Written by Marie Speed and a handy band of witty COVID-slaying pirates
It was the best of times and the worst of times. But mostly the worst of times. Delray Beach endured 2020—and triumphed—but it’s still going to be some time before life is back to normal and all is right with the world. In the meantime, we take a look at all the things that happened during our Big Sleep, and all the ways what is emerging now is a New Delray, rebooted and thriving as we move through 2021.
Food & Drink
The Sundy House welcomes a new day under new management at the reinvented restaurant Taru, which is luring people back to the garden (home to the oldest royal poinciana tree in Palm Beach County) as the song says, with elevated yet accessible cuisine and a comforting Sunday brunch—in the city’s most lush tropical oasis.
THE SECOND COMING
The Oceanside Grocery (the O.G.), which was really a trendy bar that pretty much outgrew its capacity, rises from the ashes as the Oceanside Gardens and teams up with Miami’s popular Tequiza taco place. But have no fear—those cocktail infusions will still be on hand.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Lionfish comes roaring in, with a chic interior, a sumptuous menu heavy on sustainable seafood, and a business model that ratchets up the Delray dining experience. Don’t overlook the Message in a Bottle Sundae.
COMFORT FOOD THAT NEVER FAILED US
As we emerge from the longest year on record, we must give credit where credit is due, and pay homage to the comfort foods that got us by those dark and isolated days of takeout and tequila. Here’s what you loved: BurgerFi fries; Screamin’ Reels IPA brews from Saltwater Brewery; pizza from Pizza Rustica; hand-cut spaghetti from Driftwood; mushroom arancini from Rose’s Daughter; chicken pot pie from Flybird; chicken tikka masala from anywhere.
BEST BUZZY DEVELOPMENT
Before it even opened, Delray Beach Market had already generated a big buzz in the regional food world, including a cameo on the national NBC Nightly News. With a dazzling space and 26 innovative vendors (and counting!), it’s already being touted as a game-changer downtown. Not that we needed one, but no one is complaining.
In the City
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
In a year when nothing happened, it turns out a whole lot happened. Here are our short takes:
The notorious political dysfunction of Delray is officially certified when the Delray Beach City Commission fires the eighth city manager in eight years—George Gretsas—in a 3-2 vote this past November. This follows the mass exodus of many top city staff members over the last several years and leaves “the most fun small town in America” wondering what went so bigly wrong—and how it can get it together again.
Every other New Yorker—and a swarm of New Jersey people—decided to move to Palm Beach County while you were happily binging on “Bridgerton” in late February. No one knows exactly what prompted this instant herd migration, but we know they are buying up every single-family house in sight, and asking if alligators really climb fences and where they can find “real” New York pizza.
Delray Beach faces a fine of nearly $3 million from the Florida Department of Health for violations related to the city’s reclaimed water system for problems dating back 13 years. The most recent snafu involved a cross-connection between reclaimed water pipes and drinking water pipes on the barrier island, and a failure to warn residents, among other revelations—like not cleaning the water tanks in years. Although problems have been corrected, and officials say the water is safe to drink, many residents aren’t buying it.
Big news for Pineapple Grove—which was hurt badly by fallout from the COVID pandemic—with the summer opening of The Ray, a trendy boutique hotel that is part of Hilton’s “Curio Collection,” and will feature a glam rooftop bar, a few restaurants (including fine dining) and more. And while The Ray was coming out of the ground, the old Marriott down by the ocean was transformed into The Opal (see below), a contemporary beachside hotel that is arguably Delray’s most impressive now.
The Delray Marriott undergoes a dramatic transformation from a faded Mediterranean motif to the bright and airy Opal Grand, a dazzling light-filled resort hotel with a sexy bar and oceanfront vibe.
The three-block west Atlantic Avenue cluster identified in 2013 that was to become transformational for West Atlantic redevelopment has already been through two developers and one stalled plan after another.
Fabrick, as it has most recently been called, is presently in limbo as the most recent developer, BH3, sues the city for breach of contract. The improvement and rebirth of West Delray is dead in the water. Again.
People are talking about aid to the schools, and some groups are trying to come together to tackle what has always been a nagging problem in Delray’s city profile. It’s an issue that needs leadership—and fast.
And when will we get back to civility on the city commission dais? What will restore civil discourse and leadership in Delray Beach?
SUNDY STATE OF MIND
Sundy Village will break ground, and people are crossing their fingers the development will keep its promise to have a historic feel when it’s finished.
Atlantic Crossing is going up. The development is billed by boosters as a missing link in extending Downtown to the beach; others are dreading congestion and gridlock when it’s finished. Time will tell.
After a bruising number of vacancies in 2020, Delray Marketplace starts filing up again, with some new restaurants and renewed life in 2021. A great alternative to the downtown crunch.
The Delray Chamber picks up steam under the direction of Stephanie Immelman, who says she “pulled together a dream team staff of all women in 2020” and revved up the chamber’s outreach, including “Delray Morning Live,” free Lunch & Learn webinars and “taking the First Friday Forum for Government Affairs online via Zoom and quadrupling our audience.” The Chamber gained momentum this year, honoring its hometown heroes, luring marquee speakers to its Zoom meetings and becoming a Delray player again.
Laura Simon, head of the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority, works hard all year to keep downtown together, initiates an outdoor dining venue at Old School Square’s east lawn and works hard with the city to promote downtown business—including the successful reimagining and reboot of Savor the Avenue in April.
