Shooters Waterfront Cafe: "I thought you were really... different. That was the first thing about you that really caught my attention," he was saying. His clean sweatshirt was neatly pressed; he was good-looking, dark-complexioned, and had, throughout their conversation, employed many comical cartoon-character voices in attempts to make her laugh. She did, but only sparsely. She was waifish, with dark hair and a pretty, angular face. An arty chick if I'd ever seen one.
They sat adjacent to me at the large, pine-colored bar. She didn't look particularly engaged in him; she fiddled slightly with her long, flowing scarf.
Perhaps that's what he gets for taking her on a date to Shooters Waterfront Cafe, home of the corrupting, clingtastic Hot Bod Contest, which occurs once a week. Shooters hosted the event for decades, but it's officially now run by La Playa, which shares a pool deck with Shooters.
David, the utterly adorable bartender, insisted that the place used to be a real hot spot; today, it packs in a solid 30- to 50-year-old crowd that comes for the specials. "We still get slammed every day during happy hour," David said, "but it's not like back in the '80s. Everybody has their memory of that time. You know, we'd have lines five deep of boats docked outside. All waiting to get in. It was a serious party spot."
Shooters' main draw has always been its expansive patio area on the Intracoastal Waterway and the option of arriving by water. In more decadent days, it was Spring Break Central; today, drinkers still come by water taxi, and affluent couples pull up for dinner via yacht. Manatees and dolphins swim by all the time.
Inside the restaurant, the breezy Florida style persists: Yellow fish shimmy around inside giant fish tanks; alcohol-related posters ("Beer: It's What's for Dinner") and beach-scene pics grace the walls; big fake marlins swim across the dining area. I overheard a middle-aged New Yorker woman continually mistake Peyton for Eli Manning and watched a white-haired gent in a studded, black felt hat and fringed, black leather jacket cozy up to two slender, much-younger dames.
I got a bourbon and Coke (with Old Crow bourbon, which didn't particularly impress me), tore off a chunk of sweet Bimini bread, and took a swig of booze.
"What I mean is, I really, really like you," Cartoon Voice Guy was telling Arty Chick. "You can't often just sit and talk to someone without all the bullshit."
"Yeah, that's rare these days," she said vacantly.
"But I feel like I can say anything to you," he continued. "I want you to know — I really, really like you."
She smiled at him broadly, awkwardly, before calling out to the bartender, "When you get a second, can I get my check?"
Lesson learned: Shooter's isn't a place for amore. It's a place for boozing, beach culture, and, still, boobies.
Mugs: I got a clear sense of déjà vu at Mugs, but only, as I realized, because I'd been taken there for dinner once by a lovely gentleman. Only it was called Christine's then, and was quite a bit more expensive. Currently, Mugs does bear reminders of its predecessor — the fancy glass divider between bar and dining area; complete and utter cleanliness; the gourmet, fancy-schmancy chef. Sure, it had all the fixin's of a sports bar — dartboards, foosball, pool tables — but there was something special about it. It's a typical sports bar, kicked up a notch.
When Marc, the scruffy, ball-cap-wearing, utterly youthful owner walked over to me and wanted to talk about the menu, I was slightly dismissive. He looked all of about 17 years old (he is 24, actually; his partner is 27). But I warmed up to him as he talked about the Christine's chef staying on and pointed out some delectable entrées: penne alla vodka, penne garlic, chicken marsala.
The place was busy. College kids congregated by the pool table in the dining area; white-haired folks wolfed down dinner at the big wooden bar; a birthday party for a pretty brunet was ensuing nearby. She was wearing a big-ass felt top hat with the word birthday patterned on it.
"This place is great! A great local place!" she exclaimed as she leaned back in her stool. And almost fell out. Her friend leaned over."She'd say that no matter where she was," he said. "She's completely trashed. But I'll tell you in honesty: This place is great. It's already becoming like a Cheers; the bartender knows all our names."
I had to find out Marc's secret and how he had come to the sports-bar biz.
"What'd you go to college for?" I asked.
"Journalism," he said wryly. 'Nuff said 'bout that.
"We basically opened because we figured we had enough FSU friends to keep it in business," he said. "But we get a lot of walk-ins, and older people tend to love the place — because we keep it so clean. I'm a little OCD about it, really."
The place has been open only since September 4. Marc plans a huge Super Bowl party complete with giant flat-screen TVs in the back parking lot.
"I'd like to advertise in New Times, but we're not at that level yet," he said. "Right now, we're just at the putting-fliers-on-people's-doors level."
"I suspect not for long," I told him.
Mickey's 19th Hole Bar & Grill: Mickey's is the kind of place that doesn't change much. Regulars are so comfortable, they'll interrogate anyone whose face they don't recognize. It's nothing personal; they just feel entitled. They own the bar, so why shouldn't they know what you're doing in it, taking notes?
"Have you written about me yet?" asked Patrick, a boisterous, ruddy-faced patron in a tan sport coat.
"No, any suggestions?" I asked.
"You can tell them that I'm a potato farmer from Rhode Island," he said. "And I say it's all about love and happiness."
The décor inside Mickey's was overwhelming. Photos, posters, and sports memorabilia; helmets, flags, and bowling pins; and a giant, artistic stack of beer cans have all been amassed during Mickey's 20 years in operation.
"We're established," said Tate, the gentle bartender. "We get a good crowd and have fun. Though we have our fair share of assholes."
After a few drinks, I left my post between Chuck Ramsey and John Hannah to check on Patrick, who was downing a lipstick-red concoction and exhibiting signs of inebriation.
"Someone really should write about all the bars in Fort Lauderdale," he said. "That'd be a novel. Well, a series of novels. With novellas and spinoffs based on each novel."
"I write about the bars!" I said.
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"You want a reason to come here?" he said, talking over me. "This is the only bar you can come to see Marilyn Monroe's pussy," he said, very seriously. "This place hasn't changed in 20 years, and no one even notices her pussy anymore. But there it is, hanging out, plain as day!"
I was about to be offended. But before I could react, he pointed to the bar's infamous poster on the wall near his chair. "Right there! It's a pussy!" He laughed, slightly predatorily.
It sure was. Marilyn Monroe appeared gleeful and inebriated, and her private area was indeed slightly exposed. Decades before Britney Spears' and Paris Hilton's famous flashing incidents.
What can I say? This pit-stop pub is a great place to come for camaraderie, interesting characters, and indoor smoking. But as the regulars will tell you, Mickey's 19th Hole is also not a bad place to see Marilyn's hole. Ba-dum ching!