By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
By Ashley Zimmerman
By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
By Ashley Zimmerman
Locals will tell you it's a little-known hot spot. The Commercial Boulevard pier area in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea boasts a strip of high-quality dining establishments, gift stores, and, my favorite destination of all, boozin' joints. The whole walking district has a supercool, ultrarelaxed vibe; the perfect smattering of savvy tourists (the ones lucky enough to find it); a blend of acceptable styles (high-heel sophisticated and flip-flop casual); and enough drink specials to keep you buzzed long into the warm, breezy night.
Aruba Beach Cafe: I tend to steer clear of food products that originated from the sea, so I was a little hesitant about Aruba Beach Cafe and its potential for the overpowering stench of fish fry. But at the door, I spotted a couple — him, with a mustache and dark hair; her, petite with a poofy 'do — wildly making out, complete with roaming hands. Well, that's all I needed to see: I trotted in and took a glance around.
The dining area was large; Aruba boasted an outdoor patio and three packed bars. Strings of Christmas lights covered the low ceilings; the entire place was a parrot-hued explosion of bright greens and yellows; the walls were covered in beach pictures, mirrors, and bright posters of fruity tropical beverages. There was sort of a down-home, Jimmy Buffett-Christmas-album feel to the whole place, the air of a long-standing establishment with no intention of going anywhere soon.
And it was packed: There were Q-tips sporting floral prints, big rowdy groups and quiet-talking couples, tourists and regulars, loners and locals. My good buddy Beard and I hopped up to the third bar and summoned bartender Stephanie: a pretty brunet with small features and a warm smile. We decided to forego Aruba's extensive collection of fancy drinks (things with ingredients like "Irish coffee" and "Pearl pomegranate") and went with some Sam Adams Winter Lager.
We tried to impress Stephanie with our wit: "When Natalie Holloway disappeared, did you get a lot of drunks making insensitive jokes?" I asked. She looked confused. "You know... 'cause you're called... Aruba?"
"Oh, my goodness, I never even thought of that," she said, pawing slightly at the bottle opener secured to her arm via black sweatband. "But I've only been here three years, so I just slightly missed that whole thing."
Nearby, a trio of Kentucky tourists was chatting up Scott, a senior bartender. He'd just given them each a complimentary grapefruit-blend shot, which a mustached man and his blond wife gulped down instantaneously. The bartender fist-bumped them for their shot-taking prowess. The third woman, tiny with a pixie face, sipped it slowly. "I'm a bartender myself," she explained. "I know what I can handle."
Scott stopped by briefly to chat us up. He was handsome, a New Jersey dude with strong features and a healthy tan. "We're always packed," he told me, pushing through the conversation a mile a minute. "On Sundays, when other bars are dead, we have people lined up waiting to change their kids' diapers in here and shake sand out of their shoes."
"This place is a staple on the beach — we've been here 20 years," he continued. "I've worked here seven — it's been my dream job."
"Really?" I asked skeptically, hoping for some dirt.
"I'd never say a bad thing about this place," he said. "I met my wife here — the love of my life. She was 23 at the time; I was 34. I've watched her grow up; I've matured. I'm not that same asshole bartender."
"You sure?" I chided him.
"Positive," he said forcefully.
As we decided to drain our glasses and head to the next bar, we overheard the mustached Kentuckian saying, "We're not sure where our hotel is. It's near a Walgreens, I think."
The Village Pump: Next stop, the Village Pump. This was a small, chic bar — jazz played softly in the background, candles lit the few tables; the place was all mirrors and beiges and grays and marble surfaces.
I watched a man in business clothes chat up a dark-haired woman in a red dress.
"I'm a lawyer," she was telling him.
The blond bartender kept a sharp eye on the booze level in the patrons' drinks and absently tapped her fingers on the lemon caddy in time with the soft music. She joshed back and forth with a tiny old man who sat sipping a cranberry drink and swaying to the music.
The mirror on the bar's back wall was decorated with Boston sports logos — the Celtics, the Red Sox. We heard the snaps of thick, raucous accents throughout the bar; I hinted that maybe my buddy Beard should remove his New York Yankees ball cap. Especially after I pointed out a plaque that said, "The curse is broken" (referencing when the Red Sox sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees and subsequently went nearly 100 years before winning the World Series). He bravely refused.
Jessica and Josh, two young, sexy locals, were enjoying drinks at the far corner of the bar. Jessica had short brown hair and perfectly smooth skin; Josh had curly dark hair, strong jaw lines, and a surfer-dude demeanor.