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Rick's Reviews: H is for History, Part 2

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Casablanca Cafe. Photo via casablancacafeonline.com.

In last week’s article we looked at some restaurants of historical significance in Wilton Manors. This week we turn our attention a few Fort Lauderdale places of note. There are a few historic structures that have been turned into restaurants, some places have a history of their own and some are famous (or infamous) because they appeared in a movie or on television.

Cap's Place Island Restaurant, this Lighthouse Point seafood spot was founded in 1928 and is widely viewed as Broward County's oldest continually operating restaurant. Part of its charm is that to get there, you must take a short boat ride. It opened as Club Unique, a rum-running restaurant and gambling casino, nestled on an island in the coastal marsh. The popular supper club and casino drew such famous diners as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gloria Swanson, Winston Churchill, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, Al Capone, George Harrison, Errol Flynn, and Mariah Carey. It was named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 2765 NE 28th Court, Lighthouse Point; 954-941-0418, capsplace.com.

Who hasn’t seen the mid-century-designed bright neon exterior sign for Tropical Acres Steakhouse near the airport? Named after a once nearby trailer park, the family-run restaurant has been around since 1949, when it opened inside a converted house at the edge of a swamp. 2500 Griffin Road, Dania Beach; 954-989-2500; tropicalacres.com

Its beachfront location and stunning views make Casablanca Café a favorite among tourists and residents alike. The two-story masonry dwelling, commissioned by Juan Jacinto Jova, was built in 1927, the first home constructed on Fort Lauderdale Beach and is its oldest remaining structure. Designed in Mediterranean style, the building completed a two-year renovation in 1995 when it opened as a restaurant. Although it’s not widely advertised, during off season Florida residents get a sizeable discount, ask for details.3049 Alhambra St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-764-3500, casablancacafeonline.com.

Although only available for private events, The Old River House, on the banks of the New River, offers a unique dining experience in one of the oldest buildings in Fort Lauderdale. The compound of buildings’ history spans more than 100 years. The Philemon Bryan Family, who arrived in the area in 1895 as one of the first families of settlers in Fort Lauderdale and became very wealthy laying down the beds and tracks of the railroad line spanning the entire east coast of the Florida panhandle as far south as Key West, built the original home in 1903. The Bryans took in travelers passing through Fort Lauderdale on their way home to other destinations, and after erecting additional buildings, the home became known as the “New River Inn,” the first hotel in Fort Lauderdale. In 1983, the buildings were converted into a single restaurant called “Bryan Homes.” The restaurant fell into disrepair and closed in 2009. As part of a renovation of Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk area, the property was leased and the buildings underwent a second renovation in 2016 and reopened last summer. The site that has been deemed a national historical landmark. 301 SW 3rd Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-314-8838, theoldriverhouse.com.

The Chimney House Restaurant is in a remodeled 1924 historic house, which retains its original restored chimney. A recent six-year long restoration of the property has converted the home into a charming restaurant with both indoor and outdoor dining just steps from the Broward Center. Lunch and dinner are offered Tuesday thru Sunday, and brunch is available weekends. The menu showcases recipes from South America and Spain. Diners using the restaurant’s paid parking lot may leave their cars there while attending Broward Center events. 701 West Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-900-5352, thechimneyhouse.net.

The Historic Downtowner dates all the way back to the Roaring 20’s. A hurricane in 1926 destroyed the fancy, new electric-lit sign and much of the building for Maxwell Arcade, the remaining building a paragon of Mediterranean Revival architecture, has been home to The Downtowner Saloon for 22 years. Located on the banks of the New River overlooking downtown, the restaurant also has sidewalk and pier-side seating. Sailors can tie up their boats at the dock while dining. In addition to daily lunch and dinner service, The Downtowner hosts Sunday brunch, trivia Tuesdays, and live music on Saturday nights. 10 S New River Dr. E, Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-9800, thehistoricdowntowner.com.

Wreck Bar in the B Ocean Hotel has a storied pop-culture history. It is renowned for its porthole windows that offer a view into the hotel’s pool. This unique feature has gotten the bar featured in movies such as “Where the Boys Are” and “Analyze This”. It is also home to South Florida’s only mermaid show with MeduSirena and her pod of Aquaticats. Shows are presented every weekend with dinner shows Friday and Saturday and a late-night burlesque show for adults only, as well as a Sunday brunch show for families. 1140 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-524-555, boceanfortlauderdale.com.

Finally, you’ve certainly have driven past the kitschy tiki Mai-Kai Restaurant on Federal dozens of times. It was recently added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Although food is served, I would suggest you focus on drinks and the show. 3599 N Federal, Fort Lauderdale, 954-563-3272, maikai.com.


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