I grew up landlocked and still get pretty intimidated by the great big ocean— and bathtubs, for that matter. My favorite way to experience massive amounts of water and all that lies beneath is from a few feet away, with a very alcoholic beverage firmly in my clutches. So I took a rapid-fire tour of some of the coolest waterfront bars in the area — both best-kept secrets and brand-spankin' new — with enough nudie photos, 12-inch wieners, colorful characters, and corsets to last a lifetime. Take it from me: The water doesn't look so deep once you get a couple of Pelican Punches in your system.
Pelican Landing: Located in the Pier 66 Marina on the Hyatt Hotel grounds, Pelican Landing is a well-hidden jewel of a bar; it overlooks the docks and offers a stunning view of the Intracoastal — not to mention an array of sunny, fruit-tastic alcoholic beverages.
I had heard on the grapevine that Pelican Landing is trying to establish itself as a Tuesday-evening hot spot, so a handful of friends and I made our way across the docks and up the stairs and comfortably situated our asses at one of the candle-dotted wooden deck tables. Inside was a full-sized bar; outside, a guitarist crooned Bob Dylan hits under a hazy crescent moon. I quickly ordered the pinkest drink on the menu (a Pelican Punch, or, more accurately, an alcohol-infused diabetic coma) and leaned back to relax, enjoying the caress of the salty evening breeze, the distant sound of lapping water, and the all-too-familiar sensation of liquor sucker-punching me in the liver. Ah, this is the life.
"You meet all kinds here," said Paul, the Pelican Landing employee who has been given the mandate to, as he put it, "make Tuesday nights happen." He continued: "I met a pair of rich Dutch guys a few days ago. And earlier, I was talking with a rum maker from Tennessee."
"Random," I said.
"We're trying to create the perfect Tuesday night here," Paul explained while clad in a yellow, blue, and red Hawaiian shirt. "A great blend of music, tourists, locals, and half-price drinks."
"What should I order?" asked my lovely lady friend, Blondie. She was sipping a blend of Grey Goose and cucumber, which she had deemed "too sweet."
"How about a hot dog?" Paul asked. He smiled slyly and pushed a flier toward us, which read: When was the last time you had a 12-inch?
"I don't need that much hot dog," Blondie said. She ignored the subsequent onslaught of phallus jokes and complied only after Paul informed her that hot dogs are free on Tuesday nights.
Peter, the ponytailed guitarist, had pulled up a chair and was taking song requests (we asked for Beatles and Rolling Stones) when the hot dog arrived, slathered with relish and spicy white sauce.
Blondie looked aghast and immediately offered some to Peter.
"No thanks," he said. "Can't eat or drink for two hours before playing guitar."
She sliced a piece for my friend Beard, who, on his third vodka tonic, put the wiener in his mouth without much protest and deemed it delicious.
Personally, I've never been to a place where you can sip rum from a second-story hotel bar like some kind of classy tourist and still be invited — no, baited — to make penis jokes. Plus, it's a beautiful view. Get your ass out there.
Beachside Grill: The interior was composed mostly of earthy shades of stone and brick; the seating included leather booths (complete with a mini-TV affixed to the wall beside each) and the uncluttered, rectangular bar was chicly decorated with wine glass racks, candles, and pink orchids. I grabbed a spot at the bar just beyond a black-and-white photo of Frank Sinatra. Around the bar was a collection of mostly tanned, middle-aged-and-up folks who were laughing, talking, and watching the slick Italian co-owner, Charlie, teach a corseted, brunet waitress how to properly pour liquor.
"One... two... three... You've got to feel it," he coached as she sloshed liquid into a glass. "Practice with water. You'll get it."
"She's trying," I said a few minutes later.
"She's never worked in a restaurant before," Charlie told me. "She told me that up-front — but said her husband went to Iraq and she really needed a job."
"And you asked her if she could fit into a corset, right?" I asked.
He laughed. "No — the corsets are a new thing, actually — but I hired her on the spot, and she's been one of my best workers since."
Formerly the owner of a New York gourmet ravioli company, Charlie — who wore a black button-down and had a handsome grin — had opened Beachside Grill only a month ago. Monday nights, he told us, the bar hosted a sports radio talk show, with former Dolphins player Jim Kiick as one of the commentators; weekends, they brought in crowds and encouraged dancing. He also told us the crab cakes are to die for, and my friend salivated at the mention of the house Italian gravy. Then he busily sent us on to talk to James, a long-term (well, relatively, for a place open only a month) patron.
"I come to dance to the doo-wop on the weekends," James said. He had salt-and-pepper hair and wore black eyeglasses. "I've been coming since they opened."
"What's the draw?" I asked.
"Too many places down near the beach are tiki bars and full of rowdy 20-somethings," he said. "This is a good, quieter place older people can come, without all the fighting and drama."
Yak-Zies: "Have you peed yet?" asked Sheryl, a Yak-Zies bartender and cook. She was wearing a Maxine T-shirt (you know — the grouchy old lady from the line of greeting cards) and black-framed glasses and had a wonderful, genuine smile. "Oh, come on, there's no one back there right now."
She pulled me to the bathroom and showed me the ladies' room: The walls were covered with framed photos of strapping gents. Then she showed me the men's room — which boasted walls covered in neatly arranged nudie photos of nipple-revealing females.
"Hot," I said.
"I tell guys they've only got two minutes in there," she said with a wry smile.
Yak-Zies, located right in front of a canal and waterway, was bright, friendly, and immaculately clean, with forest-green walls and framed photos arranged according to themes, including sports, Norman Rockwell, and dogs. One wall was labeled "Da Wall of Da Stooges" and covered in organized, evenly spaced Three Stooges photos. Foreigner's "Cold as Ice" was playing subtly in the background, and the oblong bar was surrounded by high chairs and tables, which Sheryl informed me had all been made by a friend of the owner's.
"I've been here ten years," Sheryl said. "When the owner first bought the place, he brought in all these framed photos and said, 'Hey, Toots — because that's what he called women — put these pictures in groups.' "
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As a result, nearly every wall was adorned with pictures.
"Those pictures of dogs," Sheryl pointed to the wall directly across from where I'd perched at the bar. "Those are all customers' dogs — well, Missy belongs to the owners, and mine's up there too. One of them — Ginger — used to come up here looking for her owner if she couldn't find him at home. He was such a regular, she just assumed he'd be here."
A bar of interior-design-conscious dog lovers with a fine appreciation for the female form? From inside Yak-Zies, I didn't even have to look at that dark, scary water.