Rhythm & Vine doesn't quite fit in, and that's a good thing. Situated on an off-the-beaten-path corner in Fort Lauderdale's developing Flagler Village neighborhood in a warehouse space that little more than a year ago was destined to become a "man cave," according to co-owner David Cardaci, the unpretentious yet distinctly swaggy beer garden has since made its mark as a hot spot for the area's tough-to-pin-down, rapidly growing nightlife crowd.
"It's definitely one of the unique venues here in Fort Lauderdale. It's one of a kind," says Rhythm & Vine General Manager Bobby Velez, age 35, who was first drawn in by the bar's chill, at-home vibe and refreshing culture. Born and raised in the Bronx, Velez spent some time working in A&R at Atlantic Records before relocating to South Florida six years ago. At his last gig running Bleau Bar at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Velez wore a suit to work every day and watched everyone from Chris Rock and Jennifer Lopez to "the Weeknd before the Weeknd blew up" pass through his doors. During our chat on a rainy weekday afternoon, he sports a baseball cap and T-shirt as he leans into one of several love-worn sofa chairs inside R&V.
"This is who I really am," says Velez, insisting, "It's not about trying to fit in." Bringing onboard his background in music and experience working at one of the highest-volume venues in the country, Velez joined the R&V team a couple of months into its inception, after Cardaci and R&V cofounder Derek Young realized "this is bigger than they had expected." Despite its lack of a dedicated marketing budget or big media push, the fledgling bar concept immediately took off.
"It was an amazing opportunity to show what I was capable of. They pretty much just said, 'Here's the keys' and 'Do what you do.' No micromanaging, just slowly developing the programming, doing things outside the box, not just feeding the same trend."
Bucking trends has worked well for Rhythm & Vine, bringing something other than the smoky dives and ear-blasting bass of established spots on Himmarshee Street or the beach. Taking cues from the more laid-back watering holes of Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, Velez has helped develop R&V into more than just another place to get hammered on a Friday night.
From Tuesday through Thursday, yoga and wine in the garden, movie screenings sponsored by Peroni, and ladies' nights that transition into live-music "buzz sessions" draw locals looking to hang and drink a few well-made cocktails without the fuss. "We try to make it very inviting here," Velez says, reminding me of their #justchill approach to things. With colorful, street-style art covering the walls and picnic benches and lounge chairs scattered around the garden, "it's almost like your backyard. Flagler Village is right there, we get them all to come here, and it's like their little getaway."
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Of course, especially on weekends, R&V knows how to turn up. Long lines and less-than-ample parking do little to deter crowds on Friday and Saturday nights, which feature a rotation of resident DJs, from Misha Samson to Iron Lyon, spinning a mix of tropical house, nü-disco, and the occasional throwback hip-hop track. "It's not hardcore; it's not obnoxiously loud," says Velez, and whether you're into dancing or more apt to park at a table and down Tecates with your buds, the music isn't what you hear everywhere else — and it works.
"Broward County and Palm Beach were screaming for a place like this," Velez agrees after I suggest that perhaps they're actually filling a large void in our small scene, that maybe locals want to be even more challenged by the new and different. "We could definitely play Top 40 music, the commercial stuff. But we wanted to bring something new to the table."
As for live shows, so far Velez has brought in a handful of established locals doing original music, everyone from Miami's electro-pop duo Afrobeta to Coral Springs' native chill-wave ambassador Millionyoung, and the Magic City's beloved garage-psych rockers Jacuzzi Boys are slated to perform Thursday, March 10. Earlier this month, R&V also launched a Sunday brunch series, a '90s-themed backyard bash featuring food-truck fare, bottomless booze, live music, and DJs spinning classic '90s jams all day long.
"There was no handbook handed to me, no 'This is how this place runs; this is what we want,'?" Velez says of their organic evolution. For a new kid on the block celebrating its first anniversary with a kickoff party this April 1, Rhythm & Vine has quickly come into its own, proving Fort Lauderdale needed a new brand of nightlife, one that achieves its cool by striving to be different without trying too hard. Yeah, it's pretty #chill.