Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
It is early, and the crowds have not yet gathered. It is what they call happy hour, but the old man sees little obvious happiness here. He raises his drink to his lips. For a happy hour, it is very quiet. Quietness is good. You do not want loudness. You want the place to be clean and pleasant. You want the bartender to be pleasant, but you do not want her to talk too much. The bar is clean, with its long laminated counter. It is well-lighted, with little hanging lamps and curled-paper shades. There are neon highlights along the ceiling. There are hightop tables with stools, but the old man prefers the bar. There is music -- something by an artist previously known as the Artist -- but it is not too loud.
"Another one?" asks the pleasant but not-too-talkative bartender named Angie.
A group comes in and orders drinks. The men order something called a cosmopolitan. A pink drink that should be consumed by women, the old man thinks. The women order rum and Coca-Cola. Not the smooth Puerto Rican rum but something called Captain Morgan. A harsh, masculine drink. The old man shakes his head. If the bar were not so clean