If love makes the world go 'round, alcohol makes love a little easier to find. That's why, this week, I've selected a few great places you can go to have ultimate success in liquoring up (and scoring with) a hot date. Consider this your Christmas present — from my home to yours. When you do finally get your soul mate in the sack, be sure to thank Night Watch.
Mai-Kai: This is a Fort Lauderdale staple (since 1956!) and Elvis-in-Hawaii Polynesian surf-culture mecca. It's a good place to bring tourists and a great place to bring a date if you want to trick him or her into believing you are both cool and cultured.
The Mai-Kai has a lot to it (gift shop, restaurant with Polynesian stage show and fire dancers, lush outdoor tropical gardens), but the bar area is spectacular all by itself: It's like a Disney ride and tiki bar, all wrapped up in a hula skirt. The whole place is low-ceilinged, damp-smelling, and draped with nautical décor: fish nets, life preservers, weathered maps, rope ladders, and barrels. Busty figureheads beckon from the walls, and you can look through the porthole-like windows to glimpse tiki scenes. During my recent visit, small flickering lamps and Christmas lights twinkled in the otherwise dark room while a long-haired dude in the corner stood playing feel-good island tunes on his Fender Strat.
My buddy Beard and I cracked open our menus. I scanned the "mild" and "medium" alcoholic drinks; Beard flipped right to the "strong" and began eyeing the Barrel o' Rum. There were rum juleps, daiquiris, and something called a "Shark Bite" (description: Swim fast and hope for the best). Beard opted for the "Shrunken Skull" (description: dangerous and deadly) and I settled for a standard piña colada. Jordan, our petite, chatty bartender, was clad in the standard Mai-Kai uniform — bikini top, short sarong, and flower in her crimpy brown tresses — and served our drinks at lightning speed.
"You guys should come in for happy hour," she said. "It's 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Half-price drinks." We were already slogging down our drinks. Amid my jitters from the subsequent sugar rush, I made a mental note. She paused to pull her bikini top up a little, noting that the uniforms were notorious for falling down and pulling on cleavage. The fix, which waitresses must constantly perform, is "called the Mai-Kai tug," Jordan told us.
"Hot," said Beard.
I began chatting with a middle-aged man sitting nearby who mentioned seeing Beard "on the internet" before (and subsequently revealed on his phone a picture of a drug-addled, furry-faced homeless man who indeed bore a slight resemblance to my drinking partner). He was there with his small son.
"I come here because it's the Mai-Kai," he said. "There's nothing else like it."
I turned to the little blond kid. "What are you doing here?"
"I just got done with a show," he said matter-of-factly.
"He's a fire dancer," Jordan interjected, delivering a glass of water to the child.
"Is it hard?" I asked.
"Nope — fun!" he said.
His dad whipped out his phone and showed me a video of the kid twirling a stick of fire, lit on both ends.
"Wow," I said, genuinely impressed."That was my first show," the kid said. "I'm better at it now."
When I returned to my own table, Jordan and Beard were arguing flirtatiously about the merits of sports-watching and Beard was downing a Barrel o' Rum, which is precisely what it sounds like.
"Can I get another drink?" I asked.
Jordan reverted from her fevered arguing voice to the soft, syrupy-sweet siren song of a demure Mai-Kai bartender. "Of course," she said.
And at that moment, I realized: A perfect date is with the Mai Kai itself, regardless of whatever special friend you might bring along.
Trina: Trina, the Atlantic Hotel's classy oceanfront bar, is decorated with abstract art, dark wood furniture, small round tables, retro-chrome chairs, and plush outdoor patio seating. Carefully arranged liquor bottles are on display behind the bar; a giant gold wreath hangs festively over a large wall mirror; and sleek, pretty waitresses bustle around. Me and my friends, Beard and Fancy, took a seat at one of the classy tables. Fancy was wearing stylish dress pants and shoes; Beard had even bothered to take off his ever-present Yankees cap.
I contemplated the delicious-sounding Pomarosa, a pomegranate-and-tequila concoction, even though I usually recommend the I Love, a jalapeño-infused martini concoction that's spicy but still manages to be peach-sweet. It's a little much after awhile, but it's fantastically novel at first. (Yes, we'd been here before. We like to, on occasion, wear shoes without holes in them and pretend we're rich yachties instead of destitute writers, OK?)
Fancy was impressed with the venue, because "for martini snobs, this is one of the few places around with Miller's gin," Fancy said.
"They don't have it at the Ritz or the W."
"Would you take a date here?" I asked the boys.
"Sure," said Beard. "Maybe a fourth or fifth date. Take 'em out by the ocean, buy 'em a few drinks, and they'll be obligated to — " I raised an eyebrow.
" — Have coffee with you later," Beard finished.
I gave him the evil eye and walked to the bar. The bartender was dark-haired, slim, and exotic and called me "sweetie" the way a chain-smoking diner waitress might — except in an adorably saccharine timbre.
"What's your best drink?" I asked.
"The Cubeltini is popular — made of cucumbers, mint, sugar cane, syrup, lime, and vodka," she said. "It was created by a bartender here. It actually won first place in a recent Food and Wine competition."
By the time I got back to my table, a slew of our buddies had arrived, and we had fun people-watching and providing running commentary. As if to distract us from the other customers, the bartender brought over some Cubeltini samples, which we grabbed and gulped.
"Oh God, it's like liquefied cucumber," Fancy recoiled.
"Not my thing," agreed Beard, who was moments away from ordering a plain old beer.The youngest of our group, baby-faced and freshly 21 years old, had gulped an entire sample.
"I liked it," he said pointedly.
Next thing we knew, he'd ordered a full glass from the bar and swigged it just as fast.
"Things are going to get interesting," muttered his boyfriend.
Well, Trina's certainly a ritzy place to get trashed, but I wasn't gonna stop him. Me, if I'm gonna get slammed, it's going to involve three-for-one drinks...
Porterhouse Bar & Grill: There are few locations on Himmarshee Street acceptable to bring a date that you still have to impress (i.e., haven't yet slept with). Porterhouse gets the Night Watch stamp of approval. Why? It boasts low, sexy lighting, glowing candles, heavy red curtains, wall sconces, gold-rimmed mirrors, velvet ropes outside the door (bonus points for feigned exclusivity), leather seats, and fancy glasses. More important, it has three-for-one cocktails (beers, house wines, and call-it wells) Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Eager to cut to the chase, I summoned the blond, slender bartender. She had heavy eyeliner and was decked out in a form-fitting, all-black ensemble.
"Say one needed a place to bring a date, get him trashed, and take advantage of him...," I began.
"We have three-for-one drinks, so I'd say this is a good place for that," she said wryly.
"Does that ever happen here?" I said innocently.
"As a responsible bartender, I can't divulge that," she said. "But they're full-sized drinks. Three drinks will inebriate some people, but others might need more."
"How about him?" I pointed at burly Beard, who was using the stir-straw in his drink to eviscerate a cherry.
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"He might need a few more," she said.
"You'd be done after one," Beard snapped at me.
We would see about that. Considering that I don't recall much of what happened after that, I have to give it up for Beard: He called it.