Here are SFGN's "Best of 2018" winners in Palm Beach County.
Best LGBT Activist
Dylan Brooks/ Julie Seaver
Dylan Brooks’ patience and sincere dedication is evidence enough as to why he deserves this award.
Since his involvement with Compass in 2015, he has been the HIV Prevention Coordinator, slayed local and regional LGBT conferences, helped organize the Smart Ride, and served as the leader of Compass’s Youth Group.
No matter the job or the capacity Brooks remains humble, “I am truly honored to be awarded LGBT Activist of the Year! The most rewarding part of receiving this award is that the votes were cast by my peers and the community and that they believe in me and the work being done.”
He continued: “I also want to take a second to recognize that this isn't a solo effort either. There are so many unsung heroes who work day in and day out to make our communities better and safer for each and every one of us.”
Brooks is one of the youngest winners of the LGBT activist category. It will not be long before Brooks is being recognized on a national level for his efforts.
At least we can say we did first. “I have met so many different people from so many different backgrounds that I would have never encountered if I had stayed living in Northeast Georgia,” he said. “If it wasn't for the LGBTQ+ and HIV communities, I'm not sure where I would have ended up focusing my time and energy. I am truly grateful to work with such an amazing community! At the end of the day, there are still people being treated unfairly simply because they are different and until that is no longer that case, I will continue to work with whoever I need to in order to fix this! #StigmaEndsWithUs.”
In the words of the late Queen of Soul and duo The Eurythmics, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”
That hit was written in 1985 and it was geared towards feminism; it’s no surprise that those lyrics still reign supreme today. Julie Seaver, CEO of Compass, is definitely a sister that is not only doing it for herself, but she’s also “doing it” for the community of Palm Beach County.
Seaver has been active in her role since January of this year, in addition to being with Compass for over 10 years. Although LGBT activist is not a title Seaver is new to, this year makes her fourth time winning. When the accolades are stripped away and the superwoman cape comes off, Seaver is focusing on her legacy these days.
“As I grow older, I really just want my legacy to be that of a good human being. By striving to be a good human, it will make the other roles fall into place: a better leader, a better mom, partner, neighbor and friend. How does one do that? I can mentor someone to bring out the best in themselves. I can listen to someone who needs to speak their truth. Or I can just simply acknowledge someone with a smile or a word of encouragement. The kind of legacy I want to leave isn't the kind that is carved on a headstone, but rather the kind that is carved in the hearts of those around me.” – Seaver
When you think of what makes a great burger, taste is probably the most important element. BurgerFi’s fresh ingredients make its variety of burgers a hit with diners because of their great taste. The meat used is free of hormones, steroids, and chemicals.
BurgerFi also has vegan and vegetarian options. Heaping side dishes include french fries and onion rings that are out of this world. Any BurgerFi experience would not be complete without trying one of their delicious shakes or custards.
That combination makes it a go-to location for people who want fast food, but in a family-friendly environment. BurgerFi calls South Florida home. It originated in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea nearly eight years ago and now has more than 100 locations nationwide.
The chain just debuted facial recognition at its self-serve kiosks in Central Florida and they could be coming to a BurgerFi in our area soon.
There are several BurgerFi locations throughout South Florida, visit their website to find the closest one to you.
Best Bar, Happy Hour & Business
823 Belvedere Rd.
West Palm Beach
Roosters is a West Palm Beach staple. Since opening its doors in 1984, Roosters is best known as a place to go for incredible entertainment, good times, and great drinks. That’s why SFGN readers voted it Best Bar, Best Happy Hour, and Best Business.
“First let me say thank you to all the amazing customers that make Roosters what it is,” said David Hazen, Roosters Manager. “Roosters offers a safe space to celebrate diversity in our community, everyone is welcome at Roosters. We promote a relaxed atmosphere with good vibes attitudes. In the end, everyone just wants to have a good time and we’re more than happy to accommodate.”
Now to its Happy Hour: the first Sunday of each month Roosters offers a complimentary cookout at 6 p.m. and $2.50 well drinks and domestics, discounts on all other liquors for Happy Hour. It runs 3-9 p.m. daily.
But Roosters does much more than serve drinks. The bar also leads its patrons to be involved in the community - raising money for cancer charities, Pulse victims, and collecting food for those in need.
“We have an amazing customer base and with their help we’re able to raise over $60,000 annually for local charities like Peggy Adams, SmartRide, MCC Food Pantry, and Compass just to name a few,” Hazen said. “We wouldn’t have lasted 34 years without the community support and it’s our obligation to pay it forward and give back. We’re very much looking forward to continuing our community involvement for many years to come.”
Penny’s at the Duke
902 N. Dixie Hwy.
The people love Penny Johnson. This is the fourth time the owner of Penny’s at the Duke in Lantana has won Best Bartender.
Her bartending skills have not escaped the notice of her partner Julie Sever either.
“I knew she was the best bartender, that’s why I snatched her up for myself 13 years ago,” Seaver joked.
