Here are SFGN's "Best of 2017" winners in Palm Beach County.
Best Art Gallery
811 Belvedere Rd.
West Palm Beach
When it comes to art exhibitions, The Box Gallery thinks outside the box. “I program quite a bit and I program for the broader art community—by including a variety of art including music and dance,” said Curator Rolando Chang Barrero. “Our engagement level is higher than many other area galleries.”
The 4,000 square foot gallery is a vibrant, ever-changing space. Barrero said there’s never been a gallery like this in Palm Beach County.
“Being a private art gallery, we can push the envelope,” Barrero said. “I tend to show work that’s extremely marginal and at times risqué. We tend to spotlights artists who are part of the LGBT community – not simply because they are part of that community, but because of the merit of their work. We hold all artists to the same high standard.”
Julie Seaver can once again call herself the best activist in South Florida as voted by SFGN readers.
The now three-time winner of the category helps lead her organization as the Center Operations Director at Compass Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Lake Worth. Seaver’s work organizing activities and helping the community has built her a reputation as a true activist in the city.
“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,” Compass CEO Tony Plakas said in a previous interview with SFGN. “She's become the go-to-gal for solutions, ideas, and problem-solving for more than just Compass.”
The 2015 Out50 member is also partners with Penny Johnson, the owner of Penny’s at the Duke bar in Lantana. Both stay active in the Palm Beach LGBT community through events and fundraisers hosted by the bar.
823 Belvedere Road
West Palm Beach
Roosters is no joke when it comes to nightlife, and it’s not just 30 years of experience talking.
The Palm Beach establishment has been keeping the party going for the LGBT community since 1984 through its themed nights. Hosting everything from a pool tournament on Tuesdays, lip sync battles on Fridays and Saturday entertainer showcases, the bar has a little something for everyone.
But the events aren’t the only draw, as the drink specials also keep people coming back. Happy hour includes $2.50 domestics and well drinks from 3-9 p.m. and daily specials make going out hurt your wallet less.
“Super friendly bartenders with excellent drink prices,” one Yelp reviewer wrote. “It's everything you would expect from a gayborhood bar.”
The bar has now won two years in a row and for the fourth time ever. As their website reads “If you haven’t been to Roosters, you haven’t really been to West Palm Beach.”
Penny’s at the Duke
902 N. Dixie Hwy.
Whenever Jason Jones drinks at Penny’s at the Duke, owner and bartender Penny Johnson makes him feel special. “Penny is the best and always makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the room.”
It’s a feeling shared by many who have cozied up to Penny’s bar. Patrons praise it as a fun place with an amazing vibe.
“It’s a warm fuzzy kind of place where you are free to be yourself and it’s welcoming to all people. Good times, great staff, awesome music on Saturday nights,” Mychael Stacy said.
“Always a good time at Penny's at the Duke. A place where we can be free to be you and me. I've made quite a few new friends and have felt welcomed from the very first time I walked in the door,” Annelle Shook said.
The first time is not the last time for many who visit Penny’s.
“My wife and I were visiting and found this place. We intended to go in for a drink or two. Four hours later, we left. Penny the owner is awesome, her wife is incredible, and the patrons are genuine. Can't wait for more trips to Penny’s,” Mary Hannify said.
200 U.S. Highway #1
North Palm Beach
10998 Okeechobee Blvd.
Royal Palm Beach
When it comes to burgers, Brass Ring Pub can’t be beat.
The West Palm Beach restaurant, which previously won in 2015, serves up a variety of half pound cuts of beef at affordable prices. Their stable of burgers includes a spicy burger with bleu cheese as well as regular favorites like bacon and mushroom burgers.
“This is a classic beer and burger joint,” one Google reviewer said. “Been there forever and the char grilled 1/2 pound burgers are fantastic.”
On top of that, the pub’s local crowd gives the Brass Ring its own distinct feel. Add in plenty of televisions to watch the game along with pool tables and a great happy hour, and you’ll have a new favorite burger spot.
When Mayor Triolo was asked why she loved Lake Worth her sentiments were, “Our diversity. We are an inclusive city that values each other’s individuality, the LGBT community is an active participant in our renaissance. Including, our businesses, and our neighborhoods. Lake Worth is also home to one of the biggest pride festivals in the country, in addition to having Compass.”
Lake Worth is one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in Palm Beach County.
“I used to own a gay travel agency, so I’ve traveled all over the world, but I always came back here,” said openly gay City Commissioner Andy Amoroso. “I went to school here and I grew up here, it’s just been great!”
