Restaurants and Nightlife in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to restaurants and nightlife few cities can compare to Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Delray Beach was recently named the “Most Fun Town” in America by the Travel Channel and Rand McNally as a result of its incredible restaurant scene and vibrant downtown night life.

Atlantic Avenue has to be experienced to be believed. Very few streets in America have block after block of amazing restaurants, shops, galleries and nightclubs that appeal to all ages. Safe, with ample parking, downtown Delray ends at the ocean and is considered one of the finest Main Streets in America.

Boca Raton is also home to scores of incredible restaurants and has its own vibrant nightlife along Palmetto Park Road and in its renowned Mizner Park.

A Birthday To Savor

Scott Porten enjoying a past birthday and a cake made by Diane.

A good friend of mine sent me a nice text after last week’s blog.

It’s nice to hear from people who take the time out of their busy lives to spend a few minutes reading what you have to say.

My friend asked whether I write the blog in advance or the night before and the truth is I do both—it all depends on when and where the muse (or the news) strikes me.

He also said that he found inspiration in some of the tributes I have written to special people who have passed. All of this is good, and I am very thankful that my friend likes what I write, especially because he happens to be among the most well-read and curious people I’ve ever met. And I have met some curious and well- read people!

But it also struck me that I should write more about people before they pass on. We should show our admiration for those who enrich us while they are still here to appreciate us. In other words, if someone makes you happy tell them.

Which is a long-winded way of saying happy birthday to my friend Scott Porten.

I won’t say how old Scott is, but this birthday is a big one and it’s starts with an s. Hint: he’s not 70.

Inspired by our mutual friend Randy, I’m going to tell you about a very special person my family has come to know and love.

I met Scott 20 plus years ago when he was a young developer in a still redeveloping Delray Beach. Scott and his company did some landmark projects: The Estuary near Palm Trail and City Walk in Pineapple Grove are among the most memorable.

I admired both projects, not only for their quality and design but for the vision he exhibited.

Back in those days, Delray was not the no-brainer “sure thing” it would soon become, but a city trying to revitalize itself in the shadow of a successful neighbor—Boca Raton.

Scott’s two signature Delray projects showed faith in the future. The Estuary was in a part of town nobody wanted to touch in those days and City Walk was on a secondary street that was trying to forge an identity separate and distinct from Atlantic Avenue.

City Walk gave us Brule’ and Joseph’s and later Yama three excellent restaurants and several cool boutiques as well. The project featured beautiful residential units and replaced a coin-operated car wash in a part of Delray crying out for investment.

The building had a distinctive design and I think still looks good all these years later. I remember someone commenting at the time that the building didn’t have a pool or other traditional amenities and Scott saying that the street itself would be an amenity. That was a bold statement. But he was right.

I think Pineapple Grove may be my favorite street in all of Delray Beach—it seems to be a perfect blend of vibrant without being overwhelming, which come to think of it, describes my friend Scott.

Over the years, Scott and I have grown very close. He’s the kind of friend I’d call in the middle of the night not only because you can take his advice to the bank but also because he’s a night owl and he’ll take my call.

Scott is honest, intense (but in a good way), a devoted husband and father, a proud son and an all-around good guy. He has a terrific sense of humor, is scary smart and is fun to talk to about a wide array of subjects. And I mean a wide array: from politics and prostates to real estate and relationships, Scott can hold his own with just about anyone including our mutual friend Randy who is such a whirlwind of activity, learning and adventures that I would get tired typing up his itinerary for a given month. (If it’s Tuesday he must be mastering the guitar or sailing the Greek Isles).

They say you are a product of the five people you hang out with the most and if that’s true, I have a decent shot at a good life because Scott is easily in the top five.

They also say that you make the strongest friendships in childhood when you have the time and space to hang out. Many of you know that I still enjoy the friends I made as a kid growing up in Long Island. But I’ve been truly blessed to make such good friends in middle age. Scott is at the top of that list.

I enjoy people who care about things deeply…who are passionate about what they are passionate about.

Scott and I share a love for business, real estate, Delray Beach, local organizations, sports, and music. We also love restaurants that have great bars where you can sit and debate the day’s events.

We enjoy and practice the art of conversation and like to talk about our lives, children, past adventures and future hopes and aspirations. Dare I say it, but we also like to talk about how we feel about things. The old stereotype is men don’t like to “emote” or share. But guess what? Real men do—within reason of course— because we are not above calling each other out or poking fun at our weaknesses. Friends are also adept at making sure we keep our feet on the ground. Scott is good at keeping our circle anchored.

I admire so much about him but especially his desire to take care of people. He’s sincere, caring and consistently goes the extra mile. He does so many things so well.
He’s also a convener and has lunch clubs, happy hour groups and breakfast clubs that serve to keep disparate groups of friends together.

About the best thing I can say is that Scott Porten is a mensch, which is the highest compliment you can pay someone. A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. According to the great American humorist Leo Rosten, a mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”

That’s my friend to a T.

Happy birthday Scott and a tip of the hat to the legendary Randy Smith for the inspiration to write about our buddy.

Here’s To The Game Changers

Akira Back is the newest addition to Pineapple Grove’s Ray Hotel. It’s special.

I’m intrigued by my friends at Menin Development.

I’m not alone.

