By AARON WORMUS
Palms West Monthly
Posted March 30, 2020
Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, something exciting was happening on the 500 block of Clematis Street. Something that Rodney Mayo and Maurice Costigan were planning for a few years.
Rodney is the founder of Subculture Group. It started with Respectable Street Cafe on the 500 block of Clematis street and now includes 16 restaurants from South Beach to Jupiter. If you’ve ever spent time on Clematis Street, you most likely have eaten or danced at one of his establishments. Hullabaloo, Kapow!, Lost Weekend, Voltaire, Camelot, Subculture Coffee and, most recently, Sassafras.
Maurice and his wife Rachel are the long-time owners of O’Shea’s Pub.
All three, along with their hard-working team, have produced events such as Moonfest and other concepts that make the 500 block of Clematis Street the place to be.
Their newest project was called “500 BLK.” The idea was simple – close the street to vehicular traffic from 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday night.
With cars off the street, there’s more space for people. Restaurants moved seating into the streets, games were put out. Vendors sold arts and crafts, and there was lots of music. Always lots of music.
I went three weekends in a row and loved it. The chill ambiance pulled me in. Whether you came with friends or by yourself, you could sit, enjoy music, play a game of chess, grab a slice of pizza or enjoy food from any of the local restaurants.
Where did the idea of 500 BLK come from?
“The idea was a bit of an experiment to see how the block would look pedestrianized,” says Maurice. “We wanted to do it before the streetscape happened on the block. The idea being that we could create an atmosphere down here and improve the quality of living in the downtown area. We thought it would be good for business. And to be honest with you, it has been all of that.”
The idea was hatched by Rodney three years ago, and after a lot of work and negotiation with the city it became a reality this year. The city and the Downtown Development Authority agreed to contribute to the costs of closing down the 500 block to vehicular traffic every weekend from January through March.
Each weekend was themed. A visit to 500blk.com gave the dates for “Friday Night Market,” “Yoga @ Sunset,” “Country Music Night,” “Latin Night Fiesta” and “Doggy Brunch Sundays.”
“Stars of Karaoke” offered contestants a chance to impress friends and compete for a $1,000 cash prize. We also enjoyed “Mardi Gras Night,” “Burn Up Bike Night,” “RAINBOWpalooza” and “Pride on the BLK.”
To add to the excitement, the DDA sponsored an interactive art installation called Impulse, which consisted of 13 seesaws that projected light and sound as the seesaws were in motion. This brought children, families and couples to the empty lot at 512 Clematis St.
“It all spread by word of mouth, and each weekend was busier than the previous weekend,” says Maurice. “They were coming from all around.”
Maurice continues, “The idea was that the word would spread to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. They’d come on the Brightline. Just step off the train and we’re right here. I enjoyed seeing who would turn up. During the day you had everyone. Punks with mohawks and grandads with their grandkids. It’s fantastic. It was better than I had ever hoped for.”
There were also hugely popular pingpong tables used for highly competitive and casual play, from the start of the evening until closing time at 4 a.m.
The 500 BLK party was scheduled to shut down at the end of March when construction was set to bring Clematis Streetscape to the 400 and 500 blocks. Construction work will be complete in time for the holidays.
Although we’re now dealing with the coronavirus, and construction is about to ramp up, I’m confident the 500 Block of Clematis Street will return and have something for everyone.
In the meantime, here’s hoping everyone remains safe during these trying times.
Pictured above: From January to mid-March, visitors flocked to the 500 block of Clematis Street on weekends to take advantage of street closures and lots of planned activities, from Doggy Brunch Sundays to Yoga @ Sunset. Photo by Aaron Wormus/Palms West Monthly