Oh, Memorial Day weekend, three wonderful work-free days to spend drinking, lounging, grilling, and marinating in unadulterated American pride. After all, the average hard-workin' Joe Schmoe doesn't get many free Sunday nights to spend hanging with old friends, leaving a pile of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon bottles in his wake and not having to worry about that early Monday-morning meeting. Yeah, we Americans appreciate the sacrifices of our servicemen and women, but man, we also love our work-free Mondays.
Looking for a Memorial Day celebration, I drove out to Crabby Jack's (1015 N. Federal Hwy., Deerfield Beach) after reading an ad that promoted Crabby Jack's as a big Memorial weekend party hangout. Frank and Fred, two white-haired, 65-plus gentlemen, were looking for a place to catch up, reminisce, and enjoy some nice, all-American booze. But Frank, Fred, and I were all in for a big surprise — on Sunday nights, Crabby Jack's hosts an International Dance night, which is more Cinco de Mayo than Memorial Day and was a little unexpected for those of us coming out looking for good, ol'-fashioned hot-dog-and-beer Americana wholesomeness.
The Line: The place had a line of high-heeled girls and polo-shirted guys winding up the boardwalk, all waiting to get into the faux-boat restaurant. A crab carved into the wood of the boardwalk bore a cryptic message: "Enter at your own risk." Possibly this was in reference to the $3 cover charge, since I felt it was stretching it to be paying to enter a place called Crabby Jack's.
Ambiance: The place was already packed at 11 p.m., and I had to fight through scores of toned bodies to grab a booth on the far edge of the outdoor covered patio. A big crimson table ran down the center of the patio, surrounded by smaller tables and booths. A trio of tiny paper lanterns — red, white, and no, not blue, green — hung over the booth. At the table closest to us, four guys sporting slicked-up hair — one of whom was wearing a see-through shirt — drank Coronas and glanced around the room, checking out the scantily clad selection of female patrons. Music in Spanish came blaring from the speakers, and I decided that this was maybe a Memorial Day party of the future. I have seen the 22nd Century, folks, and people are speaking Spanish. While my compañeros decided on their drinks, I decided to go scope out the inside of the joint. Lit by soft red lights, the interior was furnished with dark wood and decorated with cardboard palm trees and promotional beer ads. Its oval-shaped bar sat smack-dab in the middle of the room, and single men crowded around it, crammed in shoulder to shoulder. I stumbled deeper into the den, and as the music intensified, I eventually came across a packed, bumpin', sexually charged dance floor.
Waitress: As the night wore on, the crowds collected like barnacles on a ship. Groups of partiers, seemingly multiplying parthenogenetically, talked, drank, and ground freakily against one another to the music, rendering patio navigation near-impossible. Marta, our round-faced, blond waitress, pushed through the clusters of customers and fought hard to bring thirsty patrons their delicious drinks. She spoke with a thick Polish accent, wore blue surf shorts and a Hawaiian lei, and was very quick to declare Crabby Jack's apparent lack of late-Sunday night drink specials.
"So it's Memorial Day weekend," I said. "No Bruce Springsteen?"
"Sunday night is International night," she said matter-of-factly in her strong accent. "And tonight is crazy."
Drinks: The beer selection at Crabby Jack's is, well, limited enough to make you crabby, but I ordered a faithful Bud Light and downed it heartily. At a high table nearby, three girls in perfectly applied makeup, jewelry, and brightly colored clubbing tops were sipping out of buckets.
"What are y'all drinking?" I asked the girls.
"It's a bunch of different kinds of juices, and rum," said Ali, who had dark-brown hair and wore a bright-green top. She stirred it a little with her straw, and I got the impression none of them was 100 percent sure what exactly was in their very alcoholic concoctions.
"Who can tell me what's up with this place? Look at all these people dressed up at a place called Crabby Jack's," I said. "Not quite the laid-back Memorial weekend atmosphere I was looking for. Is this bar always such a party?"
"It's usually pretty laid-back — it's not like this most nights," said Kim, a brunet in a strapless orange shirt and black heels. "I didn't expect it to be like this."
"But you guys are all dressed up in fancy club clothes too," I said.
Ali and Sanja, a thin, pony-tailed blond, looked at each other.
"We always dress like this," Ali said defensively.
Customers: A thin, possibly Latina woman in an excruciatingly tight lime-green outfit danced in a late-'80s-exercise-video sort of way to song after song, marching in place during the rare static silences. Farther away, a couple went way past dancing and entered the realm of dry-humping to music — and it only intensified when another guy joined in, making their grindfest a threesome. The exotic, excited snapping of foreign language intermingled with the steady Spanish refrains of songs the entire clientele knew the choruses to. Girls wore backless club shirts, short skirts, and strappy heels. Guys in polos wore their hats turned sideways. Honestly, Crabby Jack's seemed like a one-way ticket to somebody's crib and a dark room with waterbeds.
At the long red table running the length of the patio, Fred and Frank sat side by side, their white hair and aged faces throwing them in sharp contrast to the smooth-skinned partiers congregating around them.
"What are you guys doing out here tonight?" I asked them, grabbing a seat across from Fred, who wore a T-shirt and whose forehead was only slightly bald.
"I'm glad you speak English," Fred said. "It's nice to hear something other than all this Portuguese. We don't have to work tomorrow — it's Memorial Day — so we thought we'd come out here to catch up."
"There's a Memorial Day party going on here," I said. "What do you guys think?"
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"It's pretty crazy," Fred said. "But we're having fun. Frank and I haven't seen each other in 50 years."
"Well, we had our own lives," said Frank, who has thick white hair and wore a collared shirt and jeans. "We saw each other occasionally, but until now, we never had the chance to catch up."
"Yeah, we are just reminiscing about the old days — you'd have loved it back then," Fred said. "We'd block off U.S. 1 to have drag races, and there were big community parties with hundreds of girls just waiting to be picked up. Those were the good old days. Better days."
As the two old friends sipped Coronas, I got the feeling they were genuinely glad to be celebrating a Memorial weekend out on the town — despite the frenzied, untraditional party raging around them. And I guess there's some message in there, about diversity in America and cultures coming together. Memorial Day is what you make it, si, hombre? Also worth mentioning is Crabby Jack's key lime pie — despite a sometimes jarringly cosmopolitan evening at a packed bar, the high point of my Sunday was the deliciousness of that pie. Maybe if I were a true American, I'd have asked for apple pie, but I do like a little diversity.