Led by founder Craig Menin and President Jordana Jarjura, Menin Development is doing some truly extraordinary things in our village by the sea.

I’m interested and curious about all of it.

But I’m especially fascinated with some of their more unique projects.

  • The Ray Hotel in Pineapple Grove is a next level boutique property with a gorgeous 22,000 square foot rooftop amenity featuring an incredible pool,  three cutting edge restaurants and a design aesthetic that has reshaped the look and feel of the block.
  • The Delray Beach Market is the largest food hall in Florida, a whopping 150,000 square feet featuring 27 chefs and operators.
  • Lionfish restaurant brings a west coast sensibility to Atlantic Avenue. It just feels very different from what we’ve seen before.

So what’s next?

We went to the soft opening of Menin Development’s latest creation, Akira Back last week. It’s special. Located in The Ray Hotel, Akira Back is the namesake of a Michelin starred chef who was gracious enough to greet his guests last week as the staff served dish after dish of creative cuisine.

The food was in a word: magnificent.

Mr. Back brings a interesting back story to Delray Beach.

Born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Aspen, Colorado, Akira moved to the Rocky Mountain state at the age of 15.  He picked up snowboarding as a hobby and eventually turned pro. He was so good, he appeared in a handful of extreme sports movies. During this time, Back began working at a local Japanese restaurant to supplement his income. After seven years on the pro-snowboarding circuit, Back realized that he felt the same thrill in the kitchen as he did on his board, shaping his decision to pursue a full-time culinary career.

Back attended the International Culinary School at The Art Institute based in Colorado, where he established the framework of his technique and amplified his knowledge of Asian cooking, allowing him to incorporate his artistic vision and Korean heritage.

The rest is the stuff of culinary history—award winning restaurants inside the Bellagio in Vegas and locations in Dubai, London, Paris, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Riyadh and now Delray Beach.

Sitting inside Akira Back, we couldn’t help but marvel at what’s happening to Delray.

We were at the event with former City Commissioner Jon Levinson and his wife Lori. We moved here in ’87, I think the Levinson’s arrived in 79-80. We’ve seen a lot of change.

And while a generation of civic leaders, planned for, worked toward and hoped for sustainable vibrancy and economic success—it’s still hard to fathom what has happened here.

Delray is a rare story.

It really is and I sometimes feel like we take it for granted.

Now I get that not everyone is thrilled with the changes or change itself, but I like a lot of it. So do others, as witnessed by the year- round crowds, rising property values and now national reputation of Delray.

We told our server— a nice young man, from Salt Lake City—that the street we were sitting on was once anchored by a McCrory’s department store and a Piggly Wiggly. We pointed to Citywalk across the street and told him parts of that project used to be a coin operated car wash. He said that was hard to imagine.

When we cut the ribbon on Pineapple Grove Village 20 years ago, the photos showed that there was nothing to the north of us.

Those of us who were around  in the 80s remember Norm Radin (who coined the term Pineapple Grove), Tom Fleming (who led the Mainstreet approach to revitalizing the street) and architect Bob Currie talking about transforming four blocks of Second Avenue from Atlantic to Lake Ida Road. Some thought they were nuts. Nice people, but nutty. After all, at that time the city was struggling to get Atlantic Avenue going.

But you know what? Ya gotta believe (as Mets fans know). First you must see, and then you have to believe, and more importantly you have to act on those beliefs.

This blog is a paradox of sorts because I am a believer and a champion of change. I think it’s inevitable.

Our responsibility is to shape that change, but I don’t believe we can arrest it. At the same time, I cling to some things from the past that I feel are vital to our future. There are projects and buildings and values that define who we are—they identify our civic soul. Lose those things and we lose that soul and once lost….well you know the rest.

So yeah, there’s a paradox and a dance that goes on. Let’s celebrate the good changes but let’s also hold on to the tried, the true and the important pieces of our community’s fabric.

Which is why Craig Menin intrigues me. He’s showing us a new future, he’s shaking it up and making it happen. And I deeply admire that kind of drive.

I think Mr. Menin is a visionary. I know he’s an entrepreneur and I have a soft spot for both.

So, I’m rooting for him.

He sees something here and he’s willing to take big time risks to test that vision.

It’s the visionaries and the risk-taking entrepreneurs who change our world and our cities too.

They create opportunities for others; jobs, a broader tax base, a brand, a vibe and an ethos.

Those are extremely valuable assets for a city.

Mr. Menin has always been complimentary of the civic work that attracted him to Delray.

I really appreciate that about him, because I feel a lot of that work and a lot of those people have been demonized for ushering in an era of change and for failing to get out of the way.

But as the late Madeleine Albright once said, it takes a long time to discover your voice and once you find it you don’t want to give it up. Same with your community. When you find your home, you want to do all you can to make it better and sometimes that means speaking your mind.

That’s why I write these weekly messages. Thank you for reading them.

Personally, I never envisioned quite what Craig Menin and company are doing…but I did envision and hope that the work so many engaged in over the years would attract people like Craig. And Akira Back too.

Beginning in the 80s our city committed to citizen driven visioning.

It worked.

We didn’t have to offer incentives like so many other cities. We didn’t have to build or finance a major project that would “save” us.

