Elbo Room | Dive Bar

Fort Lauderdale Beach Dive Bar

March 24, 1996 Elbo Room is World's First Live Cams! - Chicago Tribune

FT. LAUDERDALE'S BIG BREAK A ONE-TIME HAVEN FOR ROWDY STUDENTS SPRINGS BACK TO LIFE
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[CHICAGOLAND FINAL Edition]
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Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Chicago, Ill.
Author: Solomon, Alan
Date: Mar 24, 1996
Start Page: 1
Section: TRAVEL
Document Text

It was in this "Venice of America" that gorgeous George Hamilton used the family yacht to put the moves on gorgeous Dolores Hart. Hamilton, in real life, became a famous date (for one of Lyndon Johnson's daughters, I forget which), a suntan joke, a gay blade and finally, in his best career move, an ex-husband.

Hart, in real life, became a nun.

In the movie, Connie Francis pursued hipster Frank Gorshin at a jazz bar. Yvette Mimieux, the vixen, just pursued, then ruined a perfectly innocent movie by winding up in a hospital.

Does anyone remember any of this?

At Las Olas and Atlantic Boulevards, irresistibly cute Jim Hutton (looking eerily like Jim Carrey, as yet unborn) clumsily tried to seduce semi-resistant and tall Paula Prentiss at a dimly lit bar called the Elbo Room.

The movie was "Where the Boys Are." It came out in 1960. It is, 36 years later, a really stupid movie.

It was about spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. So is this story. It's a different story, just as Lauderdale is an incredibly different place--but back to the movie.

"The students," resonated the film's opening narration, "swarm to these peaceful shores in droves--20,000 strong. They turn night into day and a small corner of heaven into a sizable chunk of bedlam ... "

Bedlam? By 1985, that quaint little 20,000-strong trickle had become an annual infestation peaking at 350,000.

Okay, maybe for some people it was fun. Not for most of the city's residents, though, and certainly not for the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department.

"The kids would stay 12 to a room," said Officer Colleen Hanstein, 42, a 15-year veteran of the force. "There was so much damage. Everything smelled like urine. I walked into one place that looked like `Animal House.' "

Added Officer Tom Mangifesta, a 20-year vet: "They basically just trashed the city."

There were drunk kids jumping off balconies into pools (and sometimes into concrete), drunk kids jumping off balconies onto other balconies, drunk kids reducing furniture to kindling, drunk kids dumping Coke machines into Jacuzzis ...

"They would walk down the streets in large groups, 25 and 30, all hours of the night," said Gerry Adams, owner-operator (with husband Roger) of the 22-room Sea View Resort Motel for the last 20 years. "We've been there--we've been young and done some crazy things, but nothing like these kids were doing. Oh, my gosh.

"We don't miss it."

It's over. Gone, at least in Ft. Lauderdale. Now it's Daytona's problem (400,000 swarmed to that peaceful shore last year), or Cancun's, or the Florida panhandle's or Padre Island's.

In 1985, the city fathers and mothers finally figured enough was enough. In 1986, the kids were invited to urinate on someone else's small corner of heaven.

"The city decided no longer are wild, wacky, drink-till-you-drop students welcome here," said Francine Mason, vice president of the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There were a lot of arrests made, and word spread from that point on."

Ten years later, Ft. Lauderdale stands mostly reinvented. Kids are there, but there aren't as many (maybe 15,000 between March 1 and Easter), and the ones who do come these days are kinder, gentler and, for the most part, older.

"I deal with enough madness at school," said Susan Messal, 22, a senior at Ball State in Indiana. "I wanted to come down here and sit in the sun, and drink beer from a glass."

Said Chris Mitchell, 20, a senior at North Carolina-Charlotte: "I just wanted to get out of Charlotte."

The beaches, once jammed with bloated sophomores sleeping off the effects of the night before, will grow pleasantly crowded as Easter approaches but never without ample stretches of empty sand.

The rowdy strip of breaker bars is history.

Banned: alcohol on the beaches (and open containers of liquor anywhere outside), cars on the beaches, bars packed beyond defined capacity, underage kids getting into those bars, undue noise in the streets and any sort of public indecency and/or nuisance.

Triumphant: civilization. The Elbo Room, still in business at Las Olas and Atlantic and no longer dimly lit, serves a nifty mixed green salad with a walnut vinaigrette.

"The times," said Mike Penrod, "have changed."

Penrod's family has owned the Elbo Room (built in 1938) since 1981. Once, the family owned four or five others on Highway A1A (which changes names as it wiggles along the coast).

Only the Elbo Room survives.

"Our bars were `spring break' bars," said Penrod, 26. "That was good for us, but we still like it better the way it is now. It's a lot nicer."

Survival wasn't easy. Small motels whose main income came during spring break either adjusted or died. Same with bars.

The Elbo Room was adopted by bikers for a while. "It got a little rough," said Penrod. "So we got rid of a lot of the hard core and turned into a little beach cafe.

"Now it's people having a beer and sitting on the patio having lunch and watching the people Rollerblade by."

