“What happened to my jukebox?” It was after midnight and I was in the Sail Inn, a dive bar in Delray Beach, Florida, a town south of Palm Beach. In my early twenties, I was director of corporate communications for a resort company in the Caribbean that had a corporate office near Delray, so it was a natural base for me. That was the mid-nineties. I recently went back to forage through an old storage unit I had kept full of vintage inspiration.
In 1996, I lived in a beach bungalow across from the Atlantic Ocean for under a thousand dollars a month. Mid-century modern houses lined the streets and Delray was home to one great restaurant, a dodgy blues club, an English pub, a diner and the above-mentioned dive bar. This was old school Florida, and it struck a balance with my Caribbean life, European business jaunts and New York media junkets. I remember flying to Seattle to visit my brother and bringing back Starbucks coffee beans because we didn’t have one in my town (one subsequently opened there and I met one of my favorite boyfriends one Easter Sunday reading the New York Times).
On this recent trip, I stayed at Delray Sands, a beachfront four-star hotel that still carried some of those classic Floridian elements. My suite was twice the size of my old beach bungalow, and along with it came a giant soaking tub, terrace and the best-ever room service lobster roll from the hotel’s restaurant, Latitudes, a beachfront raw bar and grill.
One of the beachfront suites at Delray Sands. Photo courtesy Delray Sands.
Once I left the hotel, I drove down Atlantic Avenue, Delray’s main street and the epicenter of commercial activity for the town. Where my favorite diner had been, new condos were being built. A BCBG had been added, and an Urban Outfitters. What the? My tiny, charming Florida “village by the sea” as was the town slogan, was now a bustling suburb of sorts. While I was unsure if these changes suited me, the packed shops, diverse dining options and slews of bars told me that the economic development of this Floridian town was going in the right direction. I had the chance to meet the head of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and their marketing team. These people knew what they were doing and they were doing it well.
For dinner, I went back to 32 East, my favorite restaurant that is thankfully still the culinary anchor of Atlantic Avenue. While some of the faces behind the bar have changed, the food is still the best in town. I re-connected with some old friends over pan-seared New England scallops, crispy brussels sprouts and their signature flatbread pizzas.
Photo courtesy 32 East
After closing 32 East (that's easy to do here as the town dined early), we hopped in an Uber and went off to the Sail Inn. This was a bar where, back in the day, you would have to bring your own booze since the well liquor was so terrible. The mix of locals ranged from fishermen to bikers to industry folks after their shift, with a few tourists who were trying to blend in. That part hadn’t changed. Neither did the hook game, which is still on the wall. What did change was the mid-century jukebox that I’d feed quarters into late into the night. Now, it was a digital monster with bright lights and fueled with reality show one-hit-wonders.
While Delray had grown up in its own right, I had too, and it was time to move on. So I fed a twenty into the machine to jump the queue and championed the hook game while Bowie belted out "Changes" on repeat.
VISIT: Delray Beach, recently voted "Most Fun Small Town in America" by Rand McNally and USA Today.
STAY: Delray Sands