We just asked stakeholders to come to the table to dream and we encouraged them to aspire then we got busy getting it done. That sent a message to the entrepreneurs: this is the best place to be. The best place to invest.

It’s not a perfect process.

Some stuff works better than you could have imagined and some stuff fails miserably. But you keep going. You keep working together, you keep promoting, you keep inviting people to participate and you hope that the entrepreneurs show up and take you places you could never imagine.

By the way, those entrepreneurs come in all kinds of styles. Some, like Mr. Menin, invest tens of millions of dollars and do things that make you say “wow”, others like Mark Sauer– who visited our table during the opening—start non-profits to help kids find a future. Some like Jeff and Julia Kadel make it possible for children to play baseball (see the Miracle League) and others like C. Ron Allen and Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson devote their lives to creating the next generation of game changers.

In Delray, we also had entrepreneurs working at City Hall designing innovative programs and policies. Some of our best civic entrepreneurs wear uniforms and serve as police officers and firefighters figuring out ways to protect and serve us while making it safe for investment.

Thank goodness for all of them.

One might ask, where’s it all going?
Who knows.

I attended a webinar by a futurist last week and he said the 2020s would be the most consequential decade in human history. That’s quite a statement. We are off to an interesting start with a pandemic and war raging in Europe.

Here at home, I hope we remain safe and stay healthy. One thing we can bank on is more change. Let’s shape it, let’s embrace it but let’s not forget the values that created the opportunities we enjoy and remember to do what we can for those who need our help the most.

 

 

Eleven Signs Your City Will Succeed

The city won a second All America City Award in 2001. So much has changed since, with many of the values that made Delray special abandoned.

Five years ago, award winning journalist James Fallows wrote a groundbreaking article in The Atlantic entitled “Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed.”
The article was a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single engine plane. The trip became a best-selling book “Our Towns” and a compelling series on HBO. I highly recommend both.

Considering the tumult in Delray Beach, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the article to see how many signs of success we can check off.

Sadly, even if we grade with a curve, we are not scoring too high these days. But sometimes a poor grade will force you to buck up and do better. We’re still a great town. We just have lousy politics and that can be corrected by electing better leaders. Take the test yourself and let me know what you find.

Here’s a list of Fallows’ 11 traits of successful towns:

  1. Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.

Grade: The City Commission in Delray Beach is a non-partisan body. Partisan politics has no place in city government. But the last two election cycles were highly partisan affairs, and I would argue that the results turned on party affiliation and  not on ideas about how to make Delray a better place. This is not a healthy development. For the record, my party happens to have a majority of voters in Delray, and I still don’t like partisanship on the city level or anywhere frankly. The divisiveness is endangering our Republic and it has hurt Delray too.

 

  1. You can pick out the local patriots. A standard question the Fallows would ask when they landed in a town was “Who makes this town go?” The answers varied widely. Sometimes it was a mayor or a city-council member. Sometimes it was a local business leader or influential real-estate developer. Sometimes a university president or a civic activist, an artist, a historian, or a radio personality. So, who makes our town go?

Grade: As noted in a recent blog, I would suggest that the volunteer and donor class in Delray have been told to pack their bags. Example: Old School Square eviction. When you lose the patriots, the people who roll up their sleeves and get it done, you risk shredding the civic fabric.

 

  1. “Public-private partnerships” are real.

In successful towns, people can point to something specific and say, “this is what a partnership means.”

Grade: In our town, that project was Old School Square. But after 32 years, OSS was treated as a tenant not a partner and shown the door. Other opportunities to partner are being ignored or bitterly rejected. Example: The Set Transformation Plan has languished because the city refuses to engage the residents in the northwest and southwest neighborhoods. This is in stark contrast to the Southwest Plan, which was done with city commissioners and the CRA at the table with the community.

What resulted was a citizen driven plan that the city and CRA helped to fund with millions of dollars in improvements ranging from a gateway feature and a new streetscape on Northwest/Southwest 5th Avenue to the new Catherine Strong Park and an expansion of the Village Academy.

Today, we don’t see these types of efforts. As noted earlier, the Set Transformation Plan and Congress Avenue plan sit on a shelf gathering dust despite the best efforts of citizens.

  1. People know the civic story. America has a “story,” which everyone understands even if some challenge it. A few states have their guiding stories—California is either the ever-promising or the sadly spoiled frontier, Vermont is known as its own separate Eden.

 

Successful cities have their stories too. New York is the Big Apple, always resilient and always at the center of the national conversation, Chicago is the Windy City, the capital of the Midwest and a place where bold visions come true.

Grade: Who is sharing and teaching our civic story? The local press corps has been deeply affected by changes to the industry and new methods of delivering and consuming the news and many of our past civic heroes have been sidelined by personalities who don’t want to hear from the old timers. That’s a big mistake. There’s a place for elders in every community and if they are silenced or ignored or in some cases disparaged it’s not healthy. That’s what happening in Delray.

 

  1. They have a downtown.

Grade: We have a downtown and it’s robust. However, I would argue that we need to diversify beyond food and beverage and add offices, creative spaces and other uses that will sustain us as a regional activities center. Who is having this conversation?

 

  1. They are near a research university.

Grade: Our proximity to FAU is a plus, so is our closeness to Lynn University and Palm Beach State College. But the question is are we taking advantage of that proximity and are there programs and initiatives that involve the local universities?

