October 7, 2015
Established as a commercial district for Palm Beach County in the 1890s, Clematis Street is now the cultural heart of Downtown West Palm Beach. Filled with restaurants, bars, boutiques and bookstores, not to forget the art galleries and antique shops, the street stretches all the way from Rosemary Street to South Flagler Street, encompassing the West Palm Beach Waterfront and three public docks on the Intracoastal Waterway.
It was all the way back in 1893 that Henry M. Flagler developed the East Coast Railroad here, believing that the area would make a terrific counterpart – a ‘worker city’ – to the more glamorous Palm Beach across the water. He named the roads after the exotic flowers and trees that surrounded him, of which the east-west streets included Clematis. Along with Banyan and Narcissus, Clematis Street became the storefront-and-saloon centre of town, and was so notorious that it became the focus of Prohibitionists.
In time, the street became more pedestrian-friendly: travel was slowed and oaks and palm trees were planted. Then, in the mid-nineties, a law was passed ensuring all the historic buildings would be preserved. The new Mandel Public Library and city hall complex were then added, followed by the Waterfront park and pavilion.
Throughout all of this change, Clematis Street never stopped attracting visitors. In fact, nearly 80,000 people stroll down Clematis by day or night each week. One of the boutiques in which they linger, the luxury home goods store Pioneer Linens, is almost as old as the district itself, having opened in 1912, and while Palm Beach Dramaworks may only have been open a couple of decades, location-wise it has a century of history.
Clematis Street is a joy to browse during the day, bumping in and out of places like the independent and specialty Liberty Bookstore, fine glass and sculpture centre Habatat Galleries and furniture and design store Authentic Provence. Take the free Molly’s Trolleys Yellow Line route or the 75-minute Diva Duck Amphibious Tours from City Centre down Clematis Street first, to get the lay of the land. The latter starts on land before motoring up and down the Intracoastal for a historic tour of the region. You’ll also pass Centennial Square and Fountain Park, where the interactive fountain beckons children (and the young at heart) to play.
Just beyond Centennial Square, the Meyer Amphitheatre and the West Palm Beach Waterfront is where Clematis by Night, a weekly Thursday night street party with food, art, music and children’s activities, now takes place. This is also where visitors can find the West Palm Beach GreenMarket; the live, family-friendly concerts, Sunday on the Waterfront, on the third Sunday of every month; Screen on the Green outdoor movies showing the second Friday of every month; and Sandi Land, a holiday-themed month of tropically flavoured activities.
Nearby, you’ll find the Waterfront’s three new public docks where dockage is free for non-commercial watercraft. The middle dock is also known as the pedestrian dock, and features native plants, underwater ecosystems and shaded seating for impromptu picnics.
Finally, the multi-day concert event SunFest is held along Flagler Drive, which edges the Intracoastal Waterway. The festival, which offers both day and evening shows, stretches from Banyan Boulevard to Lakeview Avenue, and also includes an arts show and fireworks.
In addition to all the outdoor events, Clematis Street is known for its broad array of restaurants. Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar is a particular favourite with the thirty-something, singles crowd; Bar Louie is a happy hour favourite; and Blue Martini West Palm Beach is an upscale after-dinner hangout. For casual, filling fare before the party, Grease Burger Beer & Whiskey Bar, Pizza Girls and Roxy’s Pub all fit the bill. For finer food, Pistache Restaurant features French bistro fare that has garnered rave reviews from just about every critic in town.
As for nightlife, whether you’re looking to take a class at Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy or settle in with a shisha at Off the Hookah, you’re likely to be kept busy. Nearly every venue also offers entertainment, so if you plan on hitting World of Beer followed by Respectable Street and Pawn Shop Lounge West Palm Beach, well, there are probably a few flights you can miss that way. Then again, maybe you won’t want to go.
Header image © Discover the Palm Beaches Florida
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Have you been to Clematis Street? Which are your favourite places to go in the neighbourhood? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Jen Karetnick