Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Maybe it was Fay's mind-warping approach, but something fishy was going on at the Palm Grill

Twas the night before Tropical Storm Fay, and already the sky looked dark and gloomy. I'd seen the advertisements for Palm Grill's drink deal — three martinis for a measly $9 — awhile ago, but I was waiting for the perfect situation in which three martinis might be necessary. An impending tropical storm, which might lead to me being holed up in my apartment without near enough liquor? A situation crying for cheap martinis.

Ambiance: Sunday night found the Beach Place Palm Grill (17 S. Atlantic Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) relatively low-key. It's a spacious spot, with low lighting and large windows facing the ocean. Diners sat engaged in candlelit conversation at a smattering of the dark-wood tables, and the bleached-blond bartender busied himself with the handful of drinkers perched at the U-shaped bar. A few flat screen TVs, all showing the Olympics, graced the gold-tinted walls.

The Mystery: At the door, a guy in a big straw hat and colorful shirt played clear, harmonious island renditions of popular songs. Tom, Mike, and I stationed ourselves at the leg of the bar closest to the door and soon found ourselves alternating between looking at the menu and stealing glances at the musician by the door. He played the keyboard, guitar, and sang — but the million-dollar question: Was the guy actually singing? Was that a real voice or a woofer-tweaked electronic simulation?

Drinks: With Fay supposedly blowing in soon and the mystery of the reggae musician unsolved, we decided three martinis each would be a very good plan (because, of course, after three martinis are consumed, no coherent plans get made again for a very long time). We had a host of bitch martini options, all with titles like "Jolly Rancher" and "Key Lime Pie" and each boasting a host of rot-your-teeth-out flavorings.

"So, can I get a regular martini?" Tom asked the bartender.

"Me too," said Mike, jumping on the testosterone bandwagon. "Extra dirty."

The bartender, Matt, nodded, and turned to me expectantly. I sighed.

"No, I'm not manly enough for that shit," I said. "I'm the one in the gang who orders the pussy martini. Sour apple, please." Look, I was gonna enjoy my $9 of booze. No stomach-turning liquor-soaked olives for me, thanks.

Bartender: Matt quickly brought us our choice of poisons. The glasses were smaller than a typical martini, but enough alcohol was packed inside to give me a buzz from just breathing near the neon green drink. I blinked back tears from the ass-kick of my first sip.

From behind us, a reggae rendition of "Hotel California" caught our attention.

"Hey, what's with the singer?" whispered Mike to Matt. "Lip-synching?"

"Man, no," Matt said sharply, his tone borderline offended. "He's got a microphone!" Matt never seemed to be standing still for long, and was a blur of blond hair again as he rushed back to pop open a Heineken for another patron. So our question was preposterous, eh? Hadn't he read the stories about the Chinese girl lip-synching to the beautiful voice of a less cute girl at the Olympics opening ceremony? She had a microphone too. We were unconvinced.

Customers: By the time I'd downed my first concoction, a trio of 20-somethings had walked in, and, riding the wave of the sour apple buzz, I approached them for some small talk.

The guys were a pair of freelance audio engineers from Miami ("DJs in suits," as one of them put it). They'd been working all day at the nearby Ritz Carlton (formerly the St. Regis), putting on PowerPoint presentations for hotel staff meetings. Franccesco had dark eyes and long black hair; Luke had short hair, brown eyes, and chiseled, handsome features. Franccesco's slender, dark-haired girlfriend, Mari, had driven up from Miami to join them for dinner.

"So, you guys are drinking on the job?" I said with mock incredulity. Like I wasn't.

"We've got margaritas coming," Luke said. "But we're off-duty right now."

"We can drink; we managed to get the hotel to let us stay in a room for free," Franccesco said, evidently proud of his finagling. "Tropical storm's coming."

"Sweet job," I commented.

"Yeah, but we have to give a little," said Luke. "We have to dress in suits."

"And they used to have big ol' beards," Mari said, indicating the guys' baby-smooth jaw lines. "The hotel made 'em shave."

"We feel like little kids right now," Luke admitted.

Maybe some facial fuzz would make me look a little older, I speculated idly. That was the martini talking, of course. I don't usually go into crazy beard-growing, circus-freak ruminations.

"As sound guys, maybe you can tell me: Is that musician lip-synching?" I pointed over at the island-dressed musician. Their consensus? A resounding no.

Of course, who'd believe a couple of guys in suits so wedded to the corporate tab that they'd shave their facial hair? Show me some evidence.

Mystery Supposedly Solved: When I made it back to my seat, my buddies were on their second rounds, and I had a freshly filled glass of sour apple martini before me. I slogged it down and told the bartender I wanted a strawberry daiquiri. I wobbled over to talk to the musician himself, who was packing up his guitar.

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