By AARON WORMUS
Palms West Monthly
Posted Dec. 3, 2019
In November, after five months, thousands of man-hours of work and tens of thousands of brand new pavers costing millions of dollars, the 200 block of Clematis Street finally opened to traffic.
This milestone marks the completion of the second phase of the Clematis Streetscape project. The project kicked off in May 2018 with the redesign of the 300 block. The 100 block will be completed by the end of December, and in 2020 we will bring the entire project to completion when the 400 and 500 blocks are finished.
The City of West Palm Beach’s website highlights this quote: “Great streets are rarely unintended. Most are the result of intentional design decisions made by visionary people, institutions, or communities.” The City focused on an intentional design by hiring the biggest names in urban street design – Dover, Kohl and Partners – to do the job.
The design team focused on three things:
• Expanding the sidewalks to prioritize space for people;
• Narrowing the traffic lanes to slow down traffic;
• Installing a curbless road design. Removing the curbs puts the street and the sidewalk at the same height, giving the street a plaza-like feel.
During construction, the aging stormwater infrastructure was replaced, mature trees were planted, the former asphalt road was re-engineered with high-quality pavers and the intersection of Clematis Street and Olive Avenue now sports a beautifully-designed Clematis flower laid into the pavers.
Speaking at the grand opening of the 200 block, West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James shared his thoughts on the street.
“I believe there is much more vibrancy and energy which will bring back economic prosperity for the merchants on this block,” he said. “All this translates to a lively downtown and a more modern Clematis Street.”
With this crucial segment of the most important street in the city complete, the big question is will the promised economic prosperity follow?
As I walk down the 200 block, I already see businesses taking full advantage of the new big sidewalks. As soon as the 200 block opened, Duffy’s put extra tables outside. Next door, Batch Southern Kitchen ordered brand new lounge furniture to provide their patrons with a laid-back atmosphere to sip one of their delicious cocktails.
Across the street, Rocco’s Tacos has another row of tables, plus some high-tops for those who prefer their fresh guacamole served street-side.
Lynora’s is expanding its Italian theme with cute cafeteria tables outside, setting up big, beautiful white umbrellas to protect diners from the sun. Grease has followed suit with its servers bringing their burgers and drinks to more outside tables.
In the new American Craft Aleworks on the corner of Clematis Street and Narcissus Avenue, seating options wrap around the corner. It’s also solidifying plans to include an outside bar on Narcissus.
The completion of construction also has dove-tailed with the opening of two amazing new dining experiences: Sourbon at 215 Clematis St. and Sassafras at 105 S. Narcissus Ave.
Sourbon must be experienced. The first thing you notice when you enter is the plant-and-flower-filled dining area – which immediately makes diners feel like they’re in a private garden. The menu, from chef Richard Leadbetter, draws inspiration from global destinations and incorporates locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible.
The Soubon kitchen serves both lunch and dinner crowds and its well-stocked bar will whip you up a delightful craft cocktail.
Hidden upstairs, you’ll still find what locals refer to as “The Speakeasy.” This secret late-night spot kept the party going (access through the alley) while the restaurant was making the transformation from Dorrian’s to Sourbon.
Around the corner on Narcissus Avenue, legendary local restaurateur Rodney Mayo quietly opened up Sassafras. This high-end Southern-themed spot has a menu that is as straightforward as its clean decor.
The supper menu includes pink shrimp + Geechie boy grits, local fish, double cheese burger, baby back ribs, fried chicken and the butcher’s cut. Entrées range from $16 to $21.
The veggies menu drops some pretty big names from local independent farms in its Swank Farm Roots + lettuce and the Kai Kai carrots. And since you’re at a southern restaurant, you can’t skip the fried green tomatoes + Burrata.
Sassafras is open only for dinner and has a special five-course chef’s choice tasting menu for $65. With the beverage pairing, it’s $95.
There’s a buzz and a lot of excitement around Clematis Street for this season. The GreenMarket is back, Clematis by Night is playing our favorite tunes every Thursday, Palm Beach Dramaworks is featuring truly great theater and the city is lining up some “signature events” which will highlight the new work on Clematis Street.
All we have to do is show up and enjoy it.
I can’t wait for you to try Sassafras, Sourbon and all of our other favorite restaurants on the 200 block. Take an evening to enjoy Clematis Street. Simply sit outside and watch the world go by.
Pictured above: Visitors to downtown West Palm Beach make use of the recently-expanded sidewalks on the 200 block of Clematis Street as they dine street-side at Rocco’s Tacos. Photo by Robert Harris/Palms West Monthly