It was an unusual come-on for a place named after the Greek god of lust and fornication: free food. I guess to some, nothing says "loving" like a full belly, garlic breath, and a little chunk of something lodged between the teeth. While I wondered how such a promotion would play out among the affluent, pretty people of Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue, I have to admit, Taverna Eros had me at "free."
So my friend Christine and I headed out on a Thursday night to check out this unusual "unescorted ladies eat free from a special menu" deal.
"Order whatever you want under $20," the big guy at the host's stand told us when I announced our freeloading intentions, handing us the regular menu with the explanation that the special menu hadn't been printed yet. Then he fulfilled my request to sit at the bar by shooing away another couple who sat there, like we were celebrities or something instead of just cheapskate opportunists.
"Don't worry they're with me," he reassured.
Our 8 p.m. arrival coincided with a small-scale exodus, and by the time we ordered some vodka and tonics, the bar scene was almost nil and that included the population doubled by the billboard-sized mirror hung on the wall opposite the bar.
"Does it pick up later?" I asked the bartenders, wondering if maybe the place was a popular bar that was trying to lure a dinner crowd.
The pair behind the bar were enough alike solidly built, handsome, with sandy brown hair that it created a sort of visual echo appropriate to their nicknames, Hans and Frans. Neither of them answered my question, so I tried again.
"What? You want to get picked up?" Hans teased.
I gave a polite laugh and waited.
"So does it?" I insisted, eyeing Frans, whose biceps were so big, I was pretty sure he could pop my head off with a well-placed squeeze.
"Settle down. If all else fails, one of us will take you home," the comparatively lean Hans quipped.
I exhaled an exasperated sigh.
"You gotta pay for the drinks, but the comedy is free," Hans said, showing off by pouring vodka over his shoulder and catching it in the silver shaker behind his back.
"...and once you hear the comedy, you'll know why," rejoined the straight man in the comedic routine, Frans, whose real name is Frank.
Hans introduced himself as Kurt. "Begins with a K, ends with a T, and you're in the middle," he said.
"He's cute!" Christine said under her breath, giggling as she nudged me.
The place had a seductive ambiance simple yet stunning or, if you will, "dramatically Spartan." The stark, textured white walls and their blue shutters invoked the sunbleached stucco and cerulean blue of the Mediterranean. Images of that cradle of Western culture were projected on the back wall and on the flat-screen TVs behind the bar. They served both as virtual tour and as an ambient light source that drenched the place in color. The faux tree that shaded the bar was still there from the former tenant, Mano a Mano. However, now, on the shelves between its plaster branches, besides the liquor bottles, were statues of Eros.
"So is this the sort of place we can throw plates and go 'Opa!'?" I asked as Kurt set down our plates of roasted lamb and chicken kebabs.
"Here in the lawsuit capital of America?" he asked.
As Christine and I munched and guzzled, an image of the bar's namesake on the flat screen raised an objection.
"It's never good to look at penises while you're eating," I remarked of the painting of Eros and Psyche.
"Especially on little children," Christine added, refining this rule of etiquette that Emily Post neglected to address.
"Everyone comments on that one," chimed in the pretty brunet who'd been exiled when we were seated.
She and her friend were back now that seats had been vacated at the bar. Calling herself a "Floridiot," her term for a native, she introduced herself as one of the owners.
"Susan Martin," she said, extending her hand and quickly adding an "opolis" before I finished my "That's not very Greek" observation. And the "SD" necklace? It was a present from her fiancé, she said, both her life and business partner, our obsequious host and former owner of Taverna Opa, Steven Dapuzzo, who'd given the jewelry as an engagement gift at Christmas.Though the scene now was rather tame, Susan assured me that on the weekends it was wild, including table-top dancing. Right now, only a woman in a silver spangled headdress, bra top, and red, poofy pants was dancing to the snake charmeresque music.
"She's gonna give him a heart attack!" Christine exclaimed as the entertainer shimmied for an elderly man.
It was a health risk he was evidently willing to take and pay for! He rewarded her with a dollar slid into the belt of her costume.
