By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
I hit Howl at the Moon on a Saturday night with my buddy Derek, who helped me overcome my customary aversion to dueling piano bars. But there was a good reason my usual resistance was down: We'd spent a couple of hours scouring downtown Hollywood for decent nightlife and had finally given up.
When we arrived at our BeachPlace destination in Fort Lauderdale, the sea-scented breeze wafted through the three-story, open-air mall with the strains of a piano-accompanied "Son of a Preacher Man" in its currents.
Inside, the place looked like the average sports bar, but the vibe was rowdier. The crowd's energy was fueled by "the most dangerous drink specials," including 85-ounce buckets of booze for just $14. Instead of adding extra go-juice on top as a floater, the truly festive could purchase a flask of additional alcohol to be upended into their party pail.
No mere spectator sport, the show was all about audience participation. Members of the crowd could take the stage and sing their requests and celebrate events. All they had to do was fill out a little form, similar to karaoke with a minimum $20 motivational fee for the musicians.
Or folks could use their fee to purchase a public taunting for a special occasion just as Bing's friends did.
"Happy 38th Birthday Bing" was scrawled on the mirror behind the stage, and the piano men brought up the birthday boy. When he brought his drink with him, the visiting Cape Coral resident was forced to chug it.
After some bad name jokes ("We've got 'Bing'; now we just need 'Bada'"), a unique version of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" ensued. The revised lyrics joked about the diminutive proportions of Bing's organ. Perhaps these piano guys were merely compensating for their own tiny instruments?
Bing's public humiliation ended with a spin of the Wheel of Destiny sorta like the Wheel of Fortune which besides real prizes could also yield a fear factor shot (concoction randomly created by the bartender), an ice bath (bucket of ice down the pants), or a Howl at the Moon (mandatory pants dropping to the cries of the audience). Family Feud theme music played as the wheel spun, and Bing walked away with a HATM T-shirt.
"It's my real name," Bing told me later, pulling out his driver's license for verification. "It was my middle name, but I changed it to my first since it was supposed to be my first name. When I was born on my dad's birthday, they named me 'Richard' after him instead."
Making the official change in 2003, he preferred the onomatopoeia (his siblings used to replace his name in dinner time conversation with a chimed "bing" on their water glasses) to the nicknames for Richard. It made sense. It's bad enough being called "Dick," but as a junior... yup, he'd have been "Little Dick."
His Lantana-based friends Jason and Julie had suggested Howl for the birthday celebration. So why the Fort Lauderdale trek when there were other piano bars that were closer? For a moment, no one had an answer.
His wife, Julie, provided a girl-power follow-up: "And this is the only piano bar with a chick," meaning the female musician who had played a few songs that night.
Meanwhile, on the stage, a Philadelphia couple got engaged while performing "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." When the couple faced each other, on her way to reach for her knees, the woman accidentally touched her partner's crotch.
"I can see why you proposed," the piano man teased.
When the newly engaged vacationers were back in their seats, Gregory explained his motivation: "I knew we were coming to the piano bar where we could put things up on the mirror, and being a bizarre and outrageous guy, I wanted to make that impact."
Aimee, though she accepted Gregory's proposal, shyly confessed, "I don't like being in front of people."
Soon the piano keys hammered out the chorus of "Lucille," and the audience, savvy to tradition, yelled out a triad of insults: "You bitch! You slut! You whore!"
Having learned that it took only a minute to miss some real action, I told Derek we'd urinate in shifts. While he was away, I met the two Lindseys, 21- and 23-year-old Nova students.
"Yeah, we travel in packs," 23 laughed about their shared name.
21 was holding a bucket of Long Island iced tea, which she said Josh had bought for her.
"Want some?" she asked, extending the bucket.
"Are you and Josh an item?" I asked after a curious sip.
Embarrassed, she laughed, "When we're drunk we are, but when we're not, we're not."
How sweet. His purchase, then, was actually an investment in their future.
Holding the bucket up so I could take another sip (though I had no plans to sleep with Josh myself), 21 scanned the room for the drink investor but found only her friend Adam.