Warehouse District: How West Palm Beach’s newest nightlife village found suds, spirits and ‘soul’June 6, 2019
When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico last summer, Richard Santiago and his family toiled in the swelter of a powerless apartment for weeks as mosquitoes swarmed their flooded home. Santiago’s art studio “looked like a river,” he recalls.
After evacuating, they found safety in West Palm Beach’s Flamingo Park neighborhood, across the train tracks from the city’s newest foodie and nightlife hub: the West Palm Beach Warehouse District.
“It was traumatic for the kids, but we had to start over from scratch,” Santiago recalls over cortadito at Pumphouse Coffee Roasters, a slender corner café inside the Grandview Public Market food hall, the Warehouse District’s biggest and busiest attraction.
Since moving to West Palm Beach last September Santiago, a mural artist, and his wife, Angie Rosa, have treated Grandview as a second home, using free WiFi in the Living Room, the food hall’s public lounge. Rosa often takes 9-year-old Raxel and 7-year-old Kian to dine at Clare’s, a fried-chicken stall and one of 11 food vendors. Three times a week, Santiago sips half-priced beers at Grandview’s full-liquor bar during happy hour. “It’s really chill, not pretentious,” Rosa says. “What’s most important is the kids feel safer.”
Living next to a low-key industrial village brings back familiar comforts, says Santiago, an artist-in-residence at Armory Art Center, a gallery across the train tracks behind Grandview. “The warehouses remind us of the old Art Deco buildings in San Juan,” he says.
Welcome to the revival of the West Palm Beach Warehouse District. With its cluster of boxy, rundown warehouses a mile south of CityPlace, this industrial pocket hardly seems like the city’s newest entertainment hot spot. Two years ago, it was a no-man’s-land of apparel factories and industrial bakeries, scrap-hauling outfits and self-storage buildings stretching from I-95 east to the Palm Beach Convention Center.
Today, it’s an unlikely hipster haven, abuzz with craft-beer breweries, an alcohol distillery, a surfing museum and co-working spaces – all housed in past-their-prime warehouses dating back to 1925. The surrounding neighborhood? Think wall-to-wall industrial and grassless lots framed by barbed-wire fences.
“It’s the real grit of a working warehouse district,” says Carey O’Donnell, owner of a West Palm Beach marketing agency that consults with Asana Partners, the Charlotte, N.C., developer that has owned the Warehouse District since December. “The [District] is changing the game and expanding the cool, urban areas of the city, and exactly at the right time with our booming population.”
The District is in the midst of an urban makeover, young entrepreneurs and visitors say, drawing restaurateurs and beermakers lured by fresh paint, safer walkways and laidback vibes. Much of the nightlife has bloomed inside a six-building block of storefronts – bought in December by Asana Partners for $18.5 million – which is bordered by Blanche and Caroline streets and Clare and Elizabeth avenues near Old Okeechobee Road. On a recent Friday, 30-something couples sipped Box Car American Pale Ales inside Steam Horse Brewing, a locomotive-themed brewhouse. Next door, daytime browsers flipped through LPs at Rust & Wax, a record vendor at Elizabeth Ave. Station, an air-conditioned, color-splashed warehouse of 19 mini-shops.
Simply put, these warehouses have “soul,” says John Moore, general manager of Steel Tie Spirits, a distiller of 80-proof vodka, whiskey and rum libations down the block from Grandview. Opened in May, Steel Tie nods to the South Florida roots of owner-distiller Ben Etheridge and his late father, Cliff. Cliff’s great uncle, Elias Markham, was a railroad foreman who helped lay the District’s original track during the 1910s.
Because their business is young, close collaboration with nearby tasting rooms – Steam Horse, Grandview and Ookapow Brewing one block away – is crucial to survival, Moore says.
“We’ve started calling ourselves the Craft Corner,” Moore says. “At the District, everybody needs everybody and without us, there is no nightlife.”
Sharing that spirit of collaboration is Fran Andrewlevich, co-owner of the 6,000-square-foot Steam Horse (and two acclaimed breweries farther north), and an early adopter of the District when he signed a 10-year lease two years ago.
“We knew the District was coming up, even if the foot traffic was pretty thin at first,” Andrewlevich says. “I mean, it’s still a little thin. But there used to be nothing here – maybe a CrossFit gym – and now we have our own pulse. What’s missing now is residential.”
That’s about to change. Across the street, a fenced-off lot on Blanche will become the future home of District Flats, a four-story complex of 173 apartments and ground-floor retail, according to property records.
For the most part, the city of West Palm Beach has been “all-in” on steering visitors, mostly millennials, to the growing District, Andrewlevich says. Steam Horse, which opened last August, needed a $1 million investment to turn his empty space into a 10-barrel brewhouse and taproom, Andrewlevich says.
West Palm Beach, in return, gave $100,000 to Andrewlevich as a Building Improvement Grant for more upgrades, says Chris Roog, the city’s economic development director. “The city basically said, if you make an investment [in the District] up front, get your occupancy license and permits, we’ll give local businesses some breathing room,” he says.
