Updated Sept. 1
Longboards, the surf-themed restaurant and bar in downtown West Palm Beach, closed unexpectedly this week after five years of serving up fresh seafood and good vibes to the 500 block of Clematis Street. In its place, according to reliable sources, the veteran restaurateurs who own the building and neighboring Hullabaloo restaurant plan to open a second location of their successful Asian street-food concept, Kapow!
A message posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page by the Sub-Culture Group says the owners “decided to close this chapter with Longboards and bring you another new, exciting concept to be unveiled soon.” According to reliable sources, however, the restaurant going into 519 Clematis St. won’t be entirely unique. Look for a new, expanded outpost of Kapow! Noodle Bar, a mainstay in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park since late 2011.
* Official sites: Longboards on Facebook | Sub-Culture.org
* Related: Goodbye Grub: Longboards closes on Clematis Street (The Palm Beach Post)
Aug. 9 update: Longboards closes to become second Kapow! location (New Times)
Sept. 1 update: Follow the progress on the Kapow WPB Facebook page
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sub-Culture Group honcho Rodney Mayo has been considering bringing Kapow! to Clematis Street since at least May 2012, when he was planning the opening of Hullabaloo (see story). The cozy artisan food and craft cocktail den, which launched just to the east of Longboards at 517 Clematis St. in January 2013, has been a smash success for the owners and chef Fritz Cassel. Hullabaloo has won numerous awards, acclaim, and high-profile exposure thanks to cheerleaders such as Emeril Lagasse, who featured the cutting-edge eatery on Emeril’s Florida on the Cooking Channel.
Atomic Grog past coverage
* Hullabaloo brings inventive craft cocktails to Clematis Street
Longboards, by comparison, was a disappointment. While it was immaculately themed to surf culture and featured fresh seafood and an inviting atmosphere, the restaurant never caught on in a big way. When we visited last Thursday evening, less than a week before it closed its doors, it was nearly empty while Hullabaloo was bustling with diners and Clematis club crawlers happily consuming the creative food and high-end spirits. We sampled some impressive Tiki cocktails recently added to the Longboards menu, but the writing was apparently already on the wall.
With a much larger footprint (nearly 4,000 square feet, compared to Hullabaloo’s 1,700), Longboards had an uphill struggle with a lower-priced menu and a niche (seafood and a beachy theme) that could be attached to many other area eateries. Not that Mayo and his team didn’t find much success and high points over the past five years. Opening on July Fourth weekend in 2011, Longboards took over the long-vacant room that many old-timers and local music fans will remember as the site of Ray’s Downtown Blues bar from 1995 to 2007.
Atomic Grog past coverage
* Clematis Street rides a new wave with the opening of LongBoards
* Surf’s up: The story behind LongBoards
Longboards catered to the local surfing scene, featuring special events and block parties. Surfing films were shown at the restaurant, which included vintage longboards and other memorabilia amid a vast ocean of wood floors and walls, plus some cool vintage touches. It was a labor of love for Mayo, who bought the building along with several others in the western reaches of Clematis early in his career as a nightlife entrepreneur. His flagship venue, the alternative music club Respectable Street, has been located directly across the street since 1987. The theme reflected his love of both surf culture and the seafood of his native New England.
In October 2014, Mayo and company launched a more upscale bar/restaurant with a distinctive New England feel on the eastern edge of downtown, closer to tony Palm Beach. Camelot Yacht Club (114 S. Narcissus Ave.) features Kennedy family photos on the walls and an upscale nautical theme intended to appeal to a more well-to-do clientele.
But that doesn’t mean Sub-Culture has abandoned its bread-and-butter. Coming soon to the 500 block of Clematis: The return of the beloved Lost Weekend, one of Mayo’s early concepts and a fixture during downtown’s 1990s revival. The pool hall with vintage video games was a ground-breaking rock ‘n’ roll hipster hangout on the east side of downtown before being forced out by redevelopment. It returned for five years beginning in 2008 in space attached to the now-closed Dr. Feelgood’s, the massive rock ‘n’ roll bar also owned by Motley Crue’s Vince Neil. But Lost Weekend (and Mayo), both seemed out of place in the more trendy 200 block of Clematis Street.
Back in the 500 block, Kapow will be an exciting new addition to a district known for its indie-minded bars and restaurants. In March 2014, Mayo partnered with craft coffee expert Sean Scott to open Subculture Coffee, bringing a much-needed microroasting facility to the area.
Atomic Grog past coverage
* Take 5: Rodney Mayo, guiding light of South Florida’s indie entertainment scene
Delivering creative, edgy Asian food paired with colorful craft cocktails, Kapow! is poised to fill another gap in a downtown dining scene filled with pubs and martini bars. It may be small in stature in a tiny corner location in Boca’s entertainment district, but Kapow! looms large in the local restaurant and bar scene. Among the numerous honors bestowed over the past 4 1/2 years are “best new restaurant,” “best cocktail bar,” “best happy hour,” and “best restaurant” in various polls.
* KapowNoodleBar.com | Facebook | Twitter
Kapow! is owned and operated by an A team of local restaurateurs. When Mayo joins forces with Scott Frielich, good things are bound to happen. The pair has established a tradition of great food and legions of fans with such distinctive concepts as The Dubliner in Boca Raton; Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach; and Howley’s in West Palm Beach. At Kapow!, they teamed up with Vaughan Lazar, founder of Pizza Fusion and a trendsetter in the eco-conscious restaurant movement.
With eye-catching design and decor (including a massive mural by noted lowbrow artist Pooch), Kapow! immediately grabs your attention. The food is just as inspired, featuring a decadent menu of small plates (Duck Spring Rolls, Grilled Bulgogi Tacos), dim sum and dumplings (Crispy Short Rib Shumai, Bacon & Jalapeno Rangoons), steamed buns (Short Rib, Hoisin Duck), salads, main plates (Korean BBQ Short Ribs, Hawaiian Veggie Fried Rice), noodles (Skirt Steak Ramen, Seared Shrimp Udon), and desserts.
The original Kapow! menu was launched by award-winning Asian-fusion chef Roy Villacrusis, who moved on to other restaurant projects but whose influence is still felt today. The executive chef reins have changed hands several times, but the food remains high-caliber and creative. Just as important to the Clematis Street location will be the cocktails, which at Kapow! are in the capable hands of mixologist Angela Dugan (Vaughan’s wife). Dugan incorprates exotic liqueurs and fresh, locally-grown herbs into her creations, which have won as many honors as the Kapow! food. She parlayed her mixology success at Kapow! into another business with Vaughan, Dugan and Dame, which produces organic and locally-sourced ingredients for cocktails, plus oils, vinegars, spices, and more.
Atomic Grog past coverage
* Kapow! explodes onto South Florida dining and cocktail scene
My take: It will certainly be interesting to see where the Kapow! team goes with the much larger Longboards space. I would expect the kitchen, much of the custom woodwork, and perhaps the booths to remain, but after that all bets are off. The center surfboard bar will likely change, at least in theming. I’m hoping for the same sort of creativity that pushed Kapow! to the top of the heap in the south Palm Beach County food and cocktail scenes. And I look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when I can bounce back and forth between Hullabaloo and Kapow through the shared back door, perhaps ducking into that cool Airstream trailer in the outdoor patio with a wildly eclectic assortment of food and beverages from both establishments. It’s an enticing mash-up whose time will hopefully come.