Night Watch: Boo Riley's
2528 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-567-1212.
The bartender, Tina, wore a tight black Bebe shirt, a shiny studded belt, and a confident glow. She flicked the cap off my beer and plopped the bottle down in front of me in one swift movement, and then she was off again, greeting familiar faces with terms of endearment like "honey" and "sweetie." When a couple came in and took the spot next to me, she greeted them by name and started filling a Blue Moon before they could speak. Like most of the crowd, they're a little bit wrinkled but damned good company.
The low-ceilinged neighborhood spot was immaculate, despite the crowd; pots of orange flowers sat in the windows, twinkling Christmas lights adorned each doorway, and basketball played on the ubiquitous flat-screen TVs. There are two mirrors behind the bar -- one advertises the upcoming St. Paddy's day festivities; the other simply says, "Slainte from Boo's!" The wall adjacent to the mirror sports an airbrushed Steelers helmet.
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Matt, thin with spectacles, and his wife, Leslie, white-blond with an elegant beauty found only -- and rarely -- in ladies past a certain age, sipped their brews and surveyed their surroundings. I leaned over to Matt.
"Why is it so busy in here?" I asked.
"It's prime rib night," he looked at me like that answer should have been fairly obvious. It was true; all around the bar, folks dug into steaks and scratched the flesh from their baked potatoes. One man was using a New Times as a place mat for his plate and beer.
"The prime rib? Is that why you're here tonight?" I asked Matt.
"We come in because we love the atmosphere," he said. "Boo's is our neighborhood bar."
To my left, a couple discussed with Tina which leftovers they should take home to their dog, Wolfie. "He loves potato," the lady said.
The story behind Boo Riley's is kind of like a fairy tale -- except where the beautiful lady works really hard for 33 years in the restaurant biz before purchasing her place of employment and transforming it into a glorious Steelers/Hurricanes neighborhood bar that packs in a busy crowd every day of the week. The beautiful lady then enjoys happiness, success, and unmitigated boozin'.
The little bar -- which is shaped like a red house with a Steelers football player and the giant Hurricanes logo on its roof -- has belonged to many different people and been many different things. Before Boo -- a five-foot-two magnetic blond who hugs everyone -- bought it about a year ago, it was a wine bar called Darryl's. She'd worked as the bar manager there for a handful of years.
"I have parties all the time," Boo said, her cadence at roughly one mile per minute. "I love parties -- if there's no occasion, we make one up! Last year, we had Christmas in July -- and everyone got a present."
"So what's your backstory?" I asked.
"I went to the University of Michigan and dropped out to work at TGIF's," Boo told me. "My dad was mortified. My brothers and sisters are doctors, lawyers, CEOs. And I was going into the service industry...
But I love it, and I've always loved it," Boo continued, reapplying her liquid lipstick in this fleeting bout of downtime. "I've worked my way up -- and just recently, my dad finally told me he was proud of me."
"All daughters know what it's like to crave Daddy's acceptance," I said.
"These people are my friends" -- she swept a hand around the room -- "truly my friends. I make a difference in their lives, and that's worth something to me."
Happiness? Check. Success?
Check. Booze? Check.
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