Best of 2015: Palm Beach County

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Here are the winners of SFGN's "Best of 2015" in Palm Beach County.

Best LGBT Activist – Julie Seaver

In many ways Julie Seaver is the face of Compass in Palm Beach County, where she serves as its Center Operations Director. And anybody that knows her – loves her. Earlier this year she was named to SFGN’s annual South Florida OUT50 list.

"The most notable trait that makes Julie such an appropriate recipient of this award is that she puts her mind, body and soul into every initiative, every person, and every goal we set as a community, gay or straight. She's become the go-to-gal for solutions, ideas, and problem-solving for more than just Compass,” said Tony Plakas, CEO of Compass. “Every group, individual or family that comes to Compass knows that if Julie doesn't have the answer, she will find it. She is not only a great part of my team, but I consider her one of my best friends, part of my personal board of directors, and a soulmate of sorts. And that's exactly how most people I've ever met that [know] her [feel] about her. She is an activist because she won't stop until the job is done, even when she is told by her boss that she needs to stop for a hot-minute and take some time for herself. I wouldn't reward her for that behavior, but I'm damn glad the SFGN community does."

While Compass’ Chief of Staff Ryanmarie Rice added, "I've never known someone as dedicated to her community or her work as Julie Seaver is. She's an activist in the truest sense of the word; she never stops working for this community.”

Best Bar – Penny’s at the Duke
902 N Dixie Hwy.
Lantana
561-318-7359
Facebook.com/PennysAtTheDuke

Penny’s at the Duke may be fairly new to the LGBT scene in Palm Beach County, but the bar has already made a name for itself, quickly building up a loyal fan base.

The Duke opened in 1946 and keeping the name was part of the purchase agreement for Penny Johnson to buy the business. A patron suggested Penny’s at the Duke and it stuck. Then Penny laid down 9,000 pennies in urethane to physically lay claim to the name and opened the place in August 2013.

Penny’s is a neighborhood gay bar with a twist. A bunch of straight customers came with the territory and have stayed to become part of the regular crowds.

“They have fit right in with us,” Johnson said. “They sing karaoke (Mindy and Todd) with everyone else on Wednesdays from 7 to 11 p.m. and they stay for the drag shows.”

Penny’s has a no smoking policy. But there are two patios where people can take their drinks and smokes and most do without complaint.

The bar has lots of specials, which can be viewed online at their Facebook page. The current favorite beverage is cinnamon whiskey called fireball.

And whether you’re female or male, you’re welcome to be one of “The Ladies Who Brunch” on first Sundays at noon.

Best Bartender - Penny Johnson – Penny’s at the Duke

Penny Johnson is a many-faceted person who pulls the facets together to deserve this reward of SFGN’s Best Bartender 2015!

Not only is she best barkeep for 2015, she’s also the best lesbian barkeep – probably because she’s the only lesbian barkeep in Palm Beach County. And, as far as she knows, she’s the only lesbian barkeep who can juggle, although she doesn’t do it at the bar.

Owner of Penny’s at the Duke, Penny has a mixed clientele including a bevy of heterosexual regulars who habituated Penny’s since before it was Penny’s. “They fit in like anybody else,” said Penny during an earlier interview about bars in Palm Beach.

Born and raised in Kokomo, IN she came to South Florida after high school to attend the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. She and her partner, Julie Seaver, Center Director at Compass, were named to SFGN’s Out50 list in 2014.

– DC

Best Burger – Brass Ring
North Palm Beach
200 U.S. Highway #1
Royal Palm Beach
10998 Okeechobee Blvd.
BrassRingPub.rkorson.com

Over the past two years many burger joints have vied for SFGN’s top prize for Best Burger including Grease, Shula, Relish and BurgerFi. But this year a newbie, Brass Ring, beat out the competition.

“I always get the bacon cheese burger and crinkle fries. The burgers are always cooked to perfection and taste amazing,” read one review on Yelp. Another person commented, “Their sign says it all...a joint with the coldest beer, and there is no doubt the best burger in town.”

They’ve also won Best Burger from the Palm Beach Post as well.

Best City & Beach – Lake Worth
LakeWorth.org

While it may be many years before Lake Worth is known nationally as a hot spot for gays, it’s easily the gay friendliest city in the county. So it’s no surprise that readers voted Lake Worth as the Best City to Live — for the third year in a row. This year we added Best Beach to the list of categories and Lake Worth took that award as well.

The city currently hosts Compass, the gay and lesbian center of the Palm Beaches, Lambda North, a gay 12-step recovery clubhouse, Studio 205, the only gay themed retail store in the county, and the Zoo Health Club, a gay owned gym, and the county’s annual PrideFest takes place in downtown Lake Worth. In addition it was the first city in Florida to fly the rainbow flag to commemorate PrideFest — and that was back in 2000.

“Recognition of Lake Worth as the Best City to Live by SFGN is not a surprise. You don't have to be gay to enjoy our municipal beach, dock, golf course and parks,” said Tony Plakas, executive director of Compass. “Our center has been in Lake Worth for nearly [seven] years, and the local community has embraced us as much as we've embraced our new home.”

