Restaurateur Tim Petrillo helped kick-start Fort Lauderdale’s dining renaissance—and he’s not done yet.

Tim Petrillo
Tim Petrillo relaxing in front of one of S3’s oceanfront fire pits.

Two decades ago, Fort Lauderdale’s Riverfront was barely in its developing stages, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts had just been built, and only a handful of bars existed where the sensational Las Olas now buzzes with life. Then, restaurateur/nightlife maestro Tim Petrillo and his company, The Restaurant People, entered the scene, first with Himmarshee Bar & Grille in 1997, followed by the homey Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle and Vibe Las Olas. But it wasn’t until 2008, when YOLO (which stands for “You Only Live Once”) opened its swanky doors, that the city got a full taste of Petrillo’s talents. “You look at the market and find what’s missing, then you fill that opportunity,” explains Petrillo of YOLO, which will finish its massive makeover, complete with new uniforms, menus, drink lists, and an all-new design, by the end of July.

“We’re going to be spending a huge amount of money to renovate that space—everything will be redone,” says Petrillo. “It’s one of those spaces where we have such a local and loyal following that I want to make sure we’re always keeping them engaged.”

Pulling from what bigger cities like Las Vegas and New York were offering, YOLO blurred the lines between restaurant and lounge, integrating the best of both worlds and featuring a chic yet laid-back environment that’s as suitable to nightlife aficionados as it is to epicurean connoisseurs. The restaurant provides a novel dining experience and solidly abides by its vibrant motto.

Petrillo in the kitchen at S3
Petrillo in the kitchen at S3 with chef and business partner Peter Boulukos.

When it came to S3, short for Sun, Surf, and Sand (you can see all three from the veranda), which opened in 2013, Petrillo and his team created a haven for sushi, steak, and seafood. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, the dining experience can range from casual (sit at the bar in a tank top, beer in hand) to fancy (valet your car and sip top shelf in an exclusive booth). Only at S3, the come-as-you-are mantra is given an elevated setting—the 7,000-square-foot space has two high end lounges, mesmerizing S-shaped fire pits, 225 seats overlooking the water, and three Turkish granite bars.

This year, Vibe will also undergo an update, and Petrillo has two new ventures in the works. The first, Fork & Balls, he describes as a “casual, fun, and funky meatball concept” with a variety of meatballs, including spicy duck, lamb, and seafood. The second, which will be a sky bar on the 27th floor of the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, is due to open sometime in October. “The space is magnificent,” Petrillo raves. “I knew we had to do something up there. It has completely unobstructed views of the ocean.

“It’s a very demanding business,” he adds, “but it’s a very rewarding business, too.” YOLO, 333 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-523-1000; S3, 505 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 954-523-7873; Vibe Las Olas, 301 Las Olas Blvd., 954-713-7313

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