Gator Is a Vegetable

One way to lose the blues is singin' the blues. Or sparring with Kilmo at the Alley.

There are days that just fucking suck. Maybe you notice some weird rash after a recent one-night stand. Maybe you lose your job and come home early to find Mom in bed with the BF. Maybe you back your F-150 over your dog. Whatever; shit happens. And the ensuing bad mood can stick to you like sweaty underwear in the Florida humidity. Sunday, my house was a mess, it was raining again, the cable was out, and running had given me serious shin splints. Minor, but enough to place me solidly in a sour mood.

As far as I'm concerned, whether you're stuck with herpes or local programming, we all know the best cure for the blues is booze. But I never thought you could combat blues with more blues until I went to Alligator Alley (1321 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) that night to throw back some beers and listen to blues band J.P. Soars and the Red Hots. Good music and the delightful haze of an ale-induced buzz? It's enough to combat even the soggiest pit of self-pity.

Ambiance: Alligator Alley is the kind of place where you can sink into a well-worn barstool and disappear in passing weather fronts of cigar smoke. With its brown tile and dull green-and-yellow walls, it's the perfect place to sit, feel sorry for yourself, and wind up completely and delightfully shitfaced. Just what your overpaid therapist prescribed, right?

As great a place as this hole-in-the-wall blues bar is to wallow in woe, it's also not bad for reveling in Florida state pride. Its walls boast an eclectic array of souvenirs turned décor, from canvas maps of Florida, a dirty flip-flop, some black-and-white photographs of mustached tough guys posing with gunned-down gators, and a Florida vanity plate that reads "NATIVE." Though families and couples have come and gone, the Alley's core clientele is a pack of tanned, grizzled guys who wear ball caps and flip-flops and chomp down baskets of fried alligator. Guy guys. Some, I was to learn, even nurtured that most persistent of manly instincts: Aim a gun, shoot a quadruped.

Drinks (and food): Being at a blues bar, I figured there was only one sensible drink option: blueberry ale. One tall glass of that stuff, which tasted like a batch of Grandma's fresh-baked blueberry muffins and felt like a buzzin' punch in the gut, chased my blues away and dried up any lingering puddles of melancholia.

I brought along my buddies Brantley and Mike, who can both appreciate a little inner turmoil. Brantley, a red-blooded carnivore, decided to taste-test some fried gator. When his order came, he passed it around.

"No way," I said. "Weren't you originally going to have a salad?"

"Gator's green, so it counts as a vegetable," he said, his mouth full of breaded alligator flesh. "Come on, try it, pussy."

My hand shot out, and before my compatriots knew what'd hit them, I popped a piece of fried reptile into my mouth. As a vegetarian, I could never admit that it was tasty. But I will note that Brantley polished off the entire plate like Rover polishing off the filet mignon while the family is fiddling outside with the barbecue grill.

Customers: I approached Bill, who was wiry, tan, and sitting perched at the bar. He sat steadily draining alcohol and simultaneously bullshitting with the ever-present burly, bald bartenders. Though alone, he had a wide smile and bright eyes — possibly alcohol-induced — and didn't look the least bit depressed. As the blues band assembled its equipment on the small stage near the window, someone tested the drum, and Bill ambled toward the sound.

"Where are you off to?" I demanded after a quick introduction.

"I heard the drum," he told me. "I love drums. When I was young, I played the coronet. My sister played clarinet; my brother played guitar."

Sounds like someone's dad had Jackson 5-like aspirations.

"Cultured, eh?" I said. "Where ya from?"

"Born in Broward General Hospital, third story, west wing," he said proudly.

"What do you like besides drums and drinking?" I asked.

"Oh, I love to shoot deer," he said. There's no accounting for masculine instincts.

"Not me," I said quickly. "I don't even eat meat." Except an occasional nibble of gator.

"I've seen little ladies as cute as you shoot deer," he said, motioning like he was leveling a gun. "Their daddies brought 'em up that way." My daddy only brought me up to shoot beers. And, shrinking away from Bill, I was going to need another one soon.

Finally, blues band J.P. Soars and the Red Hots took the stage, and bartender Ray tacked an additional $5 cover charge onto my tab. The price apparently includes an opportunity to eavesdrop on the band members' high-toned stage patter.

"We're not gonna play here after football season starts," said bass player Kilmo, also Alligator Alley's owner. "We'll be at a secret party at my house, and you can't get in unless you know the password."

"Douchebag," a bartender volunteered.

"That's a password," Kilmo said. "Just not the password."

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