Rosy Palm Beach

It's a man's world at Bradley's, and try squeezing past them after a few drinks.

Named after the man who owned the longest-running illegal casino in American history, E.R. Bradley's Saloon has always been the sort of place where you could find big talkers and lots of cash. On my Friday evening excursion to the "Palm Beach tradition" that now calls West Palm Beach home, cigar smoke rode on the salty breeze along with the buzz of chatter. Those weren't the only things circulating; the place was packed with business professionals who were getting their TGIF on.

"The old Bradley's [in Palm Beach] was classic. The people you met there were outrageous. One night I ended up at a house next to the Kennedy estate, and...is my name gonna be in this?" Amie, a mortgage broker, said with a guilty smile on her freckled face once I'd procured a beer.

"Yeah, the old place was good," said Vickie, another Bradley's veteran, at a table full of people who were having a going away party for a co-worker who was leaving the financial corporation where they work. "But I like the new one better. It's closer to home!"

And from the look of things, the less driving she did, the better.

Out on the garden patio, I met Glenn, a bank investor with a passion for an expensive twist on working man's footwear.

"They're python," he said of his cowboy boots. "I do my best country karaoke in these."

He'd moseyed down Clematis Street checking out the happy hour specials.

"This is my third stop on the complimentary buffet tour," he confessed with a smile. "This one's the best. O'Shea's had barbeque, but it was really dark there. And I never eat what I can't see."

Whether corporate or cowpoke, it was sound wisdom. Truth is, Bradley's has a damned good happy hour buffet. And though, technically, you're supposed to buy two drinks or pay sixteen bucks for the eats, no one ever checks. In fact, I fed myself for free almost nightly at the Palm Beach Bradley's while I scraped through graduate school.

Outside, there wasn't a vacant seat in the house. A group of guys rotated their positions at the bowling video game between its golfing counterpart and a cigar humidor. The guys had dominated the game since I'd arrived.

"Do I have to put quarters up to get a turn?" I asked, to insinuate myself into the group of attractive 30-somethings.

One of the bunch, a tidy man with a gold Star of David visible in his open-collared black shirt, hugged me as he introduced himself. Michel, a Palm Beach hairstylist, smelled expensive.

"I've known these guys my whole life," he said.

I leaned over and pointed out the problem: "How is that possible? These guys look younger than you."

"I don't know whether to kiss you or to hit you," he laughed, pulling me to him again. "I should say, I've known them for all their lives."

His buddy with the Cheshire cat grin was ingratiating himself to me by letting me inspect his glasses for a brand name.

"I'm not into that stuff," he said with a shrug.

I felt like stirring things up: "So what are you into then — besides teeth whitening?"

"Who needs whitening when there's laminates?"

Hm. Something to chew on.

Smiley told me his name was actually Phillipe and claimed to be a Palm Beach investment banker. I was buying it until he gave me his business card that announced him as "Philip."

"So which is it?" I asked him pointedly.

"Depends on where I am," he replied.

"So what about in bed? When women call out your name in bed, which one is it?"

"It depends," he said laughing, until we were interrupted by a tall, scruffy blond friend, Sasha, who announced "Phillippe" had to take his turn bowling.

Later, as I waited for a light beer, I met Peter, a golf club fitting specialist who liked the place because "it smells like plants." (We were outdoors, after all). Looking at me intently with his dark brown eyes, he told me he thought making out was a lost art. It was a fresh approach, but a lost cause.

"So you get paid to tell people to bend over and grab their club?" I quipped.

"I'm one of the best in the country," he claimed. What a surprise.

By this time, the place was so packed, people had to slide against each other to get where they were going. The alcohol, I'm sure, added to my occasional confusion about whether I was being rubbed on or slid against as people pushed through the crowd.

"You hitting on me?" a voice behind me asked as I knocked into him trying to maneuver through the masses.

I turned around to face a guy who looked like the handsome detective played by Jesse L. Martin on Law & Order.

"Of course," I answered, throwing him off guard. "You're tall, dark, and good looking. I'd be a fool not to."

Too bad he wouldn't give me a straight answer to any of my questions — including what his name was. He was adamant, though, that he was originally from Luxembourg, despite my many attempts to trick him into revealing himself as a fraud.

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