It’s tough to come up with a unique and exciting concept in today’s bar and restaurant scene, where new establishments continually push the creativity envelope, and patrons have seen just about everything. But leave it to South Florida nightlife kingpin Rodney Mayo to move the bar even higher.
Imagine walking into a small, dark space that evokes a New York City loft. It’s simple, clean and dark, illuminated only by candles and low lighting. Huge red-and-black leather booths span one wall, with reproductions of 1940s-era Eames chairs scattered about. Dead rock stars such as Freddy Mercury and Jim Morrison stare eerily from framed black-and-white photos. The sound of ’30s and ’40s jazz fills the air, while the smell of Italian-influenced gastropub food crafted in a wood-burning oven wafts throughout the room. Patrons sip craft beer, wine, coffee and unique cocktails. Welcome to Hullabaloo.
Like its name implies, Hullabaloo is poised to cause a commotion. Mayo and his managing partners will introduce Hullabaloo – located at 517 Clematis St. in downtown West Palm Beach – with a grand opening party next Friday (Jan. 25) from 5 p.m. until 3 a.m. There will be a private, invitation-only party on Thursday, Jan. 24. “We’re going to have a ragtime band play at the opening,” Mayo says. He also promises complimentary beverages and food tastings.
More than a year in the making, Hullabaloo takes over the 1,700-square-foot space on the north side of the 500 block formerly occupied by The Lounge. It shares a building and back patio with neighboring Longboards, Mayo’s surf-themed restaurant and bar that opened in July 2011. The Lounge closed three months later to make way for Hullabaloo.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” said Jon Elu, Mayo’s managing partner on both The Lounge and Hullabaloo. “We closed The Lounge after Moonfest a year ago.” The other managing partner is Mayo’s brother, Michael. They’ve teamed up with a high-profile chef – Fritz Cassel, formerly of Gratify gastropub in West Palm Beach. I caught up with the three partners late Tuesday night at the restaurant as they calmly dealt with the many issues involved with opening a restaurant in just 10 days.
The latest curveball: They had just parted ways with the mixologist they had planned to bring down from Cape Cod to oversee the beverage program. But never fear, they were armed with a robust menu of craft cocktails developed in-house that should give cutting-edge hotspots like Sweetwater in Boynton Beach a run for their money. I got a sneak peek at more than a dozen recipes that share their names with the dearly departed rockers on the walls.
The drinks are named not just for deceased musicians, but those who either committed suicide or died via their own misadventures. Think Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, et al. As of Tuesday, the names were not all nailed down to the dozens of cocktail recipes, but I was impressed with what I saw.
Among those I got a look at was one containing tequila, sweet vermouth, Campari, rosewater, and orange pith (tentatively called the Mama Cass); and another featuring brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice, simple syrup, peach bitters, basil, and fresh apricot (most likely to be called the Jim Morrison). Most of the recipes also call for creative garnish. Elu said the glassware will be simple yet classic. But he also added that there will be different styles of beer glasses for the various craft brews. And there will be also be a large wine selection.
The cocktails will be sophisticated both in presentation and in their use of spirits, Elu said. The partners were debating whether to use major labels or only craft spirits. But either way, the focus will be on quality. Elu said the goal is to mix the specialty drinks with only the craft brands and carry the major brands for other drinks. He also expressed an interest in offering classic cocktails aged in barrels.
The partners are searching for a head mixologist to jump on board by opening, or shortly after. Said Rodney Mayo: “We’re going to try to get creative with the cocktails changing every season along with the food. We’re looking for somebody to come on board and spearhead that.”
Meanwhile, the food seems to be in excellent hands. The emphasis will be on small plates with a northern Italian influence – such as charcuterie, and flatbreads from the wood-burning oven. Cassel, who dazzled diners for nearly three years at Gratify American Gastropub on the east side of downtown, seems like a perfect fit. His Hullabaloo menu includes:
* Pasta Cabanara
* Hullabaloo Burger with zucchini chips
* Double yoke farm eggs with gruyere cheese, heirloom tomatoes and toast points
* House made ricotta ravioli smothered in duck confit au jus
Cassel, 37, a 2002 graduate of the Florida Culinary Institute, rose quickly through the ranks of local restaurants, most notably at Spoto’s Oakwood Grille. He was at Gratify from March 2010 until its closing in July 2012. He’s been doing private events and also some work at The Breakers over the past six months, Elu said.
Gratify, adjacent to the Meyer Amphitheater near Flagler Drive, was well-known for its creative and delicious comfort food. While under Cassel’s culinary leadership, Gratify received accolades from Zagat and Trip Advisor, plus it was named one of Florida’s top 100 restaurants in 2011 by Florida Trend Magazine. Click here for a New Times Q&A with Cassel in January 2011.
When Hullabaloo opens Friday, it will be Rodney Mayo’s 14th restaurant, bar or lounge. His first, the indie dance and live music club Respectable Street, opened directly across the street at 518 Clematis St. in 1987. He snapped up several buildings on the 500 block in the 1980s when prices were low. As his empire has expanded to Delray Beach, Boca Raton and Miami, his focus has become more on restaurants than nightclubs. Among his more well-known eateries are Howley’s in West Palm Beach; Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach; and Kapow! Noodle Bar and The Dubliner in Boca Raton.
The common theme at all of Mayo’s properties seems to be the fact that there’s no common theme. Every one is different. At Hullabaloo, “it’s all about the food and drinks,” Elu says. But much thought and creativity have also gone into the decor and music. The music, all programmed via iPod/iPad, will evoke the ’30s and ’40s, “Billie Holiday style,” Mayo said. Later in the evening, it will transition into new and classic indie rock. It will be an interesting mix to be sure, but it makes perfect sense when the weekday downtown business crowd morphs into the younger late-night hipster scene that defines the 500 block of Clematis Street.
So what took so long to build out the relatively small space? In a preview we posted last May, Mayo was hopeful for a summer opening. “Permits, permits, permits,” he said. “It’s a complete new restaurant as far as the city is concerned. That means all new licenses. We had to do everything from scratch. But we just took our time. We were in no rush here.” He estimated that the delay was “probably 30 percent city, 70 percent us just being lazy.” Of course, he’s being somewhat self-deprecating. A man with 14 restaurants and lounges could hardly be considered lazy. Then he offered up a more poetic reason: “A fine wine takes time.”
Hullabaloo, 517 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach, will be open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 3 a.m. on weekends (late Friday and Saturday). A couple weeks after the grand opening, plans call for lunch and Sunday brunch service starting at 11:30 a.m., corresponding with the hours of Longboards. For reservations, call (561) 833-1033 or (561) 655-9747 or book online.
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* Clematis Street rides a new wave with the opening of Longboards
* Surf’s up: The story behind Longboards