I like to think I'm a little more culturally savvy than your average cookie-cutter blond American girl. I'm a hookah pro. I love licorice from northern Europe. I can swear in at least six different languages. And I'll drink alcohol that's been imported from just about anywhere. Still, there's something so heartwarming about apple pie and amber waves of grain that I wouldn't trade that shit for all the baklava in Turkey. (And that's saying a lot, because baklava and I go way back to a little Persian restaurant with linen tablecloths near my hometown in Texas.)
I was reading pretentious foreign literature at the beach when I saw a plane pulling an aerial advertisement for America's Backyard (200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) — "a drinking establishment with a restaurant problem." I figured that at the very least it had to be a place familiar with what it means to love the red-white-and-blue, right?
So a few days later I found myself discovering that America's Backyard is not a less populated border country but a barbecue-themed bar that plays '90s music on Thursday nights. Who knew?
Ambience: The place is like the backyard every American kid had growing up: two stories of covered patio seating, a huge open area, five total bars, and a second-story restaurant (OK, not every kid). On the wall behind the covered stage (America's Backyard is open-air and ceiling-less), there are two big-ass TV screens playing an endless stream of music videos, all picked by the dude in the hotdog stand DJ booth.
Dance music throbbed, lights flashed red and green in every direction as I made my way to the large bar in the middle — positioned smack-dab under the stars. This bar is tiled in blue and white like an above-ground swimming pool, patrons perching on white wooden patio chairs around it. I found a spot near the eight-and-a-half-foot marker, sat down, and scanned the crowd. Because the place is built for hundreds, the paltry population of 30 or so partiers made the Backyard seem nearly deserted.
Apparently in America a backyard isn't complete without hula hoops. They're nice to have around because drunken girls seem to enjoy rotating their hips inside a piece of plastic.
Bartenders: Doug was the skinny dude behind the bar. He wore a red polo shirt and a Pokerstars cap and was tag-team bartending with a tattooed blond girl in a short jeans skirt. While Doug spent a lot of time chatting up two young ladies on the side of the bar furthest from me, his blond counterpart offered up drinks, flirtation, and exposed hip bones. She also produced an air cannon — a yellow contraption that resembles a plastic bullhorn and releases strong bursts of air — and handed it to Mike, a guy with dark hair and a Disney wrist watch. Mike ignored his wife, sipped a Miller Light, and tried to use the cannon to muss up the manes of innocent women.
Drinks: "Earlier this evening we had two-for-ones, but that's over now," Doug told me when I asked him about drink specials.
"I read on your website that on Thursday nights you serve $3 Long Island iced teas," I said, leaning toward him. I don't remember much about the last time I had an encounter with a Long Island iced tea (except that I blacked out), but $3 was too cheap not to have a rematch.
Doug stared at me blankly. Then he shrugged. "Sounds good to me."
Party Like It's 1999: After Doug brought me my $3 death-trap, I turned my attention to the music. They seemed to be actively avoiding any music from the '90s. We'd heard Gloria Gaynor from the '70s, Michael Jackson from the '80s, and recent pop jams by everyone from Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake. As I watched one of my companions dance drunkenly to every song regardless of decade, I began to think America's Backyard had forgotten its enticing promise to let me relive my suburban all-American childhood in bursts of three-minute songs.
But then whoomp — there it was. For me, the '90s was a blur of public school, Pogs, Hammer Pants, and word to your mother. What better way to remember it than listening to "Da Dip" by Freak Nasty or "Tootsee Roll" by 69 Boyz?
Customers: Maybe the local gals still love MC Hammer or maybe they're just a bit more patriotic than the guys, but by midnight Thursday America's Backyard seemed to be yet undiscovered by the hormone-fueled hordes of single men. Women wearing skirts and heels sat in pairs around the bar, talking in close contact and sipping tequila.
But as the night wore on, flip-flop-wearing 20-somethings, including a bunch of guys, made America's Backyard their bitch, and the open, outdoorsy nature of the place made it a perfect place to party.
Two young couples dressed like they'd just crawled off the beach were partying hard. Mike Leclair, a square-jawed guy in cap and flip-flops, smelled like liquor.
"I'm trying to get a job here," he told me. "But they haven't hired me yet."
A dark-haired girl wearing a red off-the-shoulder top over a bikini sporadically interrupted us. If a particularly sexy song came on (Flo Rida's "Low" seemed to be a particular favorite; we heard it several times long after they had forsaken '90s music in favor of more current jams), she'd shoot me a withering look and grind against him. He'd pull her red shirt off and grope her. At the end of the song, she'd put her clothing back on and the infinite cycle of clothing removal and replacement would continue. When a group of friends distracted her, Mike turned back to me.
"I like this area, but I'm from Melbourne, and we don't have as many gays there," he said. "I'm kinda homophobic. But I like Darius" — he pointed to a dark-complexioned guy grinding against one of the girls — "we get along pretty good."
Our conversation should have ended there, but it didn't until he asked me my number.
"Isn't she your girlfriend?" I asked, gesturing at the girl in red.
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"Who, her? No, no. I'm single," he said.
But by this time three girls had jumped up on the bar, a grinding blur of gyrating suntanned flesh and string bikinis.
Guess homophobia and the blatant objectification of women are still alive and well in America... or at least the bar that claims to be its backyard.
As I closed my tab and left, I thought how eventually I'd like to have a sweet, suburban backyard filled with friends, good times, and plenty of booze. And though I could forego the inebriated idiots, increasingly naked girls, and general debauchery, I'd for sure have hula hoops and plenty of '90s music. I'd even share my imported liquor. But no one better touch my baklava.