It didn’t stop there. With help from the District’s original developer, Johnstone Capital Partners, the city kicked in $150,000 for a pedestrian walkway called the Railway, linking Grandview Public Market and the block occupied by Steam Horse and the Surfing Museum of Florida. The garden-lined path features a partially buried rail spur, which once carried fruit and vegetable barges coming from Everglades farms to the 1918 Municipal Market, where the Armory Art Center stands today.
West Palm Beach has embraced the District, even if it wasn’t their idea, Roog says.
“I wish the city could take credit for [the District] because it’s growing into West Palm’s next destination,” Roog says. “This will definitely become the city’s next big employment center. We’re still trying to enhance walkability, and hopefully more workforce housing comes in, and things will really take off.”
The Railway, for 27-year-old Kiara Castillo, is a plus for safety. But she says she “wouldn’t have been caught dead” walking this neighborhood two years ago.
“It’s still not that safe at night, but it’s more walkable,” says Castillo, slurping a lavender bubble tea from Sugar Milk, a new Grandview vendor selling Asian sweet treats. “I like the rough-street grittiness to it.”
Andrewlevich, for his part, hopes the industrial vibe stays intact, even if new residential apartments and other signs of gentrification temper its charm. The District needs a strong brand, not unlike similar food-and-drink hubs Rosemary Square (formerly CityPlace) and Clematis Street.
“Everything’s here – coffee, booze, food, beer – and it’s got a totally unique vibe, In two years, man, it’ll feel like a FAT Village,” he says, comparing the District to Fort Lauderdale’s arty warehouse row.
The Warehouse District in the pocket of industrial south of downtown West Palm Beach has surged in popularity over the past year. Following are six food-and-drink spots worth visiting.
Grandview Public Market
1401 Clare Ave., West Palm Beach; 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday; 561-323-4103 or GrandviewPublic.com
A sophisticated indoor food village, this 14,000-square-foot hub debuted in February 2018 as one of South Florida’s first food halls. Inside, there’s cuisine for every appetite, anchored by Clare’s Kitchen, a fried chicken stall. There is also El Cochinito, a café whose Cuban sandwich was recently crowned the best in the country at Tampa’s International Cuban Sandwich Festival; Locanta, a Mediterranean eatery; and Pumphouse Coffee, the first café from the Jupiter-based roaster. Sugar Milk, Poke Lab Eatery and the first West Palm Beach outpost of Ramen Lab Eatery round out the offerings. The food hall contains a lounge area, called the Living Room, and a patio repurposed from a loading dock.
Steam Horse Brewing Co.
1500 Elizabeth Ave., West Palm Beach; 1-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 1 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 1-11 p.m. Sunday; 561-623-0091 or SteamHorseBrewing.com
With its locomotive motifs and iron archways, this from owners Fran Andrewlevich and Matt Webster looks like a turn-of-the-century Grand Central Station -- with train-inspired beers to match. On tap: Box Car American pale ale, with notes of grapefruit, orange and pine; Golden Spike, a double India pale ale punched with tropical pineapple flavors; and Life on the Rind, a watermelon and lime kettle sour ale infused with vanilla bean.
Elizabeth Ave. Station
1500c Elizabeth Ave., West Palm Beach; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Monday; 561-318-8011 or TheStationWPB.com
Station owner Danielle Zelaya operates her design studio, Gather and Seek, along with managing handmade cards and rare records, candles and vintage radios, potted plants and hipster beard oils.
Steel Tie Spirits
1615 Clare Ave., Unit A, West Palm Beach; noon-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday; 561-623-0961 or SteelTieSpiritsCo.com
Founded by Ben Etheridge and his late father, Cliff, this craft distillery and tasting room specializes in vodka, gin, whiskey and its signature liquor, Black Coral Rum, made with black strap molasses. Hourlong distillery tours cost $15, and its tasting room features 1920s-era antique furniture and a gift shop. Fun fact: the distillation column of Etheridge’s 2,000-gallon still is made from the recycled metal of a rail spur salvaged from the Warehouse District.
Ookapow Brewing Company
1142 Old Okeechobee Road, West Palm Beach; 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 3-10 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 561-619-6188 or Ookapow.com
One block over from Grandview Public Market, Ookapow is a 1,600-square-foot nanobrewery from partners (and self-taught homebrewers) Jeff Singletary, Damian Ramos and Ron Karwoski. On tap: Peanut Butter Porter, a blueberry cream ale, a Wee Heavy Scotch ale and a s’mores-flavored porter.
Surfing Florida Museum
1400 Elizabeth Ave., West Palm Beach; 2-7 p.m. Thursday-Sunday; 561-601-6703 or SurfingFloridaMuseum.org
Opened last October, this 8,600-square-foot museum is stuffed with surf memorabilia, including historical photos, vintage surfboards and shortboards, and archival photos showing South Florida’s rollicking surf culture of the 1960s and ’70s.