Jenna Walsh and Grant Stateman’s wedding party watches
Mitt Romney’s motorcade pass as the trolley taking them to the
Delray Marriott is stopped by a roadblock at Woolbright Road
and A1A. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Thom Smith
Food for thought: A media colleague wondered recently if the presidential debate was the biggest event ever to occur in Palm Beach County.
Let’s see. Henry Flagler’s decision to create Palm Beach was certainly notable, though its importance grew over decades. The exploits of the bootlegging, bankrobbing Ashley Gang in the Roarin’ ’20s became fodder for Hollywood movies. Rock-and-rollers might tout the muddy, cold 1969 Palm Beach Pop Festival that attracted more than 40,000 for sets by the Stones, Joplin, the Airplane, The Byrds, among others. The Pulitzer divorce trial back in ’83 certainly copped a few headlines, as did the William Kennedy Smith trial in 1991.
In 2000, Bush vs. Gore and the Ballad of the Hanging Chads hit No. 1, but that, too, developed over a period of several weeks.
Obama-Romney 3 was hardly spontaneous. Planning began years ago. Lynn University anted up millions. The campus looked like the back lot at a huge circus. Traffic snarled. We’ll never know if it changed the course of history — for good, or for bad — but the fact that it happened at all is good PR for Lynn, for Boca and for Palm Beach County.
For one thing, a lot more people now know how to pronounce Bocuh Ruh-TONE, including NBC political wunderkind Chuck Todd, who grew up in Miami and whose mother lives in Delray Beach. After saying Ruh-TONN Monday, he made special note of the proper pronunciation Tuesday.
The debate certainly didn’t hurt business at local hotels and restaurants, although it did create a few problems. After performing in Live Oak, Bonnie Raitt had hoped to bed down in Boca before Sunday’s show at Mizner Park but had to settle for a place “up the road.” Still she managed to take a swim, only to hear John Lee Hooker’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer coming across the waves with a Jamaican dancehall beat. “Only in Florida!” Raitt howled.
A longtime supporter of liberal causes, both domestic and international, Raitt isn’t afraid to speak her mind, acknowledging the debate and her take on Mitt Romney early in her set, with a quick, “Yeah, I’ve got binders of women for that guy.”
No accommodation problems for Ann Romney, who appeared at a Mizner Park rally Saturday night and then headed right back to the campaign’s local debate HQ — the Delray Beach Marriott.
Early risers who powered up their TVs to MSNBC’s Morning Joe on debate Monday and Tuesday found themselves in Boca with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski holding forth before a packed Rack’s in Mizner Park. The show had to be a boon to Gary Rack and Co., since the bistro usually opens at 11:30.
Among those with a choice booth in frequent camera view: Boca Mayor Susan Whelchel (both days), City Council member Constance Scott (Monday) and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (Tuesday). The party at Mizner continued Monday night with a Rock the Vote concert and debate-viewing on giant screens in the amphitheater.
Hmmm, let’s see: A concert in the oh-so-Republican city of Boca Raton (not the Democratic unincorporated west side); Romney in the neighborhood, and music by the Neon Trees, a band from Provo, Utah, with Mormon roots. No conspiracy, just coincidence. Neon Trees is one of many bands involved with Rock the Vote. Its music is a far cry from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Donnie and Marie.
“Neon Trees has never set out to be a Mormon or Latter Day Saint band,” front man Tyler Glenn told a Pittsburgh newspaper. “We’re a rock ’n’ roll pop band and in our lives, music is just one thing that we do.” Glenn, in fact, fell off a stage last year and chipped a tooth but not because he was drunk. No Jim Beam or Bacardi backing for the Trees: Their tour is sponsored by Starbucks Frappuccino … and their dressing room was stocked with a large supply of Red Bull.
And it’s not like everything else stopped while the debate was in town. The Saturday before, while Romney was prepping at the Delray Marriott, with five police boats patrolling just off the beach and squads of cops walking the streets, the ballroom was packed with 450 family and friends attending the wedding reception for Jenna Walsh and Grant Stateman. Jenna is a niece of Michael Walsh, boss of Ocean Properties, the hotel’s parent company. Romney stopped by and posed for a photo with Jenna, Grant and her parents, Billy and Mary Walsh.
No confirmation that a Secret Service agent caught the bouquet. In fact, except for news reports, hotel guests wouldn’t have known of Romney’s presence. “It’s a very controlled environment,” Ocean Properties spokesman Kerry Morrissey said. “(Romney’s) movement is restricted. He comes and goes out a back door. It’s very low key.”
But when he wanted to be seen … Well, you can bet the TV cameras that capture Romney’s coin toss for the staff touch football game on the beach or dinner at BurgerFi just “happened” to be there.
Fans who had hoped to get a glimpse of their candidates were out of luck: no waves to the public; nothing to see from the barricades at the motorcades whizzed by; nothing to see on campus as the entourages passed the afternoon in separate but microscopically equal (down to the same number of drinking glasses in each) motor-home-style suites, adjacent to the auditorium.
Political spin was left to lesser figures — senators, congressmen, party operatives and the occasional celebrity — who filed through the gym that had been converted into the press center, aka “Spin Room.” John McCain arrived early in the afternoon, and made stops at most of the TV media cubicles in the hall, his entourage bowling over one anchor who was delivering an early report.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reiterated their positions that Obama should come clean on Benghazi; while Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau, now attorney general of Delaware, and Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, defended the president.
Other visitors: Sen. John Kerry, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (briefly), and former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham.
A rumor floated that George Clooney had been seen on campus. Alas, it was a TV reporter who resembles the actor.
And then there was the vaguely familiar guy in the navy blue suit, red tie and black sneakers. Is that a congressman? Is he a staffer? What party? No. No. And no. Just actor/comedian Pauly Shore, sans the Kenny G hair. He was holding (uncharacteristically low-key) court to promote Pauly-Tics, his soon-to-be-released documentary. Shore teased that he might run for office some day — maybe mayor of a small Southern town.
More food for thought. In the spirit of the election, Legal Sea Foods has a plan to predict the winner by allowing customers to vote with their stomachs. The Boston-based chain, including its southernmost restaurant in Boca’s Town Center, is conducting its first “Fishing Poll.” Diners can vote for their candidate by ordering a Blue or Red Plate Special featuring entrees identified with the candidates’ home states.
For supporters of Hawaii-born Obama, the “Blue Plate” offers macadamia-coconut crusted mahi-mahi with roasted Brussels sprouts in a lime butter sauce. Inspired by Romney’s adopted home state of Massachusetts, the “Red Plate” features pan-seared cod with steamed spaghetti squash in bourbon lobster cream sauce. “We just wanted to have some fun and give our customers a little something extra to talk about over the next couple of weeks,” Legal’s culinary director Kevin Watson said during a recent visit to Boca. A Maine native who prefers to remain nonpartisan — in the kitchen, at least — Watson will only say, “They’re both good.”
More food for thought. Candidates may offer pie in the sky, but for a few dozen adventurous souls a few blocks west of the Delray Marriott at Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square, the attraction was Dinner in the Sky. At four seatings, a maximum of 22 diners were strapped into grand prix-style car seats that were bolted to a platform. With chefs and servers, they were hoisted 180 feet up by cranes for a gourmet meal with a view. Caffe Luna Rosa and a new restaurant, Candyfish, provided the food. Main courses: filet mignon and Maine lobster.
Tickets initially were offered at $500 each, but a few days before, the price was cut to $350 for Delray residents. By Saturday afternoon, seats were being sold at Groupon-style levels — $150, and sources report a few bystanders were offered late dinners for free.
Good food. Good wine. Good time. No casualties, not even a nosebleed. But no descents for potty breaks either.
Actually, I guess we’re not supposed to just call it Old School Square anymore. To better reflect its mission, the board has renamed it the Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square. Locals may know what Old School Square is, but lots of others, including tourists, don’t.
Newly attracted is the Entr’Acte Theatrix, which lost its home at the now closed Caldwell Theatre in Boca. Its staging of The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened Oct. 25 and closes Nov. 4. Executive Producer Vicki Halmos hopes to return with more shows. Entr’Acte is a semi-professional company that gives young performers and craftsmen the chance to work with seasoned pros.
Back to food, the first Delray Beach Wine and Seafood Festival kicks off Nov. 10 and 11 on Atlantic Avenue east of the Intracoastal. Sponsored by the Delray Chamber of Commerce, the festival offers food, drink, live entertainment, and seminars. Guests may stroll among vendors or relax in the New World Wine Garden. Free admission, but special packages and seminars will cost you. (delraybeach.com).
Luna Rosa and Candyfish will be back to earth as participants, along with La Cigale, Sundy House, Concha y Toro and Boston’s, which, in addition is offering on Nov. 12, Veterans Day, a complimentary meal (up to $16) to anyone who’s served in the military, present or past.
Bridge closing! What bridge?
Plaza Del Mar in Manalapan isn’t letting a little bridge replacement project dampen its spirit, even if it will take two years. John G’s, recently arrived from reconstructing Lake Worth Beach, still attracts regulars and visitors, Ritz-Carlton guests love to hop across A1A for an afternoon sundae, and Thaikyo and Lantana Pizza offer international variety. To enhance the plaza’s image as a destination, management is reaching outward. On Nov. 10, it will host a food truck festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“With the bridge out, we have sort of a captive market, plaza spokeswoman Stephanie Young said. “We want to be more of a food destination.”
Jochen Esser, of Gourmet Food Truck Expo in Deerfield Beach, expects to dispatch 15 trucks. “We’ll have barbecue, Mexican, Asian, Italian, Philly cheese, Mediterranean, lobster rolls,” he said. “It should offer something for everyone.”
Across the street, Jason Adams, described as “fun, savvy, creative, the ultimate neighbor” is the new executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan. Born in England, trained in Europe, Adams joined Ritz-Carlton in 1998 at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and comes to the Palm Beaches from Aspen.
After that meal at the Ritz, pampering is recommended at Eau Spa, which was just tapped by readers of SpaFinder Wellness for four awards in its annual survey of spas around the globe: best beach spa, best interior design, best for weddings and the delicious best for girlfriend getaway and bachelorettes.
Up the road, other parts of the Lake Worth Casino renovation may not be ready, but Mulligan’s is open and serving food. Two blocks north, the Omphoy continues its effort to attract locals as well as out of town guests. Newest addition is Wednesday blues nights with the likes of Joey Gilmore and Bobby Nathan, cocktail specials, a half-priced appetizers.
No blues across the bridge in Lake Worth, however, when it comes to a place to live and to work. The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency is building a fledgling artists community of a dozen “Urban Arts Lofts” along Lucerne near the city shuffleboard courts. The two-bedroom/2½-bath townhomes range from 2,275 to 2,653 square feet, and include work space and a garage on the ground floor. Prices range from $115,000 to $133,000. The lofts are part of the CRA’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and restrictions apply. Call 493-2550.
The lofts are a far cry from the first homes in Lake Worth 100 years ago, as residents will be reminded for the next six months as the city celebrates it centennial. Festivities begin at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 with a centennial-themed Veterans Day parade. Other related events include a family beach party Jan. 19; a homecoming dance Feb. 16 in the Casino Ballroom, the Taste of Lake Worth on Feb. 22, a three-day scavenger hunt for city historic treasures in late May, and the final celebration on July 4. (www.lakeworth100.com)
All quiet on the southern front … and Kravis Center management doesn’t expect any noise on Nov. 10 and 11. There was a time when certain political groups would have had pickets all along Okeechobee Boulevard the day after the shows were announced, but they’ve received not the first protest about the upcoming appearance of the National Symphony of Cuba. Could art have triumphed over politics?
Thom Smith is a freelance writer. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.