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This weekend, downtown Fort Lauderdale gets the new rooftop entertainment venue it didn’t know it needed.
The Las Olas Veranda is a 13,000-square-foot, open-air event space at 788 E. Las Olas Blvd., on top of a two-story retail wing to the east of the property’s mothership, the Riverside Hotel.
The third-floor venue will host its first public, ticketed event on Saturday with an 8:30 p.m. showing of a new concert film by country-music stars Florida Georgia Line. The movie will be projected on an 18-foot screen, with service at two bars set up for the event, along with cinema-style snacks.
The space, which can be tented and ringed with lights, has hosted wedding receptions and other private events, the first taking place just before pandemic closures.
Saturday’s inaugural public gathering is a test run, says Carol Tracz, director of sales and marketing for the Riverside Hotel. If response is sufficient, Tracz’s team has a drawing board filled with other ideas, which include films, dinner parties, live music and themed events.
“It’s wide open,” she says.
While rooftop entertaining is nothing new for Fort Lauderdale — from Rooftop @1WLO a few blocks west on Las Olas to the Easton in Flagler Village and the string of hotel decks along the beach — the Veranda feels different.
First there is its size: Unobstructed, save for a couple of covered nooks where seating or a bar can be installed, it’s a versatile space than can accommodate as many as 800 guests.
Then there is the location: For all the soaring development going on across downtown Fort Lauderdale and the beach, the heart of the city remains the area of Las Olas Boulevard near the Riverside Hotel.
In particular, the Veranda sits above one of the more energetic intersections of downtown nightlife, where American Social, the Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar and Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar face each other from opposite corners.
The Veranda is the perfect perch to witness the entertaining carousing from a distance, and there’s ample parking in the Riverside Hotel garage.
Tracz says a rooftop venue for public gatherings was always part of the plan when the retail strip was added next to the hotel — Tommy Bahama opened weeks before pandemic closures, neighboring Southern Tide debuted months later.
The corner has a long history as an entertainment source, most recently as home to a lawn that hosted myriad events, from live music to ice skating. Old timers remember the late, great O’Hara’s Jazz & Blues Café.
Tracz says the Veranda team debated whether to start hosting public events during the summer or wait until fall. But the so-called tourist off-season has been more on than off, she says.
“People are so ready to get out. Why not do it and see what happens?” Tracz says.
Saturday night’s screening is a partnership between the Riverside Hotel, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale and Twilight Features, a Fort Lauderdale-based production company specializing in outdoor and indoor film events.
Tickets cost $15, but if you want to sit, bring your own folding chair. Movie snacks, beer, wine and cocktails will be available for purchase.
Or you can spring for VIP tickets, which cost $40 and include seating in a dedicated area, two drinks, a snack bag, special swag and a pre-show reception at 7:30 p.m.
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The all-ages event will not be tented and will happen rain or moonlight, with no ticket refunds. Entry is through the Riverside Hotel lobby (currently being remodeled). Doors open at 8 p.m. (for non VIP guests), with the film 30 minutes later.
The film will feature new music from Florida Georgia LIne, including the hit “Long Live” from the album “Life Rolls On,” released in February, as well as the new single “Lil Bit,” with Nelly.
The Veranda also can be reserved for private events of at least 100 guests. For information, visit RiversideHotel.com.