Check out the winners for SFGN's Best of Palm Beach County selected by readers this year.

Reader’s Choice Kava Bar: Oahu Kava Bar

pbcKavabar

Photo via Facebook.

Gone are the days for outdated coffee shops with limited menu options and dull baristas. Oahu Kava Bar in West Palm is introducing Palm Beach County to a new rewarding experience.

This friendly bar offers a super fun game room, several work-friendly areas, and a delicious drink menu that includes both Kava and Kratom options. Oahu Kava Bar is the ideal spot if you want to relax with your friends, work on a project, or catch a vibe by listening to some new music. The store is also open pretty late on weekdays and on the weekends, so they make it easy for you to feed your Kava cravings all day.

“It feels incredible, we are really blessed to win this award,” said store owner Emily Edmonds. “We love the LGBT community and we are so happy to be recognized by your readers.” 

- DCJ

Best Neighborhood: Downtown Lake Worth Beach

pbclakeworth

Photo via Facebook.

This is the first time the city has won this award.

Many would consider downtown Lake Worth Beach to be the artistic oasis of Palm Beach County thanks to their historical theaters, captivating art galleries, The Street Painting Festival, and Palm Beach Pride. On any day, you can walk down Lake Avenue comfortably and experience some of the best live music and fine dining the county has to offer. Lake Worth Beach also has a boatload of quirky shops for your shopping pleasure.

“As the former vice mayor and member of the LGBT community, that was one of our challenges for years, we wanted to keep the small-town feel but have enough smart growth to pay the bills,” said owner of The Tacky Tourist Store Andy Amoroso. “It was a challenge, but it was on our bucket list to make it a gay and lesbian destination.”

Runner Up: Northwood Village

- DCJ

Best Group, Non-Profit & Place to Work Out: Night Runners

pbcnightrunners

Photo via Facebook.

The Night Runners was the most awarded organization in Palm Beach County this year. Our readers selected this organization for Best Social Group, Best Place to Workout and Best Non-Profit.

Judging by the awards, it's safe to say that the Night Runners are gearing up for a phenomenal 2022, and will become the Meryl Streep of winning awards in Palm Beach County.

They’ve been around since 2016 and have grown substantially.

Originally, the group started as a “meet up” then slowly developed into an official organization. In just five years they have represented Compass Community Center at the Women’s Wellness Conference and participated in a Mental Health Fashion Art Ball, just to name a few.

The group is also hard at work on their 5K race for March of next year in Lake Worth Beach.

“Our board has been really awesome over the past year, especially with the pandemic and everybody coming back together. Our organization is really about figuring out what works best for the community,” President Rudolph R. Galindo said. “We always try to make sure we keep things fun and exciting. Everybody’s input is valid, so the fact that we won three categories really says a lot about the entire board and their commitment to the runners. It's cool to have a board of directors that gives up their free time to make sure our organization is running smoothly. We are so thankful for all the support!”

Best Social Group Runner-up: BLAST (Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together)

Best Non-Profit Runner-up: Compass Community Center

Best Place to Work Out Runner-up: The Zoo Lake Worth

- DCJ

Reader’s Choice: Personal Trainer: Jackeey Bish

pbcbish

Photo via Facebook.

Jackeey Bish serves as the club manager of the Lake Worth Beach Gym. Bish is a fabulous addition to the gym. Working out and staying fit can be difficult, but getting a dose of Bish's warm and encouraging demeanor will smooth out any workout. Bish is more than a trainer: she easily makes her trainees feel like family. Our readers also voted for her in 2020 as the Best Trainer.

"It feels fantastic! I've worked so hard on this! I've been at the ZOO Gym for 11 years. First we opened the gym, then from there I started studying and doing what I have to so I can help people more, versus just selling gym memberships and being a part of the gym,” she said. “Hearing that I won the award again, just warms my heart even more.”

- DCJ

Best Burger: Howley's

https://sub-culture.org/howleys/

(561) 833-5691

howleys

Photo via Facebook.

For the second year, Howley’s won for Best Burger in Palm Beach. Howley’s is located at 4700 S Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. Their kitchen has no microwaves.