Best Drag Queen – Melissa St. John

For the second year in a row readers voted for long time iconic drag queen Melissa St. John as Best Drag Queen in Palm Beach County.

St. John has been around so long that few in the LGBT community in Palm Beach County can remember a time without her. And there are no signs of her slowing down anytime soon.

“I am honored yet again. It means a great deal to be voted in this category, I hold much respect for all those entertainers within the Palm Beach LGBT community to uphold and represent in what we believe,” St. John said. “As a sisterhood sometimes known as ‘The Palm Beach Drag Society’ I'm honored to be recognized for the many years I've dedicated my life not only entertaining, but remaining on the forefront for equal rights and fundraising.”

Besides winning Best Drag Queen last year, she was named to SFGN’s annual South Florida OUT50 list this year and recently was crowned Miss South Florida Illusion Classic 2015.

You can catch her at HG Roosters in West Palm Beach every Saturday night at midnight.

Best LGBT Event - PrideFest of the Palm Beaches

More than 15,000 people attend Pridefest of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches each year. Not only is it the longest running LGBT event in Palm Beach County, but it’s by far the largest. It first launched in 1992 and today showcases more than 140 gay friendly businesses.

But the real highlight is the Sunday parade that marches through downtown Lake Worth.

Next year’s event will take place March 19 and 20 from noon to 6 p.m. at Bryant Park in downtown Lake Worth.

Best Non-Profit – Compass
201 N. Dixie Hwy.
Lake Worth
561-533-9699
CompassGLCC.com

The votes are in, and SFGN readers have selected the Compass Gay & Lesbian Community Center as the best non-profit in Palm Beach County for the second year in a row.

Every year, over 25,000 individuals are served by Compass, the largest gay and lesbian community center in Florida and the Southeast U.S. Support includes youth, transgender, and coming out groups as well as case management for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Compass also features the David Bohnett Cyber Center, the Joel M. Starky Library with over 2,000 books, and an LGBT-friendly business network and directory. Each December, Compass observes World AIDS Day with a presentation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest display in Florida. Notable events include PrideFest and the Stonewall Ball.

“Compass is honored and thrilled to be voted Best Non-Profit in Palm Beach County,” says Ryanmarie Rice, Chief of Staff. “More than twenty-six years ago, a small group of dedicated volunteers founded Compass in an effort to educate, connect, and serve the LGBT community. The commitment to Compass’ mission, not only by the staff and Board of Trustees, but by our volunteers, motivates Compass to better serve our community, year after year.”

Best Pizza – Downtown Pizza
608 Lake Ave.
Lake Worth
561-586-6448

For what Lake Worth’s Downtown Pizza lacks in storefront stature it makes up for in slice size and deliciousness. After the aroma of baking pizza pies has got those salivary glands working, settle down inside at a table or at the four-person bar and catch the game on one of the restaurant’s TVs. Fancy yourself an outdoorsman? Claim a table out front and observe Lake Worth Ave’s bustle and passersby while enjoying wine or a brew on draft.

As for Downtown Pizza’s baked yeast offerings, it didn’t win Best Of two years running for naught. Even before getting to their quality, there’s the jumbo slice sizing to deal with, sloping off of the plate’s edges when served up two at a time. Good luck trying to eat one without folding it in half, and when the crispy thin crust tears under the weight of fresh toppings and tangy red sauce, just happily cope.

Downtown keeps it classic with Margarita, White, Hawaiian and Meat Lover’s to choose from and offers hometown homage with The Lake Worth, topped with bacon, tomato, and garlic. Veggie options include the Garden Pizza and Eggplant Florentine. Other menu items include pastas, hot and cold subs, salads, calzones, and strombolis if pizza isn’t really your thing. Not up for the trek but want a taste? Downtown delivers, and calling ahead might be a good idea since the prepped pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling hint that they’ve got something good and they know it.

Hours are Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Sun. 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.

- OS

Best Restaurant – (Tie) Rhythm Café & Blue Front BBQ Bar & Grill

Rhythm Café
3800 A South Dixie Hwy.
West Palm Beach
561-833-3406
RhythmCafe.cc

Tying with Blue Front Bar and Grill but beating out Howley’s for Best Restaurant, Rhythm Cafe carries a charm all its own. In what used to be a 1950’s era drugstore Rhythm serves an upscale menu with seasoned dishes of lamb, escargot, and filet mignon amid colorful string lights and glowing chandeliers.

Maintaining glamour but accommodating budget Rhythm also offers a Tapas-tizers menu encompassing Saganaki to vegetable lentil dahl, including their offered entree options in tapas portions. The formica countertop snaking to the back of the restaurant keeps the vintage theme while sitting opposite a gallery wall flanked by booth seating.

Rhythm’s fish menu is a point of pride in selection as well as preparation, and guests choose one of six presentations and select sides. The proper pairing of wine and food isn’t a problem with Rhythm’s considerable wine list (including ports and desserts), and diners preferring non-alcoholic drinks won’t be disappointed in ordering an espresso or cappuccino. Dessert foods include cake, pie, and cookies but a highlight is the house-made ice cream, including the earl grey, candied ginger, and callebaut belgian chocolate. Select menu items are available gluten free.