In-line skating, by the way, is big along the broad walkway that borders the now-lovely Lauderdale beaches. Bladers use palm trees as slalom gates, yet somehow coexist peacefully with joggers, bicyclists and seniors doing their morning power-strolls.

Up the street are more cafes, many of them fancier and pricier than the Elbo Room, their seating area opening onto the sidewalk in the European fashion. No wonder Ft. Lauderdale has become fashionable for Europeans.

Fashionable? They're locked in a passionate embrace. These days, hotels and motels routinely fly the flags of Germany, France, Sweden and Italy from their rooftops alongside the flags of the United States and Canada. When they stopped marketing to the college kids, the smart hostelries turned to Europe--just as the weakened dollar turned U.S. goods, and U.S. vacations, into bargains.

Klaus Wessels, 34, flew in with his girlfriend from Bremen, Germany, for many of the same reasons people fly in from Philadelphia.

"It's cold in Germany now," he said. "We want to spend some days in the sun. And Florida is beautiful. Now we want to go to the Everglades--the nature, the birds, the alligators.

"Also, the prices are not so high from Germany. We can fly from Germany for $600." The strong German mark makes that--along with everything else American--a relative pittance.

"I want to buy a sailing boat," said Wessels.

He'll have plenty of options. Ft. Lauderdale in season has more than 40,000 boats, many for sale, some in vast marinas, others tied up alongside lovely homes lining the network of residential canals that give legitimacy to the "Venice of America" thing.

Some of those canals abut Las Olas Boulevard, which evolves into something special as it rolls west from the beach toward downtown.

For decades, it was Ft. Lauderdale's Rodeo Drive, home to the city's most exclusive shops. But by the early '80s, mega-malls had left the street gasping and increasingly unoccupied.

In 1993, some visionary locals suspected that reducing the busy four-lane thoroughfare to two lanes after 6 p.m.--and allowing parking on the other two--would change the area's character.

It did. Sidewalk cafes, prohibited earlier, were legalized and proved ideal for the now muted, defumed boulevard. Trees and flowers were scattered everywhere.

In less than three years, Las Olas again became home to stylish shops and galleries (most of which stay open late and on Sundays), joined now by some of Lauderdale's finest new restaurants.

Evening walks on Las Olas are exercises in elegance. No storefront is unfunctioning. No jean is untailored.

"It is the heart of Ft. Lauderdale," said Mason, from the visitors bureau.

Naturally--as in the beachfront-bar conversions--there are victims.

Jerry Miles has managed his T-shirt business on Las Olas for 14 years. It is not the kind of T-shirt shop that flourishes along beaches.

"It had a Las Olas flair to it," he said. "It had some intelligence to it--not just four-letter words in your face."

"Had," because he's gotten an eviction notice. Across from his shop is Mark's Las Olas, a terrific (and expensive) restaurant with a growing national reputation. Success lures money--and prices out people like Miles, who had helped keep Las Olas breathing through the comatose years.

"People from all over the country are approaching landlords to build restaurants," said Miles. One approached his landlord. The rest, as his shop soon will be, is history.

Sometimes, adjustment is impossible.

"I can't afford to pay $200,000 (upfront) to get a three-year lease," he said, "so we have to get out after 14 years. Progress."

But the progress that's pushing out Miles also created an enchanting garden Riverwalk that extends from Las Olas along the New River and to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art and the Museum of Discovery and Science (with its IMAX Theater, courtesy of locally based Blockbuster).

They weren't there when Miles got started. Neither was the Convention Center, and neither, at least in their current manifestations, were the Port Everglades cruise terminal and Ft. Lauderdale International Airport; combined, they funnel thousands of visitors into topline hotels--which, in turn, have funneled millions of dollars into upgrades.

It's all paying off.

In 1985, according to Mason, Ft. Lauderdale had 2 million visitors who poured $1 billion into the economy.

"Now," she said, "we have 5 million visitors spending $3 billion."

Yes, she said, some businesses were hurt. Others, and the region as an entity, have prospered.

What the town can't entirely shake, try as it does, is the old image.

"Convention centers and spring break don't go together," said Mason. "It still hampers our marketing."

"There's still people who come down here for spring break," said Bob Dees, director of sales and marketing for the landmark Hyatt Regency Pier 66, "but it's no longer the main thrust of what comes to Ft. Lauderdale. The same people who were here 20 years ago are coming back--but for totally different reasons: the golf, fishing, diving, bringing their families to see the beaches."

And when they've had enough of all that, and of all the museums and historic houses and things to see and do in town, there's stuff away from the central city and the beaches.

Everglades Holiday Park is about a half-hour's drive west of Las Olas Boulevard. There, airboats propel visitors into a different kind of waterworld (and, as a bonus of sorts, onto an island for a brief exhibition of alligator rasslin').

The Swap Shop, north and west of downtown, is actually a sprawling outdoor flea and farmer's market that insists it's Florida's most popular non-Disney attraction. It goes on forever. Vendors sell everything from bananas to actual cars. If that doesn't grab you, there's an adjacent kiddieland. And a food court. And a free circus. Which seems redundant.