 

  1. They have, and care about, a community college. See above.

 

  1. They have unusual schools.

 

Grade:  Village Academy and Spady are “unusual” in that the former is a deregulated public school that has the authority to innovate, and the latter offers a Montessori program. Atlantic’s International Baccalaureate Program has always been impressive and important to Delray Beach.

 

 

  1. They make themselves open. Trying to attract and include new people.

Grade: Here’s where I see our biggest deficit. There was a time when the entirety of city government was designed around the notion of civic engagement, involvement and education. We had charrettes, visioning conferences, neighborhood dinners, town hall meetings, citizen goal setting sessions, citizen academies, police academies, a robust volunteer effort (1,200 police volunteers at the height of the program) and a Youth Council. We sent neighborhood leaders to school so they could become better leaders, we held training sessions for neighborhood associations, supported a race relations initiative and held regular mayoral roundtables. It worked. And then a lot of it, maybe even most of it, was abandoned (and well before Covid). This has been a crippling development. When your involvement is limited to social media, you don’t get good outcomes.

 

  1. They have big plans.

Grade:  I will argue that no city of any size had bigger aspirations than Delray did. We dared to dream, and we executed as well. Yes, we have a state mandated Comprehensive Plan, but I would argue that it’s not a vision and the process— which included citizens— was not citizen driven. There’s a difference. A big difference. The magic happens when the community is involved.

 

Another lesson I learned along the way is that the journey needs to be as fun or more so than achieving the destination. Today, there’s little fun and a lot of division.

 

  1. They have craft breweries

Grade: One final marker, perhaps the most reliable, according to Fallows: A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries, and probably some small distilleries too, according to Fallows.

“A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young (except for me) customers,” Fallows wrote.  “You may think I’m joking, but just try to find an exception.”

This one I struggle with. I love craft breweries and I can see where they are important and send a message but I’m not sure they are an essential trait of a thriving city. Anyway, I love Saltwater Brewery and wish we had more.

 

Conclusion…we have some serious storm clouds to deal with.

And if you think we’re invulnerable because Atlantic Avenue is busy, well there’s no such thing.

 

 

 

Big Dreams & Big Bets

The Delray Beach Market

The Delray Beach Market is the talk of the town.

As well it should be.

At 150,000 square feet, the market is said to be the largest food hall in Florida.

It’s big, bold and brave.

It also represents a colossal investment in the future of Delray Beach so it’s audacious too. I like the audacious part. We cheer big, bold and brave bets on this blog. Small bets too. We like people who try. It’s the risk takers who leave a legacy.

Basically, the market is a food incubator enabling chef/entrepreneurs to pioneer concepts at what’s probably a reasonable cost of entry.

Downtown Delray Beach has become a foodie haven but with that success, the barrier to entry has gotten very expensive. Rents of $100 a square foot are common, build out costs can be exorbitant and competition is fierce. Atlantic Avenue has become its own ecosystem with eye popping statistics accompanying the buzz. Hand’s Stationers just sold for a whopping $1,100 a foot. That’s an astonishing number especially considering the limitations of what you can and can’t do with a building in the downtown. Let’s just say you’d have to sell an awful lot of number two pencils to make those numbers work.

Meanwhile, the new food hall allows entrepreneurs to get into business for much less than the cost of opening a full-service restaurant. It also enables them to gain exposure to the hordes of people flocking downtown these days without having to consult the Forbes Billionaires List to find investors.

I’m sure the model hopes for the vendor’s to succeed so that they can launch traditional restaurants and allow for other fresh concepts to come into the market.

We went to the grand opening party a few weeks back and couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t floored by the sheer scale of the ambition behind this project. It’s a big bet.

Subsequently, I’ve heard a range of opinions (mostly positive) but a few who are questioning how or whether this $60 million investment will work. Speculating on a business model is above my pay grade. I’ve been involved with can’t miss deals that fizzled and have also been involved with impossible dreams that turned into wild success stories including one multibillion dollar brand (Celsius) that was left for dead on several occasions and now has a market cap of $5 billion plus. Go figure.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet against Craig Menin—the developer behind the market and several other huge bets in Delray Beach including the Ray Hotel and The Linton. There’s a strategy unfolding here and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a little time with Mr. Menin and he’s a fascinating man. A visionary with a lot of courage.

My advice is to never bet against the innovators. Not every bet lands you in the winner’s circle and you have to have the cash to play, but the big winners in business are those who find the courage to roll the dice and think big.

What I’m seeing is a company that believes in distinctive architecture, luxury amenities and the power of food and beverage to drive value and community.

Anyway, we sure have seen a lot in Delray over the years.

Leaving the party that Friday night, I found myself experiencing a bunch of different emotions.

I thought about how much we have changed since I came to Delray in the summer of ’87.

I thought about how when we did the Downtown Master Plan in 2001, we were dreaming big. Those dreams matched or maybe even exceeded the ambitions that were attached to Visions 2000, the landmark charrette process that led to the Decade of Excellence in the 1990s. Yes, my friends, we were swinging for the fences.

Back then, we were trying to get on the map and build something sustainable—something of value.

We can and we do argue over whether what’s happened here has been good or bad. And I can argue and empathize with both sides of the growth/change divide.