Hours are Tues. – Sat. 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Sun. 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Blue Front BBQ Bar & Grill
1132 N Dixie Hwy.
Lake Worth
561-833-6651
MyBlueFront.com
Tues-Sun 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Although the old Floridian atmosphere showcasing tribal masks on cyan walls, zebra trim chairs, and one large wooden giraffe is something to bask in, Blue Front BBQ Bar and Grill holds its own the way a true bar and grill knows how; by branding and selling its own “world’s best” barbecue sauce, based on West Palm’s own Norris Nelson’s recipe. This makes perfect sense when considering Blue Front’s menu of traditional grill grub. Appetizers including wings, pulled pork nachos, and onion rings get things started before sandwiches and burgers or a dinner of pulled pork, jerk or barbecue chicken, or ribs.

Guests can sip a Blue Front Margarita or Bloody Mary at the wraparound wood bar just off the entryway. The Nibbles & Sips menu offers flatbreads, tacos, and sliders to the bar’s cocktails, bottled, and draught drinks. A word to the wise from bartender Brian? Step foot through the keyhole doorway around 5:30 p.m., Blue Front is known to fill up and fill up fast. Something a little calmer can be found dining on the tropical back patio as long as you don’t mind dining with tiki heads, but inside David Paladino with the Alex Darqui Trio performs on Fridays at 8 p.m.

But Wednesday night is the can’t miss event at Blue Front. Every week the gays flock to the restaurant for the “The Sexy Show – Mild-2-Hot” from 9:30 p.m. to midnight featuring DJ Q and the award winning diva, Velvet Lenore.

– OS

Best Social Group – BLAST

BLAST (Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together) Women of WPB is one damn active group hosting more than 200 events per year.

“BLAST has been so successful - 2,000 members in seven years - because it’s a community rather than an organization,” said founder Toni Armstrong Jr. "Members themselves host more than 200 events per year, based on their wide-ranging interests. Most are free, very low cost, or offered on a sliding scale. With multiple gatherings per week all listed on one simple calendar, women in Palm Beach County can easily find each other. Together we shall go far!"

No wonder they won SFGN’s award for Best Social Group.

Visit MeetUp.com/BLASTwpb to join the group.

Best Regular Event – Saturday Night at Rooster’s
823 Belvedere Road
West Palm Beach
561-832-9119
RoostersWPB.com

Roosters is the place to be on Saturdays.  Its Entertainment Showcase hosted by Melissa St. John won Best Regular Event. Roosters also won this category last year for its Monday night bingo.  Not that it needs any help drawing a crowd, but recent raffle drawings to see Ricky Martin and Janet Jackson concerts didn’t hurt. 

“We’re delighted to hear Roosters’ Saturday nights won the best weekly event from the SFGN readers. It’s a great night to visit us. Our $3 Long Island Iced Tea special is a huge hit and our entertainment director Melissa St. John combines new talent with seasoned performers in an ever-changing weekly show. DJ Gil Martin plays to the crowd and keeps the party going till 4 a.m.,”says manager David Hazen.

Online reviews from out-of-towners describe Roosters as a fun neighborhood bar, but to locals it’s much more. Roosters recently evolved into a non-smoking bar and the change has started to attract a whole new set of customers. To accommodate everyone, the bar’s patio has been refurbished and turned it into a comfortable smoking space.

Best Place to Workout - Zoo Health Club
Lake Worth, FL ‎
561-547-6348
ZooGym.com

With 80 percent gay clientele it’s not hard to figure out why the Zoo Health Club in downtown Lake Worth won for Best Gym for the second year in a row.

The franchise location opened up 5 years ago by Dawn Malega and her partner.

“We’re a friendly gym. We don’t judge anybody here. People feel comfortable about their sexuality here,” Malega said. “We’re involved in everything, from gay pride to supporting Compass and hosting mixers. We try to support the community and they support us.”

One reviewer on Yelp said: “Yes, it's a small club but we love the friendly atmosphere & helpful staff!”

The 2,700 square foot gym is 24 hours featuring state of the art equipment, personal trainers and several group classes including circuit training.

Phillip Parks – Best Bartender (Guy)

Want to meet the Best Male Bartender in Palm Beach County?  Stop by Roosters on Wednesday through Sunday from 9 p.m. to closing and shake hands with Phillip Parks, a Louisiana native who joined Roosters four years ago having moved to south Florida some 12 years prior.  At 37 Phillip is in great shape and he recently demonstrated it by completing SmartRide 12 – the 165 mile bicycle ride from Miami to Key West to raise funds for HIV/AIDS organizations.  

Not one to let grass grow between his spokes, he’s already started assembling Team Roosters for SmartRide 13.  While you’re enjoying Roosters’ new non-smoking policy, order Phillip’s Blueberry Cosmo, his current favorite cocktail made of 2 oz blueberry vodka, half oz Cointreau, half oz lime juice and half oz cranberry juice and ask him about joining his SmartRide support team.


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