Winning best city is well deserved for a place that boasts the mantra “where the tropic begins, and the fun never ends.” They’ve won “Best City” for the past four years. “Thank you for recognizing the work that we’ve done, how we’ve grown and how we’ve changed,” stated Mayor Triolo who is up for re-election in 2018. “We have become a true reflection of the world today, and of the future.”
Gil Martin says there are two reasons why he’s a DJ: “I love to spin, and I love to see people having a good time. I love to see them dance to the mixes that I play.” The latter hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who listen to Martin’s spinning. He was chosen as the “Best DJ.”
“It took me 15 years,” he joked. Before that, he was a music producer. “And then, suddenly, I just became a DJ.”
But he’s serious about satisfying his audience and giving them what they want to hear.
In short, he judges them. But in a good way.
“I judge my audience to see what they want. And I go from there.” He says a lot of that involves playing Dance, 80s, and artists like Beyoncé. Selections he knows people like and are familiar with. “I always play the top hits and, of course, remixes.”
For the last six years on Saturdays, he’s performed at H.G. Rooster's in West Palm Beach. Now, he’ll be adding Camelot in West Palm Beach – Sundays.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel
2500 N. Military Trail #490
Whether it’s serving on a local level as mayor of West Palm Beach for eight years, or as a member of Congress since 2012, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel says the two positions are very similar.
“Being a congressperson is a lot like being a mayor in terms of what you can do. There are a lot of activities you can participate in. I was a strong mayor so it was 24/7 in your face where the buck stops with you.” The difference, she says, “There’s far more bureaucracy and much bigger issues, and you have an impact on a lot more people.”
On being voted “Best Politician,” Frankel said, “I was a student protester in the 1960s. That’s where I got my credentials standing up to the status quo.” She said many people see danger from the current administration.
“I think we’re living in a time where a lot of people have anxiety and fear. I think what my constituents see in me is someone willing to stand up without fear for human rights, women’s rights, healthcare. They want someone who is on their side, who will be there for them.”
Best Kept Secret
Mad Hatter Lounge
1532 N Dixie Hwy
This year readers named the Mad Hatter Lounge Palm Beach County’s “Best Kept Secret.” Mad Hatter is not your average LGBT bar. “It’s the friendliest and most comfortable bar in the neighborhood, I’m really proud of this award,” said Ron Amodio, who’s been the owner for 5 years.
It possesses an atmosphere that is casual and safe. Over the years they’ve become known to throw some pretty awesome parties too. Tons of good memories have been made there. Whether it be in Hawaiian attire for the Lei Me Lou Party, Monday night during “New meat Mondays,” Wednesday nights with Eddy for Bingo, Sunday for karaoke, or during the recent Will and Grace watch party.
The soul and the heartbeat of MHL is the bartenders. Not only do they serve good drinks and looks, these bartenders turn your usual “stroll to the bar” into a stress-free session of necessary indulgence. Congratulations to the Mad Hatter for winning “Best Kept Secret,” but after this article is published, MHL will not be a secret anymore. “If the secret gets out hopefully we can improve business,” Amodio said.
201 N. Dixie Hwy.
2018 will mark 30 of service for Compass. In its three decades, it has lived up to its name by providing direction and support to thousands LGBT people. According to the Compass website, it is the largest gay and lesbian community center in Florida and the Southeast United States.
Compass’ mission is to diminish stereotypes by challenging long-standing misconceptions about the character of the LGBT community. Compass is known for its welcoming atmosphere and accepting environment for both LGBT youth and adults throughout South Florida.
Every year, thousands of people attend Compass events including PrideFest of the Palm Beaches, Stonewall Ball Black and White Party, Transgender Day of Remembrance and in recognition of World AIDS Day, Compass displays the largest collection of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Florida.
“With programs and services for everyone, Compass has served as the kitchen of the community for the past 30 years,” said Dylan Brooks, HIV Testing & Mpowerment Coordinator at Compass. “We couldn’t be more proud to serve as the gathering place and continue to be the center of community organizing and promoting pride in Palm Beach County for generations to come.”
114 S Clematis Street
West Palm Beach
10965 N. Military Trail
Palm Beach Gardens
For the second year in a row, Pizza Girls captured the slice-loving hearts of Palm Beach County.
The restaurant, which started in 1999 after partners Jennifer Morales and Phoebe Reckseit wanted to break into what was mostly a male-oriented business. Working since then, the duo said they wanted to show other LGBT people they can also do well in business.
“One thing that I take a lot of pride in is being a positive, successful lesbian couple,” Morales said. “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.”
Pizza Girls offers both traditional slices and their own takes on pizza, from their Kale Yeah pie to New York landmark inspired pizzas like the Statue of liberty, Times Square and SOHO pies. On top of that, the Zagat rated restaurant also offers a “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 & lovingly as possible, the more people see that we are just like everyone else. We are all human beings.”
