A good day in Boca Raton: Mizner Park Amphitheater reopening on Friday with a country star and high hopes

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Time has stood still under the iconic clock tower at Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton, which finally will reopen on Friday with its first live performance after 18 months on hold due to the pandemic.

The concert by country-music star Brett Eldredge, kicking off an evolving schedule of shows and festivals in the months ahead, has lifted spirits in shops, restaurants and bars the length of Mizner Park’s fashionable Plaza Real.

More than 3,200 music fans are expected to flood the area for the 7:30 p.m. show — just like old times.

“It’s a very strong concert. We’re super excited to have live entertainment back,” says Kerri Powers, general manager of the Dubliner bar. “It’s a huge impact on our business, and it draws people to the whole plaza.”

In turning the page to better times ahead, Mizner Park Amphitheater has chosen wisely on reopening night.

With eight Top 10 country singles to his credit, Eldredge comes to Boca Raton on the Good Day Tour, which takes its name from his unifying, hopeful-in-spite-of-COVID ballad “Good Day.” Opening is fun-loving Aussie singer Morgan Evans, perhaps best known for the single “Day Drunk” and being married to Kelsea Ballerini.

“This is just so great. Live music, country music is the perfect vibe to be back at the amphitheater,” says Diane Millie, 25, part of a group enjoying a relatively cool night this week on the patio between Kapow! Noodle Bar and the Dubliner, a few doors down from the amphitheater.

Millie, of Boca Raton, says she’s a big fan of “Sunday Drive,” the title track from Eldredge’s new album: “It’s about the little things, appreciating them on the road in life.”

The indoor-outdoor bar at Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton's Mizner Park was a popular spot in this week's nice weather.

The indoor-outdoor bar at Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park was a popular spot in this week’s nice weather. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

Produced by LiveNation, the open-air show will have seating in a conventional configuration, with rows of chairs set next to each other on the grass. Tickets start at $35 at Ticketmaster.com. Depending on availability, tickets also may be purchased at the box office, with credit cards only. The touch-free transaction will send digital tickets to your phone.

Mizner Park Amphitheater, operated by the city of Boca Raton, is the last major live entertainment venue in South Florida to reopen from pandemic closure. (The Pompano Beach Amphitheater is in the middle of a major renovation.)

“With the pandemic and the fluctuating changes that happened, we’ve just been extra cautious with reopening. It is a city facility, and our city leaders take that seriously,” says amphitheater manager Amy DiNorscio.

Rising vaccination rates and falling COVID case numbers convinced the city the time was right to reopen the venue, she says.

“We’re moving in the right direction. We’re all more comfortable getting out, but it’s kind of a no-brainer to go to an outdoor facility,” DiNorscio says. “There will be a lot of energy here, and it’s great for Mizner Park.”

Amy DiNorscio, manager of the Mizner Park Amphitheater, in front of the venue's new mural by local artist Eduardo Mendieta.

Amy DiNorscio, manager of the Mizner Park Amphitheater, in front of the venue’s new mural by local artist Eduardo Mendieta. (Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

After the Eldredge concert, next up on the schedule is Comedy on the Green, a series of stand-up shows that begin Oct. 22 with Kurt Metzger, a writer for comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen; the series continues with nationally touring stand-up Christian Finnegan, also known as Chad from “Chappelle’s Show” (Nov. 26); then late-night talk show regular Ted Alexandro (Dec. 10).

Organized by veteran comedian and TV writer Dave Siegel and wife Stephanie, pre-pandemic transplants to Boca Raton, Comedy on the Green puts a congenial spin on social distancing with some seating on blankets and low-slung canvas beach chairs, as well as conventional seats. There will be bars, plus waitstaff service available in some sections.

The popular Boca Raton Pumpkin Patch Festival returns to the amphitheater lawn on Oct. 30-31, and more spooky-season entertainment comes Nov. 13 with the family-friendly “Stranger Things Laser Show.” The laser-light experience set to scenes from the cult TV show will culminate in sets by DJ Laz and DJ Johnny Quest spinning ‘80s hits.

Chart-topping country heartthrob Brett Young will bring hits such as “Lady,” “Catch,” “In Case You Didn’t Know” and “Mercy” to Mizner Park Amphitheater on Nov. 20, with openers Maddie & Tae and Filmore.

Visitors may notice a few changes have been made to the amphitheater. Most prominent is a large mural by Palm Beach County artist Eduardo Mendieta on the venue’s massive stage doors — a bold, colorful statement that is lighted to be visible from Plaza Real at night.

Missing is one section of the distinctive colonnades that bracket the lawn, removed from the venue’s border with the actively renovating Boca Raton Museum of Art next door. The set of colonnades on the east side of the lawn are still there, and will provide elevated seating for Friday’s concert.

Entry to the venue has been reoriented, with the box office now under the clock tower. The fountain, expensive to maintain, has been removed, though its iconic statue remains in place.

More substantive changes may be coming: Millions have been raised toward a $100 million renovation project for the venue and adjacent land. The project, dubbed the Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, would include a canopy for the amphitheater, an indoor event venue, a new rooftop terrace and a 99-seat performance hall.