They offer four beef burgers, one vegan burger, and a seared Ahi Tuna Burger. The beef burgers include a version of the Big Mac, a Patty Melt, a chopped steak platter, and a half-pound burger.

Besides burgers, Howley’s offers an all-day breakfast menu as well as a lunch and dinner menu. Beverages include soda, tea, coffee, beer, and wine.

In March 2020, Richard Mayo, the owner of Howley’s, had to lay off workers because of the pandemic. Mayo then started a food distribution center to feed people in need due to the pandemic. That center grew into Hospitality Helping Hands. As of press time, it has served 500,000 hot meals.

Runner-up: Haus Lounge

– SMS

Best Pizza: Pizza Girls

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https://pizzagirls.com/menu/#pizza-pies

 pizzagirls

Photo via Facebook.

For the sixth year, The Pizza Girls won Best Pizza in Palm Beach. The Pizza Girls is located at 10965 N Military Trial, Palm Beach Gardens. It recently changed from being a “slice” business in downtown West Palm Beach. Now, it is a full-service restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

Since 1996, The Pizza Girls has made a “wonderful variety of gourmet pizzas, each topped with a different combination of mouth-watering fresh ingredients.”

It serves calzones, entrees, pasta, salads, and sandwiches, but it specializes in pizza. Besides their two basic pizzas, they offer 18 gourmet pizzas. For people on special diets, nine are vegetarian, and two are vegan.

The Pizza Girls makes its meatballs, soups, and sauces on site. It offers desserts like cannoli, tiramisu, and a chocolate fudge cake.

At the bar, customers can buy beer and wine.

Runner-up: Downtown Pizza

– SMS

Best Drag Queen: Melissa St. John

MelissaStJohn

Photo via Facebook.

Melissa St. John is an entertainer, advocate, and well-known as the “First Lady of Palm Beach.” Everybody knows her. And if the results of this category are any indication, everybody loves her.

Last year, Rianna Petrone won this category, breaking St. John’s multi-year winning streak, but she’s back on top this year!

“I'm elated to once again receive the honor of being voted Best Drag Queen of Palm Beach,” St. John said. “Our community is important to me, and the love and support I've received over 30 years of entertaining, fundraising, and advocating have been a driving force in my life. To the entire community and those nominated alongside me, my heartfelt appreciation and love to you all.”

These days, those fundraising efforts are helping to rebuild H.G. Rooster’s, where before a devastating fire last year, St. John held court as entertainment director. HerGoFundMe page has received more than $60,000. 

Runner-up: Daviana Sins

– DR

Best Bartender: David Z. at Mad Hatter Lounge

DavidZ

Photo via Facebook.

For the first time ever, David Z. at the Mad Hatter Lounge has won Best Bartender. The Mad Hatter Lounge also won Best Bar for LGBT People. 

The bartenders at the lounge receive lots of compliments for their work. 

“It's a great spot for locals to hangout. Good bartenders and always fun people,” wrote one reviewer.

“A huge thank you to the SFGN readers who voted for me. I truly appreciate it!” David said. “I’d also like to extend my gratitude to Ron, Richard and the entire Mad Hatter family for providing a temporary home for the Roosters staff while we undergo the rebuilding process.”

David has been the manager of Rooster’s for many years, but the bar has been closed since a fire broke out in the building in May of 2020. Rebuilding is expected to start soon.  

Runner-up: Oliver at Haus Lounge

- KS

Best Restaurant: Lilo’s

701 Lake Ave., Lake Worth Beach 

https://www.lilosstreetfoodandbar.com/

Lilos

Photo via Facebook.

This year Lilo’s takes home the prize for Best Restaurant.

“We just promote a culture of openness. We’re not afraid to be that way. We are just open-minded. We embrace everybody. Everybody feels welcome,” said Joe Lipovich, an owner of the restaurant, in 2020. “Over the years we’ve hosted a lot of events for different communities. We’ve hosted drag shows as well.” 

Lipovich describes the menu as “diverse, eclectic, and crafted custom.” 

They serve a variety of tacos and burgers including The Dreamy One, The Beyond Billy Goat One, and Cuban Quesadilla.