Best Drag Queen
Melissa St. John
There’s the best and then there’s THE best. This is the fourth consecutive year that Melissa St. John has won Best Drag Queen. “I’m scared the other queens are going to beat me up!” she joked. “It feels fantastic. I’m so humbled by it.”
St. John is best known for her flawless performances, and dazzling audiences with her dynamic personality. Whether she is in the spotlight or serving as Mistress of Ceremony, St. John brings the same level of professionalism and star power to every performance.
With nearly 30 years of performing under her belt, it’s no wonder she’s a fan favorite with staying power. St. John is often referred to as the First Lady of Palm Beach. “She lives up to that reputation,” said friend Rolando Chang Barrero. “She is the host of the town and knows everybody.”
4700 S. Dixie Hwy.
West Palm Beach
It’s never been a bad time to visit Howley’s Restaurant, said Ivan Alonso.
“Howley’s never disappoints. Anytime I walk in I'm always greeted warmly by the staff. The food is amazing. I shared an order of chili potato skins with my mom as well as ordering the blackened chicken with penne spinach and mushrooms while my mom had a custom-made omelet. Everything was delicious . . . Ask for Jessica! She is such a sweetheart.”
Along with what Ivan ordered, 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. It’s that menu and service that helped Howley’s win “Best Restaurant” four times, including this year.
Susan Pereira recommends the fried cod with onion rings and claims they’re the best in town.
“They’re just as good as what I grew up with in New England, maybe better. I brought my ‘deep South’ friend here and she raved on and on about the fried green tomatoes. My husband loves the tuna melt and The BLT with avocado. Actually, I don't think you could get anything bad here ever.”
Best Social Group
Compass LGBT Community Center
201 N. Dixie Hwy.
LGBT individuals under 18 are at a disproportionately high risk of succumbing to the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and STDs.
But after they turn 18, many are still at risk. That’s where Compass’ Entourage social group comes in.
Run by the Compass LGBT Community Center, Entourage allows 18 to 29-year old LGBT individuals, who have aged out of programs for younger individuals, to still be part of a social group.
“It’s a similar thing where people can come together for support and socialize and have frank and candid conversations about safe sex, condom negotiation and things like that,” says Sabrine Pearson, Compass’ youth mentoring coordinator and transgender community liaison.
Dylan Brooks, Compass’ HIV prevention coordinator and young adult coordinator, facilitates the group. “We talk about a wide range of different things. Its Vegas rules here. Whatever we say here, stays here.”
But there’s also a lot of socialization, said Brooks. Recently, members of the group got together for pumpkin carving. Brooks estimates that between 10 and 30 people attend meetings.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely getting bigger, which is always a fabulous thing.”
Best Themed Night
“Lip Sync Battle”
Friday @ Midnight
823 Belvedere Road
West Palm Beach
The winner of SFGN Best Themed Night goes to Lip Sync Battle which takes place at HG Roosters in West Palm Beach.
“The idea came from the TV show “Lip Sync Battle” with LL Cool J as the host,” said David Zen who serves as the bar’s manager. Palm Beach performer Charlotte Shottgunz serves as the show’s host diva extraordinaire.
“We provide an open stage so that anyone can come and compete,” stated Shottgunz. “The most memorable moment would probably be hearing my name chanted and the applause when I open the show. I feel like the world is in my hands and I am unstoppable.”
Each week music lovers, pop culture heads, and musical theater aficionados battle it out to their favorite songs.
“We are happy that people like coming on Fridays,” Zen said. “Lip Sync battle is our most diverse crowd compared to all of our nights. With one year down and many more to go, expect to see more exciting things from Lip Sync battle. I’m actually thinking about bring entertainment from all over the world. I want to make my night one you’ll never forget.”
Lip Sync battle is every Friday at HG Roosters. Showtime starts at 12 Midnight.
Best Place to Workout
The Zoo Health Club
824 Lake Ave.
Every gym has equipment, but Dara Pisiona says The Zoo Health Club has something others don’t: passion.
It’s partly why the health club has won “Best Place to Work Out” four years in a row.
“I just love the passion and heart these ladies [owners Dawn and Sarah] put into the gym. You can't find that at other gyms. 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.
“I love it. There’s helpful staff, the facility is clean and well maintained, and the 24-hour access is just perfect for my crazy schedule,” said Eluvia Fran.
“I love the Zoo and am so happy I joined. It’s clean, well-lit, and good music. The staff are awesome and it's not about who looks like what. It’s just like-minded people who want to get and stay fit,” Eileen DiJohn said.