But…here’s one thing I think is immutable. Change is a constant. It’s inevitable.

We can and have sought to “shape” the growth with height limits and other tools designed to maintain our scale.

Despite the rhetoric of the last election cycle, we will never be another Fort Lauderdale. We won’t even be another Boynton Beach. Both cities —and Boca too— allow much taller buildings. We will always be a three and four story town.

But I can see why some people lament the congestion and activity and what they see as the loss of the laid back “village by the sea” aesthetic, although I would argue that you can still find quiet places to enjoy.

I can also see why others are cheering what’s happening.

They like the activity.

They appreciation the vibrancy and they benefit from the value being created.

If you own a home in east Delray, your property values—often a family’s largest asset—have appreciated substantially since the days when downtown Delray was rife with vacancies. If we lived adjacent to a dead and decaying downtown, it’s doubtful we would be seeing the real estate prices we are seeing.

I get it, it doesn’t matter unless you’re selling and it stinks if you want to buy in at this high level, but I think increasing values sure beats the alternative.

Choices.

Change.

The march of time….

Cities evolve.

We can and should do our best to shape that change—incentivize behaviors we want to see, restrict those we don’t wish to experience.

But market and societal forces are strong and it might be better to recognize that and adjust accordingly. It makes for a happier village and it also enables us to exert more control.

Change is going to happen. We are going to like some things and not like others.

You can’t shape what you don’t understand. You have a shot if you meet the world where it’s heading.

 

 

Rituals, New Favorites & The Simple Pleasures

Amar is a welcome addition to the Ave.

The older I get the more I value the little rituals.

Sitting in the backyard on a cool night and watching the birds.

Taking a walk with my wife after the evening news.

Losing myself in a podcast (Tim Ferris or Guy Raz) and listening (ever so softly so as not to disturb my colleagues) to Spotify while I work.

After spending six weeks in an ICU/Covid unit flat on my back with a mask glued to my face, I’m finding that it’s the little pleasures that are giving me the greatest joy these days.

So I’d thought I’d share a few and I hope you share some of your favorites with me and others.

–Amar, a new Mediterranean restaurant, is a solid addition to Atlantic Avenue. Delicious Middle Eastern dishes and attentive service. Don’t miss the appetizers and the kebabs.

–I’m finding I get more joy these days from Instagram than Facebook. The golden retriever videos and photos of nature never fail to brighten my mood.

But if you do find yourself on Facebook,  don’t miss Gaetlyn Rae, an adorable monkey who bakes, whips up salads and opens packages in the most entertaining way imaginable. For me, a few moments with the monkey is almost as good as a meditation video whenever I need to relax. (P.S. I never thought I would ever write the previous sentence).

Streaming gems“Imposters” a dark comedy on Netflix, “Allen v. Farrow” a very dark documentary on HBO and  “I Care A Lot” a dark drama with great performances. I just realized I have a “dark” theme going so if you can recommend anything light please let me know.

I also recommend “Tina” about the amazing Tina Turner and the “Last Cruise” about the now infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship which experienced a Covid outbreak in the early days of the pandemic. Both are on HBO and well worth your time.

—Hillsboro El Rio Park in Boca just celebrated its first birthday. This park on Southwest 18th Street was once home to the city’s landfill. It’s now an idyllic escape with walking paths, a playground, pickleball and picnic pavilions. It’s a great place to picnic before the heat sets in.

–We recently peaked our heads out and visited the Living Room Theater at FAU, a pre-pandemic favorite. With only 10 seats available for sale when we went and masks required, we felt safe and saw “Nomadland” on the big screen. Nomadland is a majestic film that was made for the big screen.

Only five seats were occupied on the Friday afternoon we snuck away, but we enjoyed the experience and were reminded about the magic of the movies. Seeing a movie in a theater is an immersive experience. As good as streaming can be, the big screen is still magical.

We really like Wood & Fire restaurant in west Delray. The food is good (the Delray salad is awesome), the service is excellent and the ambience is very appealing. In this era of Covid, we like how the restaurant is open on two sides with ample ventilation and two large outdoor dining areas. Things are really picking up in the western part of our community.

As for books, I’ve got a few recommendations: Delray’s own Steve Leveen has written “America’s Bilingual Century” which I deeply enjoyed. I remember talking to Steve about the merits of bilingualism at a Christmas Party so to see the book come to life is very cool.

“How I Built This” by Guy Raz is a quick read based on the stories covered on his amazing podcast chronicling the journey of some very talented entrepreneurs. If you dream of starting a business, currently run a business or just want some inspiration this is the book for you.

“Who is Michael Ovitz?” is the autobiography of the super-agent who once ran Hollywood. Lots of insider tales of how the entertainment biz works and sometimes doesn’t.

“How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan is the story of how psychedelics affect us. I was turned onto this fascinating read by a childhood friend who sent me an article in Fortune magazine about the growing research into how psychedelics might treat anxiety, depression and PTSD.

“Unreasonable Success” by Richard Koch came to me from the Tim Ferris podcast. It’s a great character study of people throughout history who leave an outsize mark on the world. That book led me to “The Hidden Habits of Genius” by music professor Craig Wright who teaches a very popular Yale course of the same name. I learned that I might be the opposite of a genius—but at least I have self-awareness.

