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
Sometimes Wilton Manors bars get a bit of a reputation as packed, low-lit meat markets where dancing, shirtless men slap skin and sip bitch drinks.
Well, I am here to tell you this is not the case. I've been drunk in the Manors more nights than I can count, and many of those nights were not spent amid crowded seas of sweaty man-abs. This week I've explored two Wilton Manors bars that go against the grain. Within the confines of the Island City, I met patrons who relished the sophisticated taste of wine at the Naked Grape, and then, five minutes away, at Red's Package, I got down with friendly Florida hillbillies to Hank Williams Jr. fans. All in your Wilton Manors backyard. Who knew, right?
Naked Grape Wine Bar: I descended into the swanky, dangerously dark wine bar, and the first thing my dilating eyes were able to focus upon was a remarkably artistic photo of a naked guy in leather bondage gear, holding a disco ball over his unmentionables. A very good sign, in my opinion.
In spite of the artwork, the place felt very straight-friendly. I settled into a big red couch and greeted my four assembled friends (my regular wingmen Beard and Fancy among them), and the server handed me a little flashlight with which to read the menu. Most amazing was the cheese page — handfuls of gourmet cheese, grouped together based on the type of animal's milk from which they were made. The rest of the menu consisted of rose, red, and white wines to fit any budget, celebrate any occasion, impress any date, and forget any problem. The last page boasted specialty beers and ales; I ordered a German beer called the Gaffel.
"We have beer for the gay guys who want to come in here, feel manly, and drink some beers," Jeremy, our good-looking, amiable server said.
"So... you have blueberry beer?" Beard asked.
The small, classy bar, with its industrial metal tables and smooth, clay-colored walls, was abuzz with a variety of ages and persuasions. An old man read a magazine and sipped wine. A pair of lesbians embraced and kissed lightly. Small pockets of light popped from behind stained-glass votive holders; photographs of buildings, and of clothes-less gentlemen, decorated the walls. An expansive row of wooden cubbies ran the length of a wall; in each of the cubbies — I estimated there were about 165 — sat three bottles of wine, all perfectly turned outward.
"All these wine companies are all family-owned type businesses," Jeremy said. He handed one of my buddies a tall glass of Aspall dry English cider. "Some have interesting stories, like the hippie who requires weed to discuss business and signs all his bottles with 'the insurrection continues...' "
"Cool," I said. "How'd you learn all this?"
"On the job," he said. "And this is just a gig for extra cash. I'm actually a teacher — I teach religion to little kids."
When Jeremy went to pick out some good cheeses for us to sample, I got up to get a closer look at the wine cubbies (as well as the special glasses on top of the cubbies, designated for wine club members only) and was distracted by a good-looking trio of young wine bargoers.
"Hey, why aren't you guys out partying at a club?" I asked them.
Spencer, 24, was good-looking in a borderline-pretty way: smooth jaw lines, closely cropped hair. His compatriot, Justin, was rugged and stubbly. Their 30-ish friend Evelyn was exotic and voluptuous. They were crowded around the bar, all sipping dark wines.
"Oh, I'm over that," said Justin. "I want to come somewhere where I can have intelligent conversation — and actually hear the person I'm talking to."
"This is a good place to decompress," said Spencer. "I've come here and had a glass of wine and did a crossword puzzle. They're not snobby here; you come in, tell them how much you want to spend, and they'll find you something delicious." He added, "Naked Grape is the Cheers of Wilton Manors." "I just came here because the word 'naked' is promising," I said. "At 11 p.m., everyone gets naked," Justin whispered conspiratorially. I fist-pumped despite his obvious sarcasm. When I got back to my friends, the liquid in their glasses had all disappeared and Fancy was proposing that he had found the cure for alcoholism (I can't tell you what it is because he hasn't patented it yet and would kick my ass). Besides that, the four of them were rooting through a gorgeous platter of crackers, a pepper-infused goat cheese, and a soft, creamy cow cheese.
I'm not much of a wine connoisseur, but I'll skip the hip-hop clubs any day in favor of a plate of cheese and some good conversation. Pictures of hot, beefy, naked men don't hurt, either.
Red's Bar & Package: "You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'... You never even called me by my name!" David Allan Coe was blasting from the jukebox and my friends Beard and Brooklyn (nicknamed thusly because he's so hip) were belting out the lyrics, along with Robert, a somewhat inebriated good ol' boy who had sauntered over to us at some point because he believed we were in a band. (Profiled yet again by Beard's unkempt facial hair!)