“We’re very proud and honored to be recognized by SFGN readers. Being the best restaurant is truly a blessing. We’re so very happy to know that the SFGN readers appreciate our hard work and dedication to providing great food.”

“I love this place! Best food and bartenders in Lake Worth Beach,” wrote a reviewer.

Runner-up: Haus Lounge

- KS

Reader’s Choice Best Art Gallery: Box Gallery

Belvedere Rd., West Palm Beach

The Box Gallery | Facebook

BoxGallery

Photo via Facebook.

The readers have spoken: the Best Art Gallery goes to The Box Gallery. 

The Box Gallery is owned by Rolando Chang Barrero, an artist for over 40 years. He specializes in fashion design, film, painting and more. 

“Awesome place. Great art and the owner sweet as can be, many blessings to him and all the artists,” wrote a reviewer

Chang Barrero also won Best LGBT Activist. 

“The major win here is the LGBTQ+ community, which has faced so many recent challenges and turned them into victories,” he said.

- KS

Best Business Owner: A.J. Wasson (H.G. Roosters)

823 Belvedere Rd. West Palm Beach RoostersWPB

AjWasson

Photo via Facebook.

A.J. Wasson, the owner of H.G. Roosters, has won Best Business Owner of 2021.

He is working on rebuilding the bar after an accidental fire broke out in May 2020, and has received community support since then.

“As any business owner knows, your business is only as good as the employees who work there. I'm lucky to have an amazing team who gives their all day in and day out,” he said. “It means so much to have the recognition of the community during a period where we are working hard to rebuild after a devastating fire early in the pandemic.”

The rebuilding plans have been finalized and they are under review. Wasson is hoping the construction can begin soon. 

“The most important part of our business is our customers,” he said. “Roosters has the best and most loyal customer base of any bar in South Florida. We can't wait to be open and with them again.”

Runner-up: Adam Sessa (Haus Lounge)

- KS

Reader’s Choice Best Entertainer: “Big Mama” Shannon Akins

410 Evernia St., West Palm Beach

bigmamashouseofsweets.com

BigMamaShannonAtkins

Photo via Facebook.

For Palm Beach’s Best Entertainer, the winner is “Big Mama” Shannon Akins. 

She is a drag queen hosting her very own shows. 

When she found out she won she had one word: “OMG.”  

Not only does Akins entertain, she also bakes cheesecakes, cookies, brownies, chocolate-covered strawberries and more at her dessert shop. 

“Shannon makes the best desserts and treats! You don’t know what you are missing! Pure heaven,” wrote a reviewer.

Runner-up: Melissa St. John

- KS

Best Hidden Gem: Haus Lounge

205 N Federal Hwy., Lake Worth Beach

The Haus Lounge

HausLounge

Photo via Facebook.

It’s ironic the Haus Lounge has won Best Hidden Gem. At this point how hidden is the Haus Lounge? Last year the category was named Best Kept Secret and they won it as well.  

The Haus Lounge is a bar, and its owner, Adam Sessa, promised to make it the queer-inclusive destination of the Palm Beaches after he took over in early 2020. 

“Anyone within the LGBTQIA+ CommUNITY, minorities, people of color, those with disabilities/disorders, and anyone on the spectrum; we see you, we hear you, but most importantly; we support you,” he said in 2020. 

reviewer posted on their Facebook, “Wonderful and knowledgeable staff, exceptional service and one of my favorite places to hangout! 10/10 would recommend the Haus lounge!”

The Haus Lounge also took runner-up in several categories including Best Restaurant, Best Bar, and Best Burger. Meanwhile Sessa took runner-up for Best Business Owner and Oliver, an employee at Haus, took runner-up for Best Bartender.

"The Haus Lounge is Honored to have been voted for Best Hidden Gem for TWO YEARS in a row! We are incredibly proud of all of our Second Place earnings as well, Best Restaurant, Bar, and Burger in Palm Beach County! Along with the General Manager Oliver placing 2nd as Best Bartender and Adam also for 2nd as Best Business Owner. We strive to make a place for the CommUNITY, being awarded for it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. We thank all of our supporters, we couldn’t have done any of it without them," said Sessa.