I’d also like to give a plug to the vaccination site at the South County Civic Center where my wife and I recently received our first doses of the Moderna vaccine. The site was so well-run, the vaccinators so kind and the location and parking is very convenient. Get the shot wherever and whenever you can, but if you are lucky enough to score a slot at the Civic Center you’ll be delighted by how well it is run.

Hope you had a great Easter and Passover. Stay safe this spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year Later…..

Poignant memorials to those we lost to Covid-19 sprung up all over the nation.

Last week, we marked the one year anniversary of Covid-19.

It’s impossible to quantify what’s happened to our world since last March when the first cases of coronavirus emerged. So much has changed.

So much loss.

So much pain.

We watched the various tributes and news reports recounting the last year’s toll in stunned silence. We have lost more than 534,000 Americans. It’s just staggering.

Covid has touched all of us in so many ways.

We’ve experienced fear, grief, anxiety and frustration.

Then there’s the economic devastation.

The closed and damaged businesses, the lost jobs, the social loneliness and isolation. The damage to our children’s education’s and psyches.

It’s been overwhelming and enveloping.

And terribly, terribly sad.

We miss our old lives: friends, family, travel, shows, dining out, being with other people.

Like any cataclysmic event, the pandemic has focused our hearts and minds.

A year later we revere health care professionals, marvel at science and have gained deep respect for essential workers. We’re also grateful for the technology that has allowed us to stay somewhat connected.

Our world has changed, I believe forever.

Some of it’s good; I’m so glad to see nurses and teachers getting the props they deserve.

Public health is in the spotlight and hopefully will get the investment it so sorely needs.

I’m hoping that when we get back to normal we will have a deep appreciation for the little things, which by the way, are really the big things.

The year anniversary of the start of the pandemic marks seven months since I left the hospital after my bout with the virus.

And I can share that my life is not the same.

Everything feels more precious.

Every little thing.

And fragile too.

I used to think in years and decades, now I think in terms of moments. I’m not sure I’m saying that quite right but let’s just say that the simplest things are filling me up these days.

A lazy afternoon sitting outside with friends and reminiscing, a text from a childhood friend linking me to a great article, a short weekend away to see our son play hockey and meet a new girlfriend, time with family, listening to music and reading is suddenly more appealing to me than any exotic experience I can imagine.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

I believe COVID has focused many of us on what’s important and while we miss “normal” we also realize that normal was very hectic and maybe not as appealing as we thought it was.

But oh my has this damn virus extracted a price.

Having experienced Covid’s insidious power, I find myself very moved by the stories I read, see and hear.

The heroism of health care workers, the loss of special people —each soul indispensable.

The pain of long haulers, those still experiencing symptoms months after their infections. I am one of those people. It hasn’t been fun.

But we’re alive. So many aren’t. We can enjoy those special moments. And for that and a million other reasons I’m grateful.

Please stay safe. We have lots more to do and a better world to create.

 

One year stats:

29.2 million cases in the United States

534k deaths.

32,254 deaths in Florida

126k cases in Palm Beach County

2,546 deaths in Palm Beach County

120mm cases worldwide

2.65 million deaths worldwide

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Last week, I went out for a beer.

That’s a big accomplishment around here these days considering my recent travails.
I sat outside at Beer Trade with a friend far away from any other patron on a rainy evening.
I figured I deserved a beer after a summer spent battling Covid.
So I poured a cold glass of Salty Crew ale and relished every drop.
My buddy and I  talked about the presidential debate (train wreck, horrific and sad), local politics (sad, depressing and soap operaish), the economy (scary, volatile and uncertain), Covid (scary, depressing and politicized) and dogs (cute, cuddly and happy).

I relished being out and about in this year of Zoom meetings, remote work and a lengthy stay at Bethesda Hospital.

While the streets were empty due to the gloomy night, we saw local architect Jess Sowards walk by.
Jess is a terrific guy, a talented architect and someone who has quietly done a lot for Delray.
He stopped by—staying socially distant— to greet us, inquire about my health and chat.
It was great to see him.
Simple pleasures.
I appreciate these moments all the more now.
And it got me to thinking about all the special people who make up this magical place we call home.
We talked about Jess’ partner Bob Currie who passed a year ago this month. Bob did so much for this town, especially Pineapple Grove and Old School Square.
Around the same time that we lost Bob, we lost Elizabeth Wesley, a mentor of mine and a heroine to so many. Oh, how we miss Mrs. Wesley.
“Libby” was love. It was just that simple.

She touched so many lives in Delray with her Roots Cultural Festival and by being warm, smart and well… by just being Libby.
Earlier in the day, I was able to speak to Perry DonFrancisco, the former longtime proprietor of Boston’s on the Beach.
Perry makes me laugh and right now it hurts to laugh but it’s also good to experience joy and humor.
Perry delivers both.
He’s an amazing man and I love him.
When I met him more than 30 years ago we were both young guys. Perry gave me hard earned life advice and has always had my back.
 When I was on my back in the ICU, he sent me a series of videos—each related to our friendship and every last one of them kept me going when it was very hard to breathe.
Books can be written about what Perry has meant to the people of Delray. He has done more than anyone could ever quantify.
The best description I ever heard of Perry came from Joe Dragon, who used to be our assistant parks director.
Here’s what he said at a City Commission meeting.
“If we didn’t have a Perry in Delray, we would have to invent him.”
What a great quote.
It’s also true.