“Great local bar with an amazing group of people! You definitely feel welcome here, and Penny herself is definitely a huge part of that,” one reviewer on Yelp said. “I have met many new individuals here who are wonderful to hang out with! Great prices on drinks, pool, darts, and a jukebox. I definitely recommend checking it out!”
Another patron, Kyle Whittaker, said on Facebook: “Amazing location to have a good time and find acceptance. The owner, Penny, is an awesome person and the bartenders are all welcoming.”
Johnson, along with Seaver, were both named to SFGN’s OUT50 list in 2015 for their involvement with the community.
Best Drag Queen
Melissa St. John
Melissa St. John is the Best Drag Queen in Palm Beach County. It might sound like an opinion, but it may be a fact. This is the fifth consecutive year she’s won the category, so clearly, she’s slaying it.
But success and popularity have not gone to St. John’s head. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “I have been rooting for the other girls. But I feel fantastic to know that I’m appreciated. Awards are rewards.”
St. John is the Entertainment Director at Roosters in West Palm Beach and she also designs clothes for a few specialty boutiques in the Palm Beach area. In her free time, she also loves to cook.
St. John sizzles on stage and shines in her work, promoting causes and issues both in and out of South Florida’s LGBT community. Causes that benefit from her tireless work include Making Strides for Breast Cancer, serving as the Grand Marshall for Pridefest, and supporting politicians like Lauren Baer.
“I love my community,” St. John said. And it’s clear the community loves her back.
The Box Gallery
811 Belvedere Rd.
West Palm Beach
The Box Gallery has won for Best Gallery. Anyone that has experienced the Box Gallery would agree that it is a smorgasbord of eccentric flavors. Two of the main ingredients that make The Box Gallery unique is its curation of the main exhibit and the fact that it changes every six weeks.
The other reason would be the actual curator/owner, Rolando Chang Barrerro.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be recognized by my community and my peers,” said Barrerro, who founded the gallery in 2016. The content and the context of the exhibition are closely tied to the narratives, critiques, and cultural dialogues that are currently going on in the national and international art world with some exceptions - as in “trendy” works created for art fairs that sneak into the broader less academic conversation of what is seen as culturally relevant.
Although 2018 is almost over, Barrerro already has plans for the new year.
“I am kicking off the year a little early on Dec. 29 with my 7th Annual Black and White Affair with a series of performances, artists talks, installations, and of course lots of Cuban music and food including a traditional roasted pig on Dec. 29.”
Rolando’s love for the art and his multifaceted approach and artistic activism puts him rightfully so with greats like Frida Khalo, Pablo Picasso, Kieth Haring, and Victor Manuel Garcia. Rolando embodies the true spirit of a Renaissance Man.
“Rolando truly cares about our Community and our under-served and under-privileged children,” mentions long time friend Lazaro "Laz" J. Mur, Esq. Founder, The Mur Law Firm, P.A. “He works very hard to bring Arts Education and Culture to everyone, not just the privileged few.”
Best Kept Secret
The Book Cellar
801 Lake Ave.
The Book Cellar is located in the heart of Lake Worth, and was founded by Danica and Arvin Ramgoolam as well as Tami Ayraud.
"It feels so cool to win an award voted on by your readers especially because we didn't even know they were voting, so when I got the call it was a huge surprise," Ayraud said. "We are so grateful to be part of this community so to win is very special."
Don’t let the name fool you. This is not your average bookstore.
Along with having a literary oasis of books from acclaimed authors like Rhiannon Navin and Catherine Banner, patrons are also treated to tasty pastries, wine, coffee, and breakfast selections. Their flatbreads feature classic names like “The Great Goatsby” and “Oliver Swiss.”
All guests and community members are encouraged to also participate in their community events, like Poetry Night and Drag Story Time. Among all of the cool incentives and added bonuses, it's hard choosing your favorite parts about The Book Cellar.
“My favorite part of the Book Cellar is getting to be part of a community, where people like to come and spend parts of their lives with us," Ayraud said. "Also the excitement it stirs in people when they come in and can't believe they are in a book store."
Best Non-Profit & Social Group
201 N Dixie Hwy.
Compass is an essential part of the fabric of Palm Beach County’s LGBT community. The organization is going strong, despite the departure of its longtime CEO Tony Plakas. The statistics on the Compass homepage tell the story:
- 6400+ Counseling Hours Provided
- 2500+ Youth Given a Safe Space
- 10000+ Lives Saved
- 40000+ Attendees at Compass Events
- 1700+ Rapid HIV Tests Administered
Compass has several programs to help LGBT people living in South Florida. The Compass Youth Group creates an open space for LGBT teens and allies between the ages of 12 to 18. The group is open, meaning anyone can join at any time.
“We are proud of wining Best Social Group,” said Amanda Canete, Youth Program Director. “Our staff is passionate, dedicated, and we're always open to new members ages 12-18 who want to join us on Wednesday and Friday nights from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.!”
Compass hosts several major events throughout the year aimed at increasing the pride and acceptance within, and outside of, the community. Its most notable annual events include: The Compass White Party, World AIDS Day, and the Stonewall Black and White Ball.
