Liquor-Cured

The chipped paint just tells you that Streeters is for real

If there's one thing Americans can agree on in these divisive political times, it's this: Work sucks. It's a 9-to-5 daily grind, with its eagle-eyed bosses, snooze-inducing tasks, and yappy co-workers who can't possibly know how much you really don't care about their daughter's birthday party.

Luckily, there are support programs for people stuck in just this situation. They're called bars. Whether you lost your best account, lost your promotion to the schmuck down the hall, or lost your job completely, there are dives all across this great land to help ease the pain. That sounded fine to me last Wednesday (and strikingly appropriate, though we won't go into that), so I slipped out of my business shoes and into some flip-flops for happy hour at Streeters Bar (2675 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale). I was about to see how folks beat back the trying times and the woes of work.

Ambiance: When I walked into Streeters, time immediately slowed to a crawl and the pressures of the fast-paced real world evaporated in the low lighting and lingering scent of cigarette smoke. This neighborhood dive was dark, minimally decorated, and sparsely populated by people who had obviously been drinking there for quite some time. Like maybe a generation or two.

I passed four small, rectangular tables, a pool table, and ten TVs (most playing sports shows) to take a seat at the bar. The long, blocky bar, encompassing most of the room, had chipped paint in places where glasses had been set down one too many times. Yeah, what can I say? There's something welcoming about a bar with chipped paint. I'd skip the bumpin' nightclub scene any day of the week to kick back in a comfortable bar for a beer with a blue-collar guy named Joe — though not Joe the Plumber, of course. That guy is kind of a phony who should be sent back to Central Casting for somebody who smells like a Tijuana restroom.

Old toys, stuffed animals, and faded pictures sit on a shelf between two TVs directly across from where I'd plopped myself down. Neon beer signs flicker over the cigarette machine and dartboards at the back of the room. Behind the bar, little red light bulbs cast an ominous, devilish hue over the glasses and liquor bottles. Glancing around the room, I noticed an older woman sitting there in a midriff-baring shirt as her tattooed male companion scratched lottery tickets to the cadence of a high-strung bartender pounding the buttons of an old-fashioned register, with a ring-up bell and a spring drawer. I toasted to their fortune. A few grizzled men in ball caps sat at the far side of the bar, near the silent jukebox, methodically downing drinks.

Bartender 1: "It must be a full moon today," Robin, a brunet bartender, said with exaggerated exasperation. (According to my Men in Uniform 2008 calendar, the full moon was actually the night before.) "People have just been harassing me all day. A guy was in here earlier who kept saying shit like, 'C'mon, baby, give me a kiss.' "

"Sounds like some serious sexual harassment," I said.

"Nah, it's cool," she said. "I knew him."

Bartenders have it good, of course. They get to work at the place where the rest of America's work force is unwinding. Robin first struck me as the type who didn't care too much about her job, spending a significant amount of time being annoyed at the world. But she must have cared enough, because when I ordered a Jim Beam and Coke, she snatched up my I.D. and inspected it for several long, awkward minutes. My companion smirked but chilled when I pointed out that no one asks for his I.D.

"Sorry," Robin said, before I started flashing business cards and insisting that no one would burden a mere child with the responsibility of being a nightlife columnist. She handed my license back to me. "I had to get up way early this morning to go to a responsible vendors meeting — it sucked — but I'm just doing what I'm supposed to."

"No problem," I said, just happy to be given the green flag to imbibe a stiff drink.

"I get I.D.'d all the time too," she said. "I'm 26, but people ask me for my I.D. when I try and buy drinks and cigarettes. Just the other day, I got I.D.'d for condoms. I had to go out to my car and get my driver's license."

I stifled an urge to pound the table and declare bullshit.

"Wait a minute," I said. "Why would anyone I.D. anyone for condoms?"

"I don't know. I guess people who want kids to have unprotected sex," she said nonchalantly and brought me and my companion our drinks. They looked sufficiently clear — more liquor, less soda.

Bartender 2: With Robin finishing her shift for the day, a tall, bespectacled man named Trace was about to take over behind the bar.

"He's the best bartender here," Carl, a regular in a faded ball cap, told me. "He's helped make this place really great."

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