Because without Perry, we wouldn’t be Delray.
Which reminds me of my friend former Fire Chief Kerry Koen.
Kerry is so special.
A gifted photographer, well-read, so thoughtful.
Honestly, our conversations inspire half of these blogs.
So if you like them, Chief Koen gets the credit. And if I fall short, it’s because I’m not a good enough writer to capture the richness of the ideas we talk about.
Speaking of rich conversation, there’s a happy hour gang at Caffe Luna Rosa that meets every Friday to discuss the world’s events. Those guys are great gentlemen and over glasses of Johnny Walker Black and delicious food they make this town a richer place.
From parking and sea grapes to presidential politics and the latest movies on Netflix these guys really cover the landscape of life.
There’s also a breakfast crew that I know about that consists of some amazing Delray denizens, the super smart Brian Cheslack, the wonderfully talented Joe Gillie and in pre-Covid times our former assistant city manager Bob Barcinski and former mayors Jay Alperin and Tom Carney.
It’s a very accomplished group. Friends, there is no village as we know it without them.
It’s the special people who make our towns so rich and unique. The concept of a village by the sea has always been about people and how we treat and interact with each other.

These days my mornings are enriched by daily texts I get from retired police officer John Evans. There are no words for John. Every morning, he greets me with a saying, psalm or prayer. He is a big part of my healing. And a great contributor to Delray who is still giving back even eight years into retirement.
John recently went to Tallahassee to celebrate a full clemency for a young man he mentored who will now train to become a Delray police officer. If that young man emulates my friend John Evans, this city will be all the safer and richer as a result. John is the best.

Which brings me full circle—back to the socially distant table at Beer Trade on Fourth Avenue —where I sit talking about all things under the sun with my friend Scott Porten.
He says I never mention him in my writing. Well this is a test to see if he reads to the end.
Will he pass?
I sure hope so, because dear readers Scott is an exceptional guy and a wonderful friend.
Does he make fun of my taste in beer? Of course, he does. So I like beer that tastes like grapefruit? Is that a sin?
And yes, he chafes when I insist on sitting on the left hand side of the table, because I happen to be left handed and don’t want to bother my neighbor with a stray elbow. I think it’s called being courteous.
Does he wince when someone notices a certain someone’s eyelashes? Why, yes he does.
But I’m sure he understands that glaucoma drops can lead to magnificent lashes. After all, he’s  an understanding guy. And very complimentary too. Recently, he called me “the LeBron James of communicable disease.”
In all seriousness, when you face adversity in life—such as fighting a vicious virus—you find out who your friends are.
I learned, happily, that I have many in this town and beyond.
I’m so grateful to write that sentence. I’m so thankful to be alive to write about those friends and share with you how great they are.
I’m proud of them and all they have accomplished.
Running cities, protecting and serving us, giving to charities, volunteering their time to civic endeavors, raising children, adopting dogs, enriching our culture, making sure kids have holiday gifts, designing buildings, running businesses and creating jobs and on and on it goes in a very interesting village on the southeast coast of Florida we call home.

Special Places Lift Our Spirits

 

 

 

 

Old School Square in patriotic splendor.          Let’s  start with the obvious.

This has been one horrendous year.
Let’s be honest,  if years were things, 2020 would be a smoldering dumpster fire.

I don’t have to or want to recount the craziness and tragedy, we know it all too well. We are engulfed by it.

What I do want to write about is what can soothe us during troubled times.
So here’s something to try— inspired by Yankee magazine—one of my favorite publications because it celebrates the best of New England.
Yankee’s basic premise is that places are special because they tell stories, have distinctive styles and personalities and that we ought to explore as much as we possibly can.
When I scanned the most recent issue it got me a little down because I know that at least this year, there’s no way to see any of the amazing places described in the magazine.
But then I had a thought, what are the local places that make me happy either because they are beautiful or trigger positive memories.
So I decided to take inventory of those places— first in my mind and then via a car ride—which is still possible even during this time of Covid.
I visited old homes and neighborhoods, cruised Atlantic Avenue, took a walk on Banker’s Row, went to Papas Tapas (love that place), cruised around the West Settlers District, swung by the Catherine Strong Splash Park, went north  then south on A1A, visited Lake Ida Park where I have walked all of my dogs over the years and parked across the street from Old School Square where so many of my “Delray memories” were launched.
I dropped by Knowles Park to visit the Intracoastal and took a drive west to the Morikami.
I drove the bridges at George Bush, Atlantic, Linton and Spanish River—for some reason I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe that stems from childhood when crossing the Whitestone Bridge meant we were visiting my grandparents.
Anyway, it did my soul some good.
It’s not the same as discovering a new place or going to Maine but somehow it was soothing.
I think it’s because the act of thinking about which places mean something to you triggers endorphins, memories and positive feelings.
I thought of the people I’ve met over the years at Old School Square, the photo shoot we did with my now 30 year old daughter at Morikami, great neighbors we’ve had, friends who live in certain neighborhoods and votes we took on the City Commission that led to new places and exciting things—-Bexley Park, Coral Trace, CityWalk, Ocean City Lofts, the public art program etc etc.
For a moment, I forgot about 2020 the nightmare and focused on the sense of place we enjoy.
This summer I had dreamed of going to New England, there’s something about the region that speaks to me. That dream has been dashed.
We’ve been grounded. At least for now.
So my visions of weather beaten cottages along the Maine coast will be replaced with drives around Palm Beach County.
Things could be worse.
And I promise they will get better.

