Residents of the neither-here-nor-there land on that stretch of Dixie Highway between West Palm Beach and Lake Worth (wags call it "So-So" -- for "South of Southern Boulevard") were nonplussed to learn that Rodney Mayo had bought Howley's (4700 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach) last July. Folks were worried that Mayo, a Clematis Street mogul, would fancify Howley's down-home burgers-and-waffles menu or, worse yet, start throwing all-night raves at the 54-year-old diner. Apparently Mayo's reputation preceded him -- scuffles with West Palm Mayor Lois Frankel and a penchant for organizing fabulous alternaparties at his clubs in West Palm and Delray make regular news.
But scratch the bad-boy surface and you'll find the passionate heart of a conservationist. Mayo and partner Scott Frielich long ago spiffed up a Victorian cottage in Delray Beach and turned it into Dada restaurant -- it even retains a ghost in the back staircase. At Howley's, opened in October, the pair polished the original counter and chrome stools, refinished the terrazzo floors, hung '50s pulp fiction posters and gum-drop lamps, and conjured some magic with the lighting that gives the place a fuzzy, romantic feel, like looking through a Vaseline-smeared lens.
Not only have the regulars gleefully returned to Howley's but a flock of hot stuff in faux-fur go-go boots and vinyl minidresses has arrived, towing their bed-headed boyfriends, spilling onto the outdoor patio for live music, and sipping creamsicle martinis. This diner never sleeps -- open till 2 a.m. on weekdays and 'round the clock on weekends -- and breakfast is forever. A cheese and French-fry sandwich straight from Pittsburgh's strip district makes for some deluxe hangover food. The turkey Reuben slips roast breast between grilled slices of rye; doused with Thousand Island, it's the stuff dreams are made of. "Build your own" Black Angus hamburgers have swiped the Best Burger pennant. Turkey dinner with all the fixings and New York strip with fat, crunchy steak fries are everyday fare. This is the diner your nostalgic soul yearns for, the bliss-food angels eat in heaven. And Mayo promises to let it be: "All we might add is matzo balls and to try to get our hula girl to start dancing again."