“The common thread that strings us all together is people,” said Compass Executive Director Julie Seaver. “Our mission has always been about serving people and provide a safe space for all who walk through our doors everyday. From every staff member, to every volunteer, we consider it a great honor for our clients and community members to choose us as Best Non-profit year after year and more importantly, trust us to continue to provide life-saving services for generations to come.”
114 S Clematis Street
West Palm Beach
10965 N. Military Trail
Palm Beach Gardens
Everybody wants a piece of Pizza Girls.
With locations in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, Pizza Girls has won Palm Beach County’s “Best Pizza” for the third year in a row, with four times in total.
The restaurant started in 1999 after partners Jennifer Morales and Phoebe Reckseit wanted to break into what was mostly a male-oriented side of the food industry.
Since then, the duo said they wanted to show other LGBT people they can do just as well in the pizza business.
“It’s important for the younger generation to know what it looks like. In the early days of us being in business, it wasn’t as accepted as it is now,” Morales said.
Pizza Girls offers both traditional and signature pizza, from their Pizza Girls Breakfast pie, Huevos Rancheros Pizza, to even their delicious Tribeca burger pizza.
You should try their “Pizza Dog,” a hot dog wrapped in mozzarella and pizza dough.
“Our experience has been so positive.” Morales said. “The more that people live their life as open and lovingly as possible, the more people see that we are just like everyone else. We are all human beings.”
Frankel had no opposition in the midterm elections, a strong indicator of constituents’ satisfaction with her representation in U.S. house district 21.
The former West Palm Beach mayor has long fought for LGBT rights. She was an original co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act and signed an amicus brief in the groundbreaking decision Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). Presently, she is a member of the Equality Caucus and LGBT Aging Taskforce, the latter a group focused on ensuring LGBT seniors are treated with dignity and respect.
In a prepared statement Frankel said, “I am honored by the kind recognition by your readers. In a time when there are some powerful officials that spew hatred and bigotry, I consider it an extraordinary privilege to be able to stand up for human rights as a member of the United States Congress.”
Frankel has added her signature to the Equality Act, a proposed legislation seeking to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination in matters of employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and federal programs.
Born in New York, Frankel, 70, received her bachelor’s degree from Boston University and law degree from Georgetown University.
4700 S. Dixie Hwy.
West Palm Beach
Howley’s has won Best Restaurant in West Palm Beach for the third consecutive year, winning five times in total.
According to their website, in 2004 The Subculture group brought back this historic diner built in 1950.
“Restoring the key elements like the terrazzo floors and tin ceilings was key in turning back the time while modernizing the menu bringing local and organic ingredients to an old historic greasy spoon diner.”
One yelp reviewer wrote “Delicious, kitschy, historical! I love this place and its old school Florida charm. The service is friendly and the food outstanding whether there for breakfast, lunch or even a late night meal. I also love the rotating art for sale.”
Howley’s menu includes, salads, sandwiches, seafood, burgers, soups, and “snackaroos,” the restaurant’s name for appetizers, such as fried green tomatoes, and the hummus platter.
Open 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays - Howley’s handles breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner, and features wifi and a full bar, adding up to a great time, all the time.
I recommend one of their varieties of Benedict, the crab cakes Benedict!
Best Theme Night
Lei Me Luau @ Mad Hatter Lounge
1532 N Dixie Hwy
Held every summer at the Mad Hatter Lounge in Lake Worth the Lei Me Luau has won the award for Best Theme Night. Last year Mad Hatter took home the award for Best Kept Secret.
The party is an all day affair with raffles, prizes and drink specials. The bar is decked out to look like a Polynesian paradise. The highlight is the whole roast pig, giving it a traditional Luau feel. The event also benefits a local charity; past recipients have been Compass Entourage and the Smart Ride.
“We look forward to our Luau every year and are extremely excited it made ‘Best Theme Night.’ We enjoy treating our customers to the pig roast and being able to help our community,” said owner Ron Amodio. “It’s definitely been a great honor for us to go from ‘Best Kept Secret’ to ‘Best Theme Night.’ We thank all those that voted for us.”
Best Place To Workout
The Zoo Health Club
824 Lake Ave.
Every gym has equipment, but Dara Pisiona said The Zoo Health Club has something others don’t: passion.
It’s partly why the health club has won “Best Place to Work Out” five years in a row.
“I just love the passion and heart these ladies [owners Dawn Malega and Sarah] put into the gym. You can't find that at other gyms,” Pisiona said on Facebook. “You may find the same weight . . . but you'll never get the same love. This is truly their passion: helping others get healthy.”
The Zoo bills itself as “an upscale gym without the upscale costs” that provides “a clean and friendly atmosphere with 24-hour access” and “accountability and guidance.”
Those are qualities the members have taken note of.
“This is a great, neighborhood gym. It's always clean and has everything you need. The staff are super friendly and helpful. No matter your level of experience/fitness you'll feel welcome here,” wrote Alex on Yelp.
Malega once estimated that 80 percent of her clientele is gay so it’s notwonder why the gym keeps winning year after year.