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Lonely Planet Writer

Beyond the boats and beaches: Fort Lauderdale's artsy edge

It’s easy to be swept away by Fort Lauderdale’s white sand beaches and the timeless glitz of Las Olas Boulevard. But, beyond the staples that have made the South Florida city a vacation haven and proven Spring Break spectacle, a new hip, colorful and creative side is quickly emerging. And, just like a sunny day at the beach, it shouldn’t be missed.

A colorful mural adorns a large wall. It depicts a man with a British flag tie with Big Ben next to him on the left and a man in a Hawaiian shirt and holding a beer is in the centre of the image. Various other images of Fort Lauderdale are included.
Fort Lauderdale's FATVillage is a colorful spectacle © Jesse Scott

FAT times in Flagler Village

Miami – Fort Lauderdale’s bustling southern neighbor – has Wynwood, a graffiti-clad, urban utopia loaded with apparel boutiques, rock bars and contemporary art galleries. In Fort Lauderdale, Flagler Village is well on its way to becoming the next Wynwood, if not distinctly cooler.

The booming neighborhood is located west of US-1 (locally known as Federal Highway), bordered by Sunrise Boulevard to the north and Northeast 4th Street to the south. While a number of craft breweries have laid ground in recent times – like Invasive Species, Flagler Village Brewery inside the Brass Tap, and American Icon Brewery Kitchen & Taproom – it’s an artsy buzz that keeps Flagler Village going around the clock, too.

At the industrial neighborhood’s core is the FATVillage Arts District (standing for Flagler.Arts.Technology), a warehouse-filled stretch of art galleries, Henry’s Sandwich Station, and the ever-bustling BREW Urban Café. By day, laptop warriors, well-behaved pups and locals own the Instagram-worthy BREW space, enjoying locally-roasted Wells Coffee and friendly company. At night, the space boasts live music, poetry readings and movie showings, among other weekly happenings.

To experience the best of Flagler Village and the FATVillage Arts District, there is an ArtWalk on the last Saturday of each month. For the ArtWalk, galleries and businesses open their unique spaces to the public, complemented by local artisans, live tunes, food trucks and cold beer vendors lining the streets.

A mural of David Bowie and Mick Jagger in pink, grey and purple shades covers a wall next to a small boutique.
David Bowie and Mick Jagger have a home in the artsy MASS District © Jesse Scott

The MASS district: Music and Arts South of Sunrise

A stone’s throw north of FATVillage, and still within the broader Flagler Village neighborhood, is the MASS District (standing for Music & Arts South of Sunrise).

Glitch Bar is a can’t-miss within this easy-to-stroll, creative cluster of shops, art galleries and food establishments. The bar-arcade spot has a large selection of totally free video games (Skeeball, pinball and Nintendo 64, among others), craft brews and signature cocktails (like the Player 1: Old Fashioned with bourbon, chocolate bitters, a Luxardo cherry and orange peel). If you’ve never played the Killer Queen team-driven video game, it’s definitely the main attraction here and is worth a try – you’ll probably end up wanting to play all night long.

Beyond Flagler Village’s primary, artsy hubs, there is much to explore in between. Additional highlights include Chops + Hops (an axe-throwing bar that opened last year), Circle House Coffee (owned and operated by former Miami Dolphins linebacker Stephen Tulloch) and 27 Bar & Lounge, which pays homage to celebrities in the '27 Club' (those who passed away at the age of 27, like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse) via themed cocktails and a cozy menu.

A side view of a jazz singer on the stage at NYSW Jazz Lounge. A perspex roof covers the stage and seating area next to it as patrons drink and enjoy the music. The wall next to them is covered in graffiti.
NYSW Jazz Lounge attracts some of the area's top talent for intimate shows © Jesse Scott

Brews and music in Middle River

Outside of Flagler Village, pockets of creativity are popping up and thriving throughout the city. Among them, the area known as Middle River has become a bit of a hotspot with Tarpon River Brewing (from the owners of locally beloved, craft-beer haven Riverside Market), Grind Coffee Project and NYSW Jazz Lounge as its primary anchors. For memorable tunes, NYSW has live jazz music five nights a week, showcasing the area’s best talent in a cozy, unpretentious club atmosphere.

An interior shot of the bar with a wall covered in shelves of liquor, glasses, t-shirts, a beer menu and various items of taxidermy.
Invasive Species Brewing opened in Flagler Uptown in 2017 © Jesse Scott

Getting there

South Florida’s sparkling inter-city rail system, Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline), connects West Palm Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Its Fort Lauderdale station is located centrally downtown and is a perfect starting point for a ride (or scooter!) to all the city has to offer.

For lodging with a flair, The Dalmar boasts a modern-meets-mid-century vibe and has 209 stylish guestrooms and 33 suites. Its 25th floor rooftop bar, Sparrow, opened in May and offers panoramic views of the Fort Lauderdale skyline, greenery galore and a massive, colorful mural from local artist Amauri Torezan. Its 6th floor infinity pool and deck are also a great option for a swim and soaking up the rays, especially when you don’t want to battle possible crowds at the beach.

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