There are no flourishes in the warehouse district in Pompano, where the buildings are low and squat and a methadone clinic is one of the busier daytime establishments. On a rainy night, Andrews Avenue is lonely and gray.
A spotlight tucked among the buildings glorifies a mural of an American flag emblazoned with an eagle's head. This is the sign of arrival at Mickey's Bar, a regular stop for transient folks whose constant is a Harley-Davidson bike.
In the parking lot is a domed tarp that resembles a giant covered wagon from a century ago. It's empty tonight but serves as an amphitheater during concerts and parties.
Inside the bar, it's bright, like a '70s rec room. Two men as bald as the billiards they're playing concentrate on a game.
"What are you drinkin'?" a burly man in boots and an olive work shirt greets me. He's sipping a vodka and Coke. An unopened Bud rests on the bar, like he knew I was coming. He slides it down the Formica bar.
"I'm Vinnie," he says, extending his hand. "Welcome to Mickey's." His breast pocket is stuffed with a handful of pens, a tool, and a flashlight. He's been here since he got off work. "This is Donna," he says, pointing to a good-looking 30-something woman in a black tank top and jeans next to him. "And the bartender's ReBreastra, but I'm the only one who can call her that."
Rebecca is lovely and lean. Her jeans hang low, revealing pieces of a geisha tattoo. Instead of a bottle opener, Rebecca tucks brass knuckles into her pants at the small of her back.
Across the bar, Turtle has a white skull and crossbones tattooed on his head. He wears a ZZ Top beard and a black sweatband, '70s style. "Can I have a Ziploc for my phone?" he asks, to keep his phone dry from the rain. Rebecca hands Turtle the baggie.
Lisa Carter and her husband, Dave, have owned Mickey's for five years, though it's been a biker's haven since 1961. Happy hours are 4 to 7 p.m., when beers are $2.50, or five for $11. Selections are the usual suspects: Bud, Miller, Corona. There's also a full bar; all shots are $3. "My husband would say this is the only true biker bar in South Florida," says Lisa.
Last month, Dave spent his 50th birthday in the hospital recovering from a bike accident. In late January, he was riding his Harley without a helmet when he was hit by a truck. The accident put him in a coma. He only recently began to regain consciousness. "It was a real bad accident," says Lisa. Mickey's Facebook page announces Dave's progress along with bar specials, weekly bands, and buffet nights.
Behind the bar, tubs are chock-full of ice and enough beers to host a heavy-drinking crowd. A string of lights decorates the rail. Rebecca was a fetish icon in her past life but recently retired. "I don't want to be working the scene when I'm 40," she says.
There's no food here tonight, though Donna and Rebecca eat takeout Italian — shells and red sauce with an overdose of cheese. When bands play, Lisa hosts a pig roast, served buffet-style with a slew of sides: collards, mac and cheese, beans, corn bread. It's a 12-hour affair, she says.
Sometimes girls dance on the bar, but tonight's not one of those nights.
Vinnie asks me out for Sunday, his only day off and the day that bikers make the rounds, stopping at Flossie's, Chit-Chat's, and Mickey's.
"Do you like choppers or Harleys?" he asks. (You're not likely to find a Triumph or a Ducati in this crowd.) "My chopper is purple. I bet you'll like that."
As for choppers, I've never seen one outside of flipping stations on TV. Harleys, I know, are so comfortable that they're like riding a couch. My twin uncles, the black sheep of my family, used to take me on the back of theirs when I was as young as 8. "Don't tell your ma," they'd say, cackling with glee when she'd find out.
Like my uncles, Vinnie is from Buffalo. Like them, he's a union worker.
"These are real bikers," says Lisa. "They aren't weekend warriors. My customers ride their bikes everywhere. This is how they live their lives."
I ask Vinnie and Rebecca the difference between Flossie's and Mickey's. "Flossie's is a family place. This place is a neighborhood bar. It's for regular guys and guys in clubs. You could be a crackhead and still come here," he jokes.
"Not when I'm workin'," says Rebecca, with a show of her fist.
"Do you use those?" I ask her, pointing to the knuckles.
"All the time," she says.
The roar of tailpipes sounds out back, as a small crew arrives from Chit-Chat's. "Do you want to head over there?" Vinnie asks, noting that "everybody else" is at that bar, with plans to come to Mickey's if it doesn't rain. "Bikers are like gypsies," he says. "They're not going to stay in one place too long unless they're having a really good time."
A German blond and a group of men talk gardening while one of them polishes off a salad on a styrofoam plate. A couple of handfuls of chopped iceberg, mealy tomatoes, and peppers, it looks positively anemic. "No man with a steady woman gardens to eat those vegetables," says another. "Have you seen how big a zucchini can get?"
Vinnie tells stories about his mobile home filled with Harley parts, the house he bought and lost to foreclosure, and the union gigs during Boston's Big Dig and at Jeep factories. And about wanting to be a hairdresser when he was young. "Then that movie Shampoo came out," he says. "And I couldn't be a hairdresser anymore. Fucking punched me in the side."
Vinnie has been working union jobs since age 16. "Back then, I earned $11.75 an hour. That was a lot of money in the '70s." He says he's kept the pay stubs of every job he's ever had and suggests it's fodder for his memoir, which "someone needs to write," he says, "starting with when I set the school bus on fire..."
As the storytelling meanders from Boston to Buffalo to Orlando and Oregon, I ask him where he considers home.
He pauses. "You're gonna make a grown man cry in a bar. I do not know."