Davie, on the edge of the Everglades, is cowboy country. Really. Rodeos most weekends, some amateur, some professional.

Flamingo Gardens and Butterfly World let you see things that fly and/or metamorphose.

Not the kind of attractions that lure beer-guzzling interior linemen. Which is no accident.

"College students are welcome here, but not if they're looking to be with 400,000 of their closest friends," Mason said. "This is not `party central' anymore."

Nor is the party entirely over. The resident moms and dads didn't vote Ft. Lauderdale nonalcoholic and celibate. The bars are there. They're listed on T-shirts: the Bermuda Triangle, Parrot, Baja Beach Club, lots more. Kids looking for that will still find it here--which helps explain their continued presence, along with a certain mystique.

"When you tell older people that's where you're going," said Michelle Zadonia, 21, a senior at Central Michigan, "it's `That was the big place when we were in college.' " Added friend Emily Youse, also 21: "I was curious to see what was down here."

A little lingering hostility, it turns out.

"A man just told me they didn't want us here," said Kara Etzlar, 22, from Ball State. "He said he hates all spring breakers and tourists. I don't care what they think. They shouldn't live here if they don't want to deal with us."

Most of them--like the Elbo Room's Mike Penrod--are dealing with them, and with the realities of 1996.

"I'm actually putting up a live site on the Internet," said Penrod, who has never seen the movie that made his establishment an icon. "We're going to have a live `Elbo Room Cam.'

"We're going to be a cyberbar!"

Where the bytes are. Groovy.

DETAILS ON FT. LAUDERDALE

Getting there: Southwest Airlines recently was offering a $198 round-trip fare between Chicago Midway and Ft. Lauderdale (all fares subject to change); American Trans Air had a fare, also out of Midway and also with restrictions, of $216. American, Continental, Delta, United and other airlines were offering a less-restrictive $256 fare out of O'Hare. In general, fares between Chicago and Miami, less than an hour's drive south of Ft. Lauderdale, have been identical--but flexibility sometimes pays off; if you expect to visit both cities, or see the Keys, it's usually possible to fly into one city and out the other at no additional fare.

Accommodations: There are 27,000 hotel and motel rooms in Greater Ft. Lauderdale, but things can be tight into April, when "the season" ends. Until then, arriving without a reservation can be risky. The chains are well-represented on the water, either the Atlantic or the Intracoastal Waterway. The bargains, if chosen with care, are the "mom and pop" motels (most with pools) a block or two off the beach, where nice rooms with kitchens can be had for $75 to $90 in season, maybe half that in the off-season.

Getting around: There are buses ($1) and taxis, and some hotel-sponsored shuttles, but most everybody drives. Fun alternative: water taxis. Not cheap ($7 per person one way, $12 round trip anywhere on the route), but a relaxed way to reach that waterfront restaurant while seeing the city's yacht fleet and lovely canal homes up-close.

Dining: Fresh seafood rules, but the variety of regional and ethnic restaurants continues to expand. A taste of Greater Ft. Lauderdale (either sampled by the author or recommended by people he trusts): Mark's on Las Olas, 15th Street Fisheries, Evangeline (creole/cajun), East City Grill, Armadillo Cafe (southwestern), Sea Watch, Cafe Maxx, Bahia Cabana, Old Florida Seafood House, Ernie's Bar-B-Que, Canyon (southwestern) and Cafe Maxx (California style)--plus local institutions Mai-Kai (Polynesian, with a classic show) and the Jungle Queen (a shrimp and barbecue dinner cruise).

More on Ft. Lauderdale: Write or call the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1850 Eller Dr., Suite 303, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. 33316; 800-227-8669 or 954-765-4466.

Illustration

PHOTOS 8; Caption: PHOTOS (color): Signs of the times: With the help of a crackdown on offensive behavior and a batch of ads (top of page) contrasting the ``Was'' of student-break days with the more romantic ``Is'' of today, the glorious beaches of Ft. Lauderdale now have elbow room -- and the Elbo Room (inset) -- for a gentler clientele. PHOTO: Ft. Lauderdale Beach is where the regulations are--along with clean sand and remnant clusters of spring breakers. PHOTO: Jacob Pitawanakwat puts a snout-hold on an alligator during an Everglades demonstration. PHOTO: West of the beachfront, canals line with gracious homes and dazzling yachts turn the city into ``The Venice of America.'' PHOTO: The Elbo Room and beach endure, but the spring break madness is gone. PHOTO: No longer a dying commercial strip, downtown's stylish Las Olas Boulevard has regained its glory years. Tribune photos by Alan Solomon.

Abstract (Document Summary)

At Las Olas and Atlantic Boulevards, irresistibly cute Jim Hutton (looking eerily like Jim Carrey, as yet unborn) clumsily tried to seduce semi-resistant and tall Paula Prentiss at a dimly lit bar called the Elbo Room.

It was about spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. So is this story. It's a different story, just as Lauderdale is an incredibly different place--but back to the movie.

"The city decided no longer are wild, wacky, drink-till-you-drop students welcome here," said Francine Mason, vice president of the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There were a lot of arrests made, and word spread from that point on."

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