The work on the amphitheater portion of the project is tentatively expected to be complete by 2025, during the city’s 100-year anniversary.

Calaveras Cantina brought a different look and feel to Boca Raton's Mizner Park when it opened in August.

Calaveras Cantina brought a different look and feel to Boca Raton’s Mizner Park when it opened in August. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

Mizner Park Amphitheater has a long and diverse live-music history, hosting performances by everyone from Idina Menzel, John Mellencamp and rapper DMX to elusive (and illusive) indie-rock artiste Morrissey. Yes, that happened.

As a nightlife destination, Mizner Park has always been a welcoming spot for a pre-concert dinner or after-show drinks, but it has gotten even more interesting during the amphitheater’s pandemic downtime — especially on the boulevard’s more youthful west side.

Calaveras Cantina opened in early August, bringing a dark, velvety sexiness to Plaza Real’s window displays of watercolor flamingoes and sensible shoes. The tacos are top notch ($4 during 4-7 p.m. happy hour), the guacamole is a model of creamy vibrancy ($8 or $15 as a tableside preparation) and the soundtrack hit a retro-eclectic sweet spot on a recent evening (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bon Jovi, Judas Priest and Eric B. and Rakim’s classic “Don’t Sweat the Technique”).

“This place is hot. … Totally new vibe for Mizner,” says Terry Rojas, of Boynton Beach, seated with a group of 20-something guys and gals in Calaveras’ outdoor alcove bar next to the Kendra Scott store. “It just opened, but we’re, like, regulars.”

Kelly Pires shakes up some margaritas behind the outdoor bar at Calaveras Cantina in Boca Raton's Mizner Park.

Kelly Pires shakes up some margaritas behind the outdoor bar at Calaveras Cantina in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

Calaveras Cantina is at 409 Plaza Real, on a corner that faces a future tenant with similar energy, American Social, a bar with sports inclinations that draws young crowds to locations on Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale and Miami’s Brickell District. American Social is currently renovating the 8,000-square-foot corner spot that once was home to Truluck’s.

Outdoor dining tables and bar stools can be found up and down Plaza Real, from the buzzy alley shared by the Dubliner and Kapow! Noodle Bar at the north end to the patio at Yardhouse on the south end, with Calaveras Cantina in the middle.

Before Friday’s concert you’ll find a popular 4-7 p.m. happy hour at the Dubliner, with $7 light bites (including the signature Black & Tan onion rings) and discounts on beer, wine and select liquor. The Dubliner books a lot of local music and will feature singer-songwriter Joe Cruciti on Friday. Next weekend features a strong pairing of the Matt Brown Band (Friday, Oct. 8) and Spred the Dub (Saturday, Oct. 9).

Mike Hill performs at the Dubliner in Boca Raton's Mizner Park on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Mike Hill performs at the Dubliner in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park on Wednesday, Sept. 29. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

Across the street from Mizner Park Amphitheater, sports lounge Strike 10 Bowling is under construction, targeting a year-end debut. A few doors down, a new outpost of Subculture Coffee — a source of youthful, community-minded events in West Palm Beach and (sadly, no longer) Delray Beach — is weeks away from opening next to the Dubliner.

Perhaps the most distinctive new destination in Mizner Park is Cielito Artisan Pops, a late-night gourmet popsicle shop at 430 Plaza Real, across the street from the Dubliner. Owners Sindy Poso and husband Ivan opened Cielito in July of 2020, in the teeth of the pandemic. Their original Cielito debuted in Miami’s arty Wynwood in 2017.

The Posos’ sweets, ranging from $5 to $10, are art on a stick, whether its house-made ice cream or juice-based pops. Inside the shop, refrigerated cases burst with colors and creativity, with pops made with mamey, avocado or matcha latte, and one beautiful stick of frozen pineapple juice adorned with thin slices of jalapeno.

The Posos have also offered a maple ice cream pop embedded with a stick of bacon and another treat combining a sweet ice cream base with extra virgin olive oil, muddled with Kalamata olives.

Cielito Artisan Pops in Boca Raton's Mizner Park is filled with creative temptations. It opened in July, 2020, in the thick of the pandemic.

Cielito Artisan Pops in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park is filled with creative temptations. It opened in July, 2020, in the thick of the pandemic. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

In a group of a half-dozen seated at tables on the sidewalk in front, Jessie Dillon, 21, of Delray Beach, chomps on a passionfruit bar lacquered in dark chocolate and chocolate chips.

“I can’t even describe it, it’s so insane. Very complex. … So good,” Dillon says.

Sindy Posso says she and Ivan, parents of three, loved the family-friendly atmosphere of Mizner Park and the physical attractiveness of the tree-lined, fountain-dotted boulevard.

But proximity to the amphitheater was critical in the decision on where to put their second shop, and Friday’s reopening is important.

“Oh my god, we’ve been waiting for this moment forever,” Posso says, with an uneasy laugh. “We planned on opening because of the theater and all that activity. That was the whole point of opening in Mizner Park.”

Mizner Park Amphitheater is at 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. For information on upcoming shows and tickets, call 561-393-7890 or visit MiznerAmp.com. For information on restaurants, bars and shops in Mizner Park, visit MiznerPark.com.

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