The young, upbeat restaurant manager tapped into the power of Clematis Street one weekend a couple of years ago. A group of college students wandered into the Wine Dive bar and eatery for brunch and asked him to play some party music. He obliged and, with the beats cranked up, the kids went wild, dancing in the aisles. “I thought, ‘Hey, we’re on to something here.’ And it’s just grown from there,” manager Anthony Lill recalled last Sunday as he observed clusters of daylight revelers at what has become the hottest weekend brunch on Clematis Street.
If not for the sunlight drifting through the bar’s open portals and the plates of breakfast fare steaming out of the kitchen, this could be any Saturday night at The Wine Dive. The drinks – and the tipsy – are plenty. The club music is amped. Beefy security guards survey the scene. (Just their presence keeps the crowd in check, says Lill.)
Welcome to Clematis Street, where bouncers at brunch are part of the dining district’s landscape.
It is a district that finds common ground not in cuisine or vibe, but in the fact that it belongs to a proud main drag and its immediate environs. Whether dining here is a party-hearty affair (as in The Wine Dive, Rocco’s Tacos or Roxy’s), a more refined experience (as in Pistache, Avocado Grill or Ristorante Santucci) or a thoroughly hip happening (as in Hullabaloo or Subculture Coffee), the district is marked by a shared appreciation for a good street scene.
By weekend, it’s a blur that goes from boozy brunches to happy hour to nighttime dining and revelry.
Be it by day or by night, Clematis area eateries spill out onto the sidewalks, their stories connecting to the street stories told from block to block. And each block has its distinct personality and charms, as visitors to SunFest this week will see.
“The lives on Clematis are lived in parallel universes. What is a weird bar during the day turns into a huge party thing at night,” says Aaron Wormus, the chief technical officer of a hedge fund database located on the 400 block of Clematis Street. The scene, he says, “sways back and forth by day and by night.”
Wormus moonlights as a blogger and citizen journalist who is best known to his 7,550-plus Twitter followers as “A Guy on Clematis” (@aGuyonClematis). He’s the guy whose Twitter profile professes that he’s been “having fun on Clematis St. since 2006.”
Of course, Clematis Street has various definitions of “fun,” he notes. He says he may be out with his wife and daughters, enjoying a nice dinner at some spot on the 200 block of Clematis, when worlds collide.
“All the club and party people start filtering in,” he says.
He’s referring to a shift that occurs mainly in the district’s central blocks as the 9 p.m. hour nears: Attire turns more scanty, heels grow higher, ambling groups turn more rowdy. They populate central district hot spots like Roxy’s, Off The Hookah, Bar Louie and Rocco’s Tacos.
Fun on the 500 block is also a lively affair, but notably different. Its top eateries – Hullabaloo, LongBoards and Subculture Coffee – are the domain of restaurateur Rodney Mayo’s Sub-Culture group, known for giving its properties stylized, hipster personalities. So while these 500 block spots are often packed, they hum with an energy that celebrates good noshing over moshing.
“The 500 block has a completely separate type of feel. It’s a little more grungy, but in a way more family friendly,” says Wormus.
The blogger has detected an interesting pattern on the block.
“Once it gets darker, the 500 block gets younger,” he says. Meanwhile, the 200 block gets older, he says. “You have the 40-year-olds partying on the 200 block, along with a lot of out-of-towners.”
Wormus is speaking in broad strokes terms, of course, as each block includes a mix of businesses. These businesses operate in a setting that’s enhanced by the city’s $30 million waterfront renovation, completed five years ago. The larger picture is one of a dining district that’s grown more vibrant, says Wormus.
“I think it’s doing extremely well. When we started doing this (A Guy on Clematis blog) in 2009, things were still deciding what they wanted to be,” says Wormus, whose biggest Clematis Street concern is that the district’s growth would prompt city leaders to turn it into a pedestrian-only stretch, something he believes would be a death blow to the street. “Having more people is a good problem. Having more businesses is a good problem. Clematis Street has really come back, and it’s working really well.”
While some areas of Clematis Streets continue to struggle – as evidenced by the recent closings of Hamburger Heaven on the finicky 100 block and Nature’s Way Café on nearby Narcissus Avenue – the dining district’s most sparkling sign of life can be witnessed on the weekends.
“There’s a really great brunch culture now,” says Julien Gremaud, the chef/owner of the 6-month-old Avocado Grill. The restaurant, which sits on Datura Street – one street south of Clematis – and is arguably the hottest restaurant in the district.
Gremaud, who serves an eclectic a la carte brunch, notes his weekend daytime service begins with an older, more sedate crowd. Later in the day, he kicks up the music for a more lively, younger set. He employs a deejay for upbeat electronic sets and various musicians for live music breaks.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says the French-born chef/restaurateur.
One block west on Datura Street, another French restaurateur oversees a more laid-back Sunday brunch at Le Rendez-vous, where a live band welcomes diners with sidewalk tunes. Co-owner Olivier Delrieu says he looks forward to the brunch-loving weekend crowd, which he takes as a welcome sign of the dining district’s southward sprawl.
“Those places on Clematis Street are always packed. I think more people should know that they can walk just one block and still find good restaurants,” he says.
Some of those packed places have figured out an important part of the brunch appeal: bottomless booze in the form of Bloody Marys and Mimosas. It’s often cheaper to eat and drink at brunch – hence, the lively younger set.
Last Sunday, a couple of citizens of that demographic whooped it up during brunch at Lynora’s Osteria, a new-ish eatery that serves old-school Italian food in a merry and modern setting. The two revelers, Brianna Sullivan and Kalyn Camara, asked Lynora’s co-owner Angelo Abbenante for permission to dance on the bar.
A genial guy whose eatery has scored its festive share of the brunch scene, he obliged.
Fueled by the retro hip-hop on the deejay’s turntable – and the bottomless sips for $18 – the young ladies boogied on the bar for a hot Clematis minute. Yes, they were invited to step down once they began tossing paper napkins like confetti, but it was all in good fun. It’s Clematis Street, after all.
CLEMATIS: BLOCK BY BLOCK
This is an eclectic block that includes the waterfront’s mainstay French bistro, Pistache, where a well-heeled set gathers for sumptuously prepared lunch, cocktails, dinner and Sunday brunch. Pistache shares the 100 with World of Beer, Pizza Girls, Sloan’s, Tin Fish and the waterfront’s iconic E.R. Bradley’s Saloon.
Welcome to one of the district’s rowdiest blocks, home to Bar Louie, Rocco’s Tacos, Grease Burger Bar and Duffy’s. Newer arrivals include Lynora’s Osteria and The Alchemist, which earn their share of the action. Also on this block, the bakery café Paneterie.
This block has a good mix of eateries, including three offering Asian cuisine (Kabuki, Palm Sugar and Sushi Yama). It’s also home to rowdy spots like Roxy’s Pub, The Wine Dive and Off the Hookah. Add to this mix, Don Ramon’s Latin fare and the new-ish C Street Café and you’ve got the 300.
By Clematis standards, this is a quiet block. It’s home to the fast-casual ChickPea and Field of Greens eateries.
Call this the maverick block of Clematis Street, where restaurateur Rodney Mayo has crafted quite the hip stretch with his Hullabaloo gastro pub, LongBoards surfer-themed restaurant and earthy Subculture Coffee shop. They join Mayo’s long-standing Respectable Street club, as well as O’Shea’s Irish Pub, Clematis Pizza, Café Sweets bakery, Keese’s gyro shop and the newly opened Palm Beach Bagel.
The dining district’s western end is anchored by the upscale and pricy Ristorante Santucci.
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