Soon, the belly dancer approached us at the bar. "Are you gonna dance with me?" she asked.
I brushed her off with a "Maybe later," and as she shook it like a Polaroid picture for other patrons, I excused myself for the ladies room, where the multicultural experience continued this time in the form of two women conversing in the next stall in a language I did not recognize. The only word I did understand was Borat.
As we washed up, my question about their country of origin was met with steely silence, so I tried another approach: "I love Borat!"
"I laughed my ass off!" said the taller of the two blond goddesses.
"What ass?" the other beauty asked, turning her friend around to face the bathroom door and smacking her on her tiny tush.
Back at the bar, Christine had ferreted some information out of our bartender, Kurt, who was now engaged in a squirt-gun duel with his coworkers behind the bar. "He was a male stripper for five years!" she reported in a giggled whisper. "Maybe he'll make a comeback!"
And then the two continued to shamelessly flirt while the belly dancer took an interest in me. When she again tried to cajole me into joining her, I spat out the only argument I could think of.
"Look, you don't want me dancing on anything around here," I assured her, recounting the time a boyfriend remarked that my clumsy enthusiasm meant that our sex life should be limited to the bed, which was "not only for comfort but also for safety."
Evidently, my story convinced her. Since it was slow and she'd already shimmied for everyone in the joint, we took the opportunity to talk. Akasha (her real name), a marketing and advertising professional by day, said she took up belly dancing when putting her grandmother in a nursing home made her aware of her finite time to realize her dreams. "I called my mother and said, 'Don't plan anything on Tuesday nights for the rest of your life!'"
Eight years later, she and her mother both perform. The hardest part?
"Getting people up to dance," Akasha replied pointedly.
Well, she certainly wasn't going to have any luck with the two women at the far end of the bar, one of whom had an expensive Ferragamo sandal on one foot and a big, black cast on the other.
"Amateur night at the strip club," she joked when I asked about her injured leg, which she'd elevated on one of the barstools.
When the two, Debbie and Lynda, told me they'd just come from a charity event for a bite to eat, I told them they would have gotten a little charity of their own if they'd come a little earlier.
"Hey," Lynda called to Kurt, "how come you didn't tell us it was ladies night?"
"I'll give you the martinis two-for-one," he offered.
Debbie observed, "They've got a friendly staff."
Lynda agreed. "Very, actually."
Yeah, and Christine was making the most of it, batting her lashes at both the bartenders. I, on the other hand, used my skills to learn more from the ladies, who shared their plans to open a beauty salon/supply store in Delray this fall.
"Which do you like better, Shag or Mirror Mirror?" Lynda wanted to know when I asked what they were going to call the place.
"How'd you come up with those names?" I asked, thinking maybe understanding the process would help me choose.
"A lot of drinking," Debbie said, laughing.
Since they obviously appreciated the power of excess, I suggested they use both one for the salon and the other for the store. They declared my genius and promptly offered me a makeover as a reward.
I wasn't sure if I should be flattered or insulted. I didn't have much time to deliberate because my dessert a passion fruit martini aptly dubbed the "Passion of Eros" had just arrived to take my mind off things.
Meanwhile, Christine was entirely focused. She'd claimed a water pistol from behind the bar and was battling Frank, who was firing cowboy style with a gun in each hand. She dipped beneath the bar's copper top and tried to position for a stealthy attack. But Frank kept reaching over and shooting her dead on, sending her squealing for cover several times before she realized he must somehow be tracking her. A little moist and momentarily baffled, Christine looked up to discover the problem.
"That's what the mirror is for!" she exclaimed.
When the newly arrived chichi patrons began to object to the unsophisticated fun, the two called a truce.
"I'm giddy from all the sex hormones," Christine laughed.
"It'll be the best 30 seconds you'll ever forget," Kurt quipped suggestively.
Whether he was talking about himself or Frank, I wasn't sure. I wasn't exactly sure either how what had promised to be an erotic evening had turned out to be just a bunch of silly fun. Then again, Eros moves in mysterious ways.
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