Monday Thoughts

Random thoughts….
Question: how are we going to get a vaccine by the end of the year if we haven’t yet figured out a way to stock toilet paper in our stores?
A friend texted me the other day and said he hated the term “new normal.”
I agree.
We can’t think that we will be living in a pandemic forever. We just can’t. We will get back to living life which includes socializing with other humans.
What do I miss most?
Hugs. Giving them and getting them.
There is no acceptable excuse to avoid a Zoom call or Zoom Happy Hour. What are you going to say, ‘I’m busy’—it doesn’t fly.
The press is not the enemy of the people. It’s the guarantor of our Democracy.
I hate inaccurate reporting as much as the next person and have been on the receiving end of bad reporting. But our First Amendment sets us apart and we must get back to a place where we can agree on objective facts.  PS There is some remarkable journalism being practiced today. Look no further than the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and right  here at home I’ve been impressed recently by the work of C. Ron Allen in the Boca Tribune.
It’s alarming that Palm Beach County is one of three counties nationally considered high risk thanks to increasing infections.
We took a ride downtown over the weekend and didn’t see a lot of social distancing. Complacency in these times can get you and others in trouble. It can kill you.
One of the saving graces of staying at home in 2020: streaming services.
Can you call imagine how long the nights would be without Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime?
Here’s a few recommendations: “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix, “Upload” on Amazon and “I Know This Much is True” on HBO.
Also don’t miss “The Last Dance” on ESPN.
There is some talk about moving the start of hurricane season to May from June.
Between coronavirus, murder hornets, locusts and toilet paper shortages I would argue that we can do without hurricanes this year.
We’ve got enough on the plate for a while.
On a personal note, I wanted to thank everyone for the overwhelming support after we posted about the loss of our beloved golden retriever Teddy last week.
We received flowers, cards, comforting messages and even a poster featuring Teddy.
He was the best dog imaginable.
I believe he’s in a better place, free of pain and that we will see each other again.
Thank you for all the love and concern. You are the very best.  And again of you can rescue a pet please do so. You will find that they rescue you.

Preparing For Recovery

I moved to Delray Beach just when efforts to revitalize the city were beginning to kick into gear.

The year was 1987, so I had just missed Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, an effort that served as an important precursor to the massive efforts that were about to be launched.

But I was there for Visions 2000, the Decade of Excellence, Visions 2005, Sharing for Excellence (which focused on the city’s schools) the Downtown Master Plan and a host of other efforts that created modern day Delray Beach, a three time All America City, that has earned national acclaim for its redevelopment efforts, successful downtown, events, culture and food scene.

It’s been quite a ride—turbulent at times, but joyous too.
Now in the midst of a pandemic I am reminded every time I drive down Atlantic Avenue about those early years when downtown was dead and buried in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.

Delray came back as a result of careful planning, massive public investment, risky private investment and a playbook that included everything from a downtown tennis stadium and festivals to a focus on culture and a big bet on food and beverage as a driver of commerce and branding. A strong commitment to Community Policing was another indispensable tool. If people don’t feel safe, they simply won’t spend time or money in your city.

In a pandemic, most of those tools are largely off the table—- for now at least. So I wonder how we will fare in the short and long term.
Long term I think we will find a vaccine and effective treatments that will give us the confidence to venture out again and be among people.
That’s what downtowns do best if they are healthy. They bring us together.

But short term it may be a while before we see restaurants packed and feel comfortable enough to attend festivals with thousands of people.

Thanks to societal changes, retail doesn’t appear to be viable option especially in a high rent environment.
Pineapple Grove has done well as center of personal services and hopefully salons, gyms and the like can safely re-open soon.

We never quite had a huge office component downtown and one wonders where that sector will be in the wake of the coronavirus. Many companies are realizing they can effectively operate remotely and may not require the large offices they now occupy.

Still, there are opportunities at Atlantic Crossing and the IPic building to bring workers downtown.
In time, it will also be important to get anchors such as Old School Square and the Arts Garage up and running again.
The arts are a morale booster and an economic development engine.

I also think  there is  a great opportunity to introduce educational uses downtown and perhaps someday (post vaccine) that will be possible too.

Tourism is a huge part of our economy and we finally have a critical mass of hotel rooms after years of lacking capacity.
In time, if the hotels can stay alive, that sector will bounce back and be a critical piece of our economic recovery.
My belief is we need a short term survival plan because long term we can bounce back because the fundamentals are there. But it will be harder to bounce back if we lose too much of what we had prior to the pandemic.
What’s probably needed is a local city specific Marshall Plan.
Is that an overreaction? Maybe, but what we seem to be facing is an economic event unlike any we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.
So in my estimate, it will take big and bold thinking to restore a sustainable local economy that has the potential—if done right—to be better than pre-Coronavirus.
Tall order?
Perhaps.
But we are starting with a decent foundation this time.
Back then, all we had were good bones and a lot of dreams.
A slew of visionaries made it happen then, we can do it again.