Runner-up: The Howlin Owl Bar

- KS

Best Server: Velvet Lenore at Lips

VelvetLenore

Photo via Facebook.

For the second year in a row, Velvet Lenore at Lips has won Best Server.

Lenore is an entertainer and trans woman. She is known for many roles such as deejays, emcees and entertainer guests. 

“I’m honored to receive this recognition,” Lenore said in 2020.  “Thanks to all who voted for me.” 

She raises money for nonprofit organizations like the Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach.  

She has a dance troupe called K-otic Force with other drag members and one straight man. 

Runner-up: Suzanne at Lilo’s Street Food and Bar

- KS

Best Bar for LGBT People: Mad Hatter Lounge

1532 N. Dixie Hwy., Lake Worth 

Mad Hatter Lounge | Facebook

MadHatter

Photo via Facebook.

The Mad Hatter Lounge has won the Best Bar in Palm Beach. With Rooster’s being shut down due to a fire last year and Penny’s at the Duke Closing, the options to gather in places for LGBT people in Palm Beach County are limited.  

So let’s hope Mad Hatter keeps on going!  

The LGBT bar’s motto on Facebook is “Where local bar meets nightlife.” They also invite people to have fun using their Billiards, darts, and jukebox. 

“Such a fun atmosphere to hang with friends and meet new ones. Welcoming to everyone gay or straight I highly recommend it.,” wrote a reviewer.

Runner-up: Haus Lounge

- KS

Best Artist, and LGBT Activist (NOT Named Julie Seaver): Rolando Chang Barrero

RolandoChangBarrero

Photo via Facebook.

Rolando Chang Barrero has done a lot for Palm Beach County, so perhaps that’s why readers voted him as the Best LGBT Activist, Best Artist, and his art gallery in West Palm Beach won for Best Art Gallery. Executive Director of Compass, Julie Seaver won this category so many times we decided to rename it LGBT Activist (NOT Named Julie Seaver), with her blessing!

Chang Barrero created the Pajaro Pride Wall Project, an auction that has over 100 artists, friends, allies, and community leaders creating art to sell.

“​​I’m very honored to be included on this list among so many friends and associates,” Chang Barrero said. “It’s a great honor to be recognized by our community and I am very grateful. I’m very happy to be able to continue to serve my community.”

He has been creating art for over 40 years, according to his bio. He is a multimedia artist with a portfolio including fashion design, film, painting, acting, and more. His activism and his art are often intertwined, which is why the exhibits that his art gallery hosts feature topics that range from human rights to personal identity. Barrero has built a gallery in which it's easy to get lost, yet somehow find a piece of yourself along the way. 

Runner-up Best Activist: Melissa St. John 

Runner-up Best Artist: Juan Carlos Badia Cabero

– KS

Best Politician Not Named Lois Frankel: Sarah Malega

SarahMalega

Photo via Facebook.

It's an award Sarah Malega accepts even if she doesn’t quite consider herself a politician.

“I’m honored and humbled,” Malega said, adding “and surprised because I campaigned on not being a politician.”

Malega, 46, was elected to the Lake Worth Beach Commission in March, winning the District 1 seat in her second attempt at public office. She met her wife, Dawn, 25 years ago in Michigan. They were married in 2013 and together own two businesses: Zoo Health Club and Personal Auto Shoppers. 

Community support, Malega said, is a key component of public service.

“When someone steps up to run for office that shows gumption and they should be supported not because of the letters LGBT but because we are all one community,” Malega said.

Some of Malega’s change initiatives include bringing water bottle refilling fountains to the city, listing pronoun identifiers to commissioner name tags and adding merit enhancements to procurement contracts for veterans, locals and small businesses.  

A devout Christian, Malega wants to change the terminology used to describe people seeking to make a home for themselves.

“I call it affordable home ownership,” she said. “Affordable housing has this sense of pause to it. Affordable home ownership through our CRA program gives someone a hand up, not a hand out and creates a sense of pride and the opportunity to build generational wealth.”

Runner-up: Christina Lambert, West Palm Beach

- JMCD

Check out the rest of the winners at SFGN's Best of 2021 Winners.


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