dave said. "If you get 'great' after your name, you've got to be good. I can't wait for people to call me Dave the Great."

I still thought the bartender's answer was best: Ghengis Kahn.

As I sauntered out of Monarchy, I felt a lingering buzz from my Clematis Street adventure. The shots had been strong; the music, danceable; and the people, hot. Precisely the kind of empire that rules.

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Tara Nieuwesteeg

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