By Larry Olmsted
Photography by Andrew Kaufman
If you want to see Fort Lauderdale residents cringe, just utter two words: spring break. Forget NCAA basketball—“Fort Liquordale” was once March Madness defined, but that stigma has slowly faded. Fort Lauderdale has recently emerged as an upscale beach destination.
The reborn city still abounds with youthful vitality, but it has been redirected: Visitors now head to polished craft-beer bars up and down Las Olas Boulevard instead of buying cheap 30-packs, while wine coolers have yielded to a 5,000-bottle, Wine Spectator award-winning collection at the beachfront Ritz-Carlton. And, booze cruises have given way to the nation’s largest boat show, drawing the deep-pocketed mega-yacht crowd from every corner of the globe. Even as Fort Lauderdale transitions into an upscale cultural, culinary, and couture destination, it has kept intact the best part of its tourism: a sense of fun.
Nowhere is this more evident than along Las Olas, aka “Style Mile,” the city’s main thoroughfare for strolling, shopping, dining, and drinking. Not too long ago, forgettable tourist eateries dotted the strip, but locals now embrace a spate of new establishments, giving Las Olas a homey, neighborhood feel.
Eat & Drink
Part gastropub, part sports bar, The Royal Pig Pub & Kitchen (350 E. Las Olas Boulevard; 954/617-7447) emblematizes the change. Its double-sided central bar is a great spot to belly up for artisanal beer, scratch cocktails, or tempting house specialties like porchetta or four-cheese-and-bacon macaroni and cheese.
Across the street sits American Social (721 E. Las Olas Boulevard; 954/764-7005), a new bar with nearly four dozen rotating microbrews on draft, plus some of the only tables in the country featuring self-serve taps, a relatively new technology from Ireland.
At Cheese Culture (813 E. Las Olas Boulevard; 954/533-9178), whose slogan is “A Whey of Life,” you can rent a beach-ready wicker picnic basket filled with a bottle of wine, three cheeses from its extensive selection, a charcuterie trio, a baguette, and fresh fruit, plus all the accoutrements—glasses, silverware, even a picnic blanket.
The city’s other main drag is along the oceanfront, on a spit of land between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic, similar to Miami Beach. An uninterrupted stretch of sand fronts a miles-long paved promenade beloved by runners, walkers, and cyclists.
Go for a Swim, Yes—But, Also…
Rent the Rocketman, a jet-powered backpack that lets you soar up to 30 feet high, propelled by nothing but water.
A new high-speed catamaran ferry can turn your Fort Lauderdale weekend into an international vacation with same-day, round-trip service to nearby Grand Bahama Island, giving you ten hours ashore.
Other aquatic options include stand-up paddleboarding, kiteboarding, offshore sport fishing, sea kayaking, WaveRunner rentals, sailing, and diving (Greater Fort Lauderdale is known as the “wreck-diving capital of the United States”).
Or take a water taxi: Because of the immense number of navigable canals linking the Intracoastal and Atlantic, Fort Lauderdale has earned the nickname “Venice of America,” and even has gondoliers to show you the city from sea level.
For another take on Fort Lauderdale’s recent transformation, visit FAT Village
(Flagler Arts Technology: 17 NW Fifth Street; 954/760-5900). This former warehouse neighborhood is reinventing itself as an enclave of galleries and studios, many of them multidisciplinary collaborations and mash-ups, such as C&I Studios, a video production, recording studio, bar, and coffee shop in one. There’s live theater, puppetry, a graffiti and urban art gallery, and high-tech businesses. FAT Village sees additional galleries as pop-ups during its public art walks
, the last Saturday evening of each month, which is the best time to visit.
The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass; 1800 Sawgrass Mills Circle; 954/846-2350
Maus & Hoffman: 800 E. Las Olas Boulevard; 954/463-1472
Ramona LaRue: 1010 E. Las Olas Boulevard; 305/456-8191
It’s a new way to celebrate spring. Bring back a painting as a souvenir—let the kids keep the shot glasses.
Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, March 2014.
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