In the rising political stars category, former civil engineer Rob Long, chair of the Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation District, ignites a scuffle with Mayor Petrolia when he sends an email saying he was “appalled” by Delray Beach’s response to the “alarming discovery” of cancer-causing chemicals—known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—in the city’s water supply, suggesting that the mayor “downplayed the severity of the problem.” The mayor calls for his removal from the board; he prevails. Is this a foreshadowing of a new political face in Delray? We shall see.
Former Trumpette and wife of state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, Tracy Caruso, challenges Mayor Petrolia in the March 9 municipal election, and narrowly loses, after raising unprecedented funds for her war chest, including significant amounts from political action committees. This won’t be the last we see of her.
Tennille DeCoste, Delray’s former human resources director, with a background including assistant director of parks and recreation, also files for the mayoral race, but drops out early to let Petrolia and Caruso slug it out. We think she’ll be back.
SOME THINGS THAT NEVER CHANGE
- The French Bakery is an indulgence we can’t believe we ever lived without.
- Seeing The Kite Man’s kites high above the beach on a breezy day never gets old.
- A beachside bonus: Drinks on the porch of the Seagate Hotel.
- A cafecito at Cabana Delray is still an Avenue must-stop.
- The Delray Newsstand. And we treasure it.
- Bedner’s still has the best corn in town.
- The Delray Auto Center still delivers.
- The Delray GreenMarket is the best thing on Saturday mornings since cartoons.
- Library whodunit feature: Murder on the Beach makes the Library even more like home.
- Brenda’s Birds is still in fine feather.
- We love Delray’s small-town vibe with big-time fun: golf carts as transportation, holiday boat parade, tree lighting, dog park, Colony Porch Bar, newsstand, Witches’ Ride and full-on political wars over trimming sea grapes on the beach.
- City Oyster’s bottomless Bloodies during brunch are still a weekend treat.
FEVER DREAMS: POST-COVID RUMINATIONS
Things We Will Miss About COVID
- Sweatpants for work
- A tank of gas that lasts three weeks.
- No events, luncheons, blacktie dinners or Monday staff meetings.
- Social distancing. We loved it.
- No bar tabs.
Trends we hope will continue
- Grocery delivery
- To-go cocktails
- Curbside delivery. For everything.
- Checking in on old friends; Zoom reunions
- Working from home some days
- Outdoor dining
Things we hope never come back
- High heels
- The elbow bump
- Virtual concerts
- Close talkers
- Falafel Time
- Kasai & Koori
- Andre Dupree
- The Ray
- Hawkers Asian
- Street Fare restaurant
- End of the Ave. restaurant
- Downtown Roots – salon/florist
- Ceasar’s Ribs restaurant
- Studio 404 restaurant
- International Material
- Vintage Tess gifts
- Delray Beach Market
- Avalon restaurant
- Amar restaurant
- Lionfish restaurant
- OG restaurant/bar
- Shining Through
- Real Poke
- Biba retail
- Vince Canning shoes
- Fresh Produce clothing
- Coton Frais, pop up
- Conte’s Deli market
- Ramona LaRue
- Banyan restaurant
- Buddha Sky Bar restaurant
SUMMER BONUS: GETAWAYS CLOSE TO HOME
ISLAND IN THE STREAM
Hilton @ Resorts World Bimini, a short plane hop or boat trip away, is sleek, young and jumping—and only a short golf cart ride from the conch stands and village of Bimini proper. Enjoy the hotel pool with its swim-up bar, The Tides restaurant (but there are a few other options) and the Beach Club on the ocean. It’s true; it’s better in the Bahamas.
THE GREAT SEAGATE
Seagate Hotel & Spa has it all—and it’s right here in Delray. You’ve got the main hotel and spa only a short walk to the beach with the well-regarded Atlantic Grill for fine dining and a bustling bar and outdoor terrace; the Seagate Beach Club with its oceanfront charm, water sports and cabana rentals; and the Seagate Country Club for golf and tennis people. This resort has everything—and it’s right here. 1000 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, 561/665-4800.
Crane’s Beach House is Delray’s backyard oasis, a locally beloved and lush tropical getaway with a popular tiki bar—a location close to the beach (and downtown!) and a hometown favorite for both locals and visitors. Here’s how to stay home and feel like you’re in the islands. Only better. 82 Gleason St., Delray Beach, 866/372-7263.
The Keys. Where do we start? This is the time of year Florida people hit the keys. It’s cheaper, there are fewer people, and you might be able to sneak into Key West before those behemoth cruise ships crash the party again. We still like very modest mom-and-pop places like the Island Bay Resort or Sunset Cove Cottages in Key Largo or the Kon-Tiki, the Islander, the Postcard Inn in Islamorada. But you sort of can’t go wrong up and down the island chain. We’re still a sucker for the old Eden House in Key West, but if you want fancy, there is always Sunset Key.
Captiva-Sanibel. This stretch of islands off the Southwest coast of Florida offers much down-to-earth fun, from hiking and birding to angling and kayaking. Sanibel’s crown jewel is the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a 5,200-acre attraction with four walking trails, saltwater fishing, kayaking, canoeing, standup paddle-boarding and cruises with a Coast Guard-licensed captain and naturalist; some 240-plus bird species alight here. Stay at Captiva’s South Seas Island Resort (5400 Plantation Road), nestled within a 330-acre wildlife preserve, and the pinnacle of luxury hospitality on the islands.