As country singer and fellow Texan Kevin Fowler says, "The lord loves the drinkin' man." Of course, rock-ribbed conservatives and nuns might want you to think otherwise, but even they have to concede that there are more than a few similarities between pubs and churches. Like-minded people regularly gather at both for feel-good rituals. Pubs have jukeboxes and beer; churches have choirs and communion wine. Bar patrons get glassy-eyed with booze and slump over on their stools, while worshippers get glassy-eyed with boredom and slump over in their pews. Some will tell you that churches are the way to Heaven and pubs are a one-way ticket to Hell, but I say that's just splitting hairs. If the spirit (or the spirits) hit you in this troubled world of ours, you'll be a better human being for it, damnit.
When I got wind of the Stained Glass Pub, a 36-year-old neighborhood booze-and-food joint, it sounded to me like the ultimate bridge between the enlightened and the inebriated, and my soul heard an urgent voice saying: Get thee to yon drinking spot.
Ambiance: Instead of depicting angels descending from Heaven, or the Virgin Mary in prayer, or something equally holy, the mock stained-glass painting that covers the roof of the Stained Glass Pub shows a modest sunset scene, with ocean, trees, and spots of red.
Stained Glass Pub5216 N Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-772-4495, or visit thestainedglasspub.com.
The building is irregularly shaped, and patio tables with umbrellas are scattered around its front door. I walked through the big foyer, expecting a cathedral type of atmosphere inside, but the Stained Glass Pub is (holy Mother of God) Tiki-themed. The octagon-shaped bar was covered by a thatched roof, patrons dressed in their SoFla football-watching best perched on light-wood bar stools, and neon beer signs blinked from the walls. A "special-of-the-day" blackboard begged patrons to consider having their Christmas parties at the bar; a digital jukebox sat unused in the corner, and, from numerous TVs spaced throughout the room, I could hear Hank Williams Jr. asking viewers if they were "ready for some footbaaaaalllll."
My companion and I grabbed a spot at one of the blond-wood booths and scanned the scene. For a Monday night, the place had a decent collection of Floridians in search of a buzz. But I, the spiritual seeker, was disappointed: Aside from a few scenes painted on glass in the surface of the bar, I detected no stained glass. Could the Pub be wrestling with an identity problem?
Drinks: Chris, our dark-haired bartender/server, eventually wandered over to take our order. I asked for a Stella Artois and a side of French fries. When he returned to deposit my light, frothy brew upon its respective coaster, I narrowed my eyes into slits and popped him with a reasonable question.
"So, why is this place called the 'Stained Glass Pub'?" I asked. "I see no stained glass."
"Well, there used to be stained glass," Chris said. "But then Hurricane Wilma came in and blew it all off." Oh. Talk about your act of God. The frowning church biddies must have clucked all the way to the hen house when that happened.
History: Chris must have felt the need to further satiate my curiosity, because he sent Kerri Tucker, the blonde, pixyish owner, over for a word. Kerri buzzed with enthusiasm and Long Island attitude, and swung through topics of conversation like Tarzan swings through jungle vines.
"I've only owned this place a year," she said. "But it's been around since 1972. I bought it off three siblings, who'd owned it for many years before."
"So tell me about the place," I said.
"Oh, there are stories," she said. "One woman married a man she met while sitting in seat #65. Seven years later, she divorced the son of a bitch, came back, sat in the same spot, and said she was hoping to meet someone new.
"I've also heard a story of a married couple who came in, got drunk, went home, got frisky, and conceived a child," she continued. "They held the baby shower in our back room.
"We have eleven VIPs who have been coming in for at least 18 years," she said. "They get really good discounted drinks and they come in almost every day."
"I'd come in every day for discounted drinks," my companion muttered.
"And back a long time ago, they used to have the bartenders wearing short skirts and low-cut shirts," she said. "Maybe I should bring that back." She laughed and pretended to unbutton her pink sweatshirt, which was zipped up to her chin.
"I'd definitely come in every day for that," my companion said.
If anything besides cheap drinks can get my friend into a bar, it's exposed female thighs. But the only bartender I'd seen so far was our bearded bartender, Chris. He was a handsome fellow, but imagining him in a sexy Catholic school girl get-up? Not pretty.
"Chris told me the stained glass was destroyed in the hurricane," I said.
"Oh, yeah," she pointed toward the large front foyer. "It used to be right there. It was gone by the time I bought this place, but I've seen pictures, and it was beautiful: Huge stained glass picture of wine goblets."
Charity: "Lisa Mueller, one of the place's previous owners, is doing a Pampered Chef party here," said Kerri, her tone becoming slightly more serious. I'd never been to a Pampered Chef party, but I knew that any time my mother went to one, she'd return with everything from fancy Tupperware to extravagant onion-dicing equipment.
"Some of the proceeds go toward the North Broward Children's Hospital."
"Oh?" Chalk up another similarity between churches and bars: charity work. You don't even need stained glass when you have chipper chicks selling serrated knives for sick kids.
"The hospital is amazing — you see these kids wheeling around in their wheelchairs, covered in bandages, but still smiling. And kids you see one day might be gone the next." Normally, I come to bars to forget the woes of the world, but Kerri wasn't having any of that.
"Also, we do a drive here at the bar — we'll take anything, clothes, cosmetics, whatever — to donate."
"Wow, that's really good of you," I said. " 'Tis the season, I guess."
"The other day, someone dropped off a beautiful, green velvet dress," she said. "It's a size 16, and that's good — that way, a smaller kid would be able to get it on over all her bandages."
I've never met such a do-gooder bar owner. Maybe Kerri doesn't even need stained glass to be saintly.
Customers: Marilyn wore a loose-fitting floral shirt, and long strands of her shiny white hair cascaded down her back. I watched her walk in and hop up on a bar stool, making her look tiny on her perch and almost childlike. Joe, a younger man with cropped dark hair, sat next to her as she sipped her drink.
"So what's so great about this place?" I asked.
"Good friends, good food, good booze," Marilyn said, without missing a beat. "What else do you want from a bar?"
"No, it's actually because Chris is hung like a pony," Joe mock-whispered, pointing at the bartender. "That's why people come here."
"What?" Chris asked, sauntering over.
"He says you're hung like a pony, and that's why he comes in here," I said.
"Oh, stop, you're making me blush," said Chris, fluttering his eyelashes.
"No, that's not why I personally come in here," Joe back-tracked. "That's why the girls come in here."
Marilyn rolled her eyes. "Good friends, good food, and good booze. I've been coming here since 1977."
"Before she was even born," Joe said, thrusting a thumb in my direction.
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"So, you remember the stained glass?" I asked Marilyn.
"Yeah, it was beautiful," she said. "When the hurricane hit, I came over to this place every day I didn't have electricity. I needed to get my morning coffee somehow!"
"Coffee?! I'd have wanted vodka!" yelled Joe.
I crawled back over to my booth and found that my drink had been replenished, compliments of Kerri. My companion, while waiting patiently, had nearly a half-drink head start on me. As I watched the Christmas lights on the bar alternate — red and orange blinked to blue, green, and yellow — I changed my mind. I don't need my pub-crawling and praying to overlap. I didn't want to say good riddance, stained glass. But, shoot, religious grandiosity has little to do with the good folks of the neighborhood who just wander in to wet their lips. If Marilyn's been coming in since 1977, the Pub — with its tiki roof, its upbeat staff, and, yes, its penchant for spreading charity — must be doing something right.