Location, location, location. It’s recurrently stressed as the prime factor in real estate and startup businesses, but always with an eye toward the present.
Joe DeStephan, on the other hand, has both eyes fixed on the future.
His Northwood Art & Music Warehouse in West Palm Beach is situated in an industrial region several blocks west of the Northwood section’s more-populated residential areas and COVID-surviving trendy restaurants, shops, and cafes. And the warehouse-style live music and visual art bar, which opened in February, sits within a section of 28th Street that wouldn’t be out of place in a Quentin Tarantino film.
But once you get there, the aesthetic changes. Literally a large, half-circle-shaped warehouse, its 20-foot-high ceilings, oversized doors, and ventilation help to offset the South Florida heat without a need for air conditioning, and create better acoustics for the live performers on the indoor warehouse stage in its northeast corner. Couches and padded chairs are up front for those who want to listen in comfort.
“I was leasing this site to a tenant who was using it for storage,” DeStephan says, “and he decided to vacate after five years. So I started buying beer and bringing in musicians to turn it into my man cave. I was living in Miami Beach when the COVID era started, and bars were closing, so I was able to get cheap bar equipment through liquidation. I’d lived in Miami since 1993, and saw how its Wynwood district developed from nothing into an arts scene since, and figured I might be able to help make that happen here.”
DeStephan may not be a musician or an artist, outside of his customized classic trucks sitting throughout the area and adorning his business cards, but rather enjoys being surrounded by their audio and visual works. The west wall of his warehouse is a series of partitioned nooks with visual art and crafts by rotating area artisans. Some, like Stuart resident Jane Lawton Baldridge — whose colorful, abstract hues and motifs conjure up tropical, Key West vibes — are occasionally in attendance to meet prospective buyers.
Food trucks featuring unique cuisine sit outside the door along the back wall, and the east-side bar offers an unpredictable array of wines and Florida-friendly draft and canned beers. There are also high-top tables and ample seating through the middle of the room.
For South Florida musicians, Northwood Art & Music Warehouse brings a breath of fresh air regardless of location.
“It seems to be growing in popularity,” says Jupiter-based Doug Lindsay, bassist/vocalist for the variety act Groove Merchant, a repeating band on the venue’s 2022 indoor calendar. “It’s nice to see the mix in ages from young to old. Joe did a great job of converting a warehouse, and it’s definitely a band-friendly venue, with a stage and a PA system provided.”
Yet it doesn’t stop there. Venture outside to the west on the expansive plot and you’ll find a spacious, gravel-covered area with firepits, a well-stocked tiki bar, and a large, repurposed shipping container that’s now literally locked in as the yard stage for outdoor performances. Being located in a warehouse rather than residential area also decreases the likelihood of the increasingly-popular volume complaints regarding open-air live music, as do the regular early hours (mostly 7-10 p.m.). Whatever residents are nearby, DeStephan says, are supporters.
“They love that we’re here,” he says. “We’ve had birthday parties with bounce houses for their kids in the courtyard. It’s a little too hot for outdoor shows during the summer, plus you never know when it might rain. But we’ll be utilizing it a lot soon through the winter and spring. People love to be able to be outdoors.”
A 53-year-old native of Point Pleasant, N.J., DeStephan has turned the site into a burgeoning arts hub, moving from Miami to Northwood in the process.
“My parents live in Stuart, so my wife and I wanted to be further up this way anyway,” he says. “Before I got my license, everything here was donations-only; beers, art and live music during COVID, but in an open setting that was safe. I thought about being a private club, or an event space, but people kept asking, ‘When are you going to open this up?’ I already had the real estate, and I realized that I always had a passion for doing this.”
Literally a beer, cars, art and music man cave luxury that he could afford, DeStephan will also be extending his passion for quality brews into the building west of the tiki bar and yard stage.
“It’s perfectly set up for a brewery, and this shaded area will be the beer garden,” he says, motioning outside further west. “It’s going to take a while, but my concept here is a themed combination of a brewery and art gallery. Most breweries are very industrial and just about the beer. I want more of an artistic experience to go with the music, the other artwork, and the vintage trucks.”
The forthcoming brewery might be the additional ticket toward turning the Northwood Art & Music Warehouse into a destination — which it will need to be, since patrons are unlikely to experience it in passing. The site is currently surrounded by a criss-cross of railroad tracks, darkened streets, and vacant or uninhabited buildings, at least during evening hours.
If DeStephan’s vision of the area eventually becoming the next Wynwood, especially without resorting to cost-cutting, sellout, and/or lowest common denominator musical ideas — karaoke, open mics and jams, tribute acts — he might qualify as the artistic Nostradamus of South Florida. He sees the location as a plus, not a detriment.
“What really helped make Wynwood so successful as a business district was the artists,” says DeStephan. “And when I look at this area, I see something that could develop similarly. Off the beaten path, in a somewhat edgy neighborhood. I like the feel of an industrial area that’s not cookie-cutter. I actually see it all as lending itself to the vibe and mystique of the place.”
If You Go
See Ukelele Russ on Dec. 9, The Rockin’ Jake Band on Dec. 10, Jazz Monday w/Neil Bacher & Company on Dec. 12, the Holidazed Duo on Dec. 15, Sierra Lane Band on Dec. 16, JP Soars on Dec. 17, the Delray Jazz Collective on Dec. 19 and Joey Tenuto on Dec. 22, all at 7 p.m. at the Northwood Art & Music Warehouse, 933 28th St., West Palm Beach. Info: 561-425-9040, northwoodartandmusic.com.