Minimalist Tiki

Surf’s up in downtown West Palm Beach with the arrival of Longboards

Related: See photos from the grand opening party

Longboards grand opening party

The 500 block of Clematis Street gets a long-awaited injection of that good old Rodney Mayo magic this weekend with the grand opening of the South Florida nightlife mogul’s newest venture, the surf-themed restaurant and bar Longboards.

As owner or part owner of 13 other establishments from West Palm Beach to South Beach, he knows a thing or two about the hospitality industry. But rather than open cookie-cutter, tourist-friendly nightspots, Mayo has a creative flair for the funky and offbeat. And a clever eye for retro cool.

Perhaps we’re just getting tired of smoky bars and dance clubs, but we find his restaurant ventures (Dada and Tryst in Delray Beach, Howley’s in West Palm Beach) the coolest in his portfolio.

A view from the front door at the center bar and interior of Longboards
A view from the front door at the center bar and interior of Longboards (photo by Hurricane Hayward).

It looks like we may want to add Longboards to the list. We stopped by for a sneak peak last night and were blown away by the transformation that has taken place in the space formerly occupied by Ray’s Downtown at 519 Clematis St. Next door to The Lounge and across the street from Respectable Street (two other Mayo properties), Longboards is poised to become a welcome addition to the western reaches of the downtown strip. It’s a full-blown restaurant and bar with great theming, modern yet retro at the same time.

No expense was spared in the construction of Longboards. The space was completely gutted and rebuilt, featuring a state-of-the-art kitchen, huge center bar (in the shape of a surfboard, of course) and enough longboards hanging from the ceiling and walls to make Kelly Slater jealous. We snapped a few photos as as the staff worked on final preparations for Saturday’s opening.

Free block parties are a tradition on the west end of Clematis. The massive Moonfest began as a humble block party, the 22-year-old Respectable Street hosts an annual anniversary bash, and New Year’s Eve soirees are common. This Saturday’s party for Longboards follows through on the theme with live surf bands, a professional skateboard show and classic car show. It runs from 5 p.m. until the wee hours with free food and drinks available until 10 p.m.

Surfboards hang above the center bar at Longboards
Surfboards hang above the center bar at Longboards (photo by Hurricane Hayward).

Headlining the outdoor stage in front of Longboards will be the 1960s surf band The Surfaris, known for the classic tunes Wipe Out and Surfer Joe and featuring original guitarist Bob Berryhill. This is not to be confused with a second version of The Surfaris led by one of the other original guitarists, Jim Fuller. (There’s also another California surf band from the early ’60s called The Original Surfaris, who actually came before the Surfaris who wrote Wipe Out, but I digress.)

Also performing will be South Florida’s Jacuzzi Boys and The Gutter Queens, plus DJs spinning tunes between sets. You can also catch live music inside Respectable Street with The State Of and Bonnie Riot, and I’m sure O’Shea’s Irish pub (just to the west of Longboards) will also be hopping. The skateboard show will feature a portable halfpipe, and there will be an auction of a surfboard autographed by Dick Dale (who recently played Respectable Street) to benefit the Surfers for Autism charity.

Ray’s Downtown (aka Ray’s Downtown Blues) was a long-running (1995-2007) bastion of underground music, from blues and roots rock to – in its later years – alternative, punk and hardcore. Ray’s was a dive, but a warm and friendly one. You never knew who would be playing on the rickety stage, illuminated by a few dim lights. But you could always be sure owner Ray Carbone was close by, running the small but efficient sound system with one hand while tending bar with the other.

Comfy booths run along the perimeter, while the wood floors and walls give Longboards a homey warmth
Comfy booths run along the perimeter, while the wood floors and walls give Longboards a homey warmth (photo by Hurricane Hayward).

Among the national names who graced the tiny stage were Tom Morello (who stopped by to jam after an Audioslave gig), The Offspring, Sum 41 and Taking Back Sunday. Most memorable, however, were a series of gigs by local singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba, debuting his new acoustic band that became a national emo sensation as Dashboard Confessional. At the band’s mid-2000 debut, more than 350 fans packed the 200-capacity club, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder while singing every word to every song along with Carrabba. Carbone swore he’d never seen anything like it in all his years in the business.

After the closing of Ray’s, the space sat empty for several years as Mayo, who owns the building, sought a tenant. He decided to take matters into his own hands and open Longboards, filling a much-needed gap on west Clematis for high quality food and drinks served in a cool retro atmosphere.

We’ll put the menu to the test on Saturday and subsequent visits, but we have no doubts it will be up to the same standards as the decor. The expertise that went into the creation of Longboards is unquestioned. At this point, we’ll be very easy to please.

As a noted surfer (Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) once said: “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”

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