Anyone who’s worked for him, dealt with him or tried to track him down for a quote knows that Rodney Mayo is an inveterate night owl.
Hey, he’s allowed. For 27 years, Mayo has logged long hours, and worked more than a few so-late-it’s-early DJ shifts, as founder of Respectable Street in 1987, one of the original partners behind O’Shea’s in the mid-1990s and current owner of Howley’s diner and Hullabaloo gastropub in West Palm Beach, Dada in Delray Beach, Kapow Noodle Bar in Boca Raton and Kill Your Idol in South Beach, just to name a few.
Over the past several months, Mayo has burned the midnight oil on multiple occasions … in his West Palm Beach wood shop. His latest project: Building large sections of yachts — a bow here, a transom there — out of teak and crafting bar tops from mahogany.
He downplays his woodworking skills. “I’m not a carpenter,” he says. “I’m a hack.”
You be the judge. Mayo’s boat-shaped DJ and VIP booths are docked center-stage at his latest downtown West Palm Beach venue, Camelot Yacht Club.
He launched the nautical-themed spot, which is decorated with black-and-white photos of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, as much for himself and his contemporaries as he did for the typical twentysomething clubgoer.
Put simply, the current Clematis Street landscape is no longer his pint of Guinness. Its cavernous nightclubs? “Definitely not where I want to go,” says Mayo, who adds that, at the age of 51, he feels like he’s aged out of Respectable’s, too.
“I feel like we were losing a lot of the nighttime crowd to Atlantic Avenue (in Delray),” he says. “There’s a new generation that wants something a little more subdued and classy.”
Those weren’t words often associated with the previous businesses that occupied 114 S. Narcissus Ave., near Datura Street. In recent years, violence cast a shadow over the 70-year-old building.
Don’t let it be forgotten that in 1999, when the long, narrow venue was known as Chino’s Nightclub, two Riviera Beach men were arrested on charges of attempted first-degree murder for shooting a bouncer in the face.
In 2009, when the space had morphed into Mystique Lounge, a Boynton Beach man was charged with second-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder after shooting two men outside the club.
In 2012, Mystique underwent an extreme makeover on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue.” Rechristened Aura Nightclub, it closed last year.
Mayo’s business partner, 43-year-old Jeremiah Pitts, admits the pair is trying to turn around “a tarnished venue.” But the address is one that Pitts, who in the early 1990s parked cars at Palm Beach’s Au Bar, has eyed for years.
He likes that Camelot is near Clematis Street without being on Clematis Street. Guests can access it from the south or east, bypassing any traffic gridlock.
And the intimate, 3,500-square-foot space is well-suited to Camelot’s unusual approach to membership, he says. “It’s a small venue. We don’t need many people to fill it up.”
People interested in joining the club, for a $100 annual fee, must first fill out a questionnaire at CamelotYachtClub.com. The survey covers musical tastes, favorite downtown restaurants, preferred glasses of wine, even hobbies and interests.
The owners are looking for people whose tastes resonate with the white Adirondack chairs outside and the anchor-print carpet inside; the sculling boat hung on the wall, and the Ray Charles, Little Richard and ’80s retro tunes on the sound system; the Turner Classic Movie selections on the bar’s TV and the calming underwater scenes splashed across 120 feet of video screens (where one-minute clips from “Animal House,” “Caddyshack” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” are projected every hour).
Some applicants don’t make the cut, but typically, it’s a self-selecting process, Mayo says. Filling out the application takes time and energy. “That weeds people out.”
So far, Camelot has distributed more than 1,500 stainless-steel membership cards. When they reach 2,500 members, they might cap the crew, Mayo says.
The target guests are in their 50s — people who are willing to take a spin on the dance floor but who are primarily looking for a lounge environment where they can clink glasses and converse. (Or, as Pitts puts it: “Rollerskate a little bit, then come off the rink.”)
Mayo acknowledges that the club’s youngest members may not know that Jackie Kennedy was helping shape her late husband’s legacy when she compared the brief, shining Kennedy years in the White House to King Arthur’s mythical Camelot.
But that’s OK. The joyful photographs of the President and first lady enjoying the water possess an ageless appeal.
And what do the Kennedys think of Mayo’s homage to the former Navy lieutenant and his wife?
He pauses and grins. “We don’t know yet.”
IF YOU GO
Camelot Yacht Club: 114 S. Narcissus Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-318-7675
Open to non-members from 4:30 to 10 p.m. every day but Monday.
After 10, you’ll need a membership card to enter. To apply, go to CamelotYachtClub.com.
A CAMELOT OF LOBSTER
New England-style seafood is the catch of the day at Camelot, and that means lots of fresh Maine lobster.
Executive chef Rick James, whose resume includes stints at Palm Beach’s Cafe L’Europe and Chez Jean Pierre, is applying knowledge gleaned from nine years in Nantucket to the limited menu.
The marquee attraction? Rick’s Lobstah Roll — chilled, hand-pulled lobster, gently tossed with a touch of mayo, fresh green onions, celery and tarragon, spritzed with lemon and served on a buttered, griddled bun.
“There’s really nothing quite like a lobster roll,” James says. “It takes people who’ve visited New England back to their childhood.”
Lobster guest-stars in Camelot’s grilled cheese sandwich, a Brie quesadilla spiked with bacon, and a chef’s daily lobster salad.
Not a lobster lover? The fresh tuna tartar is flavored either with Sriracha sauce or lime and coconut, depending on the day.
There’s also caviar and a raw bar loaded with oysters, crab cocktail and stone crab claws.
And that’s about it.
“We keep it simple,” James says. “We’re not a big kitchen, so we do a few dishes and try to do them well.”
A TOAST TO THE KENNEDYS
The Camelot team clearly had fun developing the venue’s menu of specialty cocktails: the Hyannis Port, the Honey Fitz, the Kennedy Compound.
One of its more alluring concoctions is the Jackie O, an always-in-style, coral-colored blend of Tito’s vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, Cocchi Rosa Americano Aperitivo and champagne.
We like the sound of Jackie-O Sundays: Bloody Mary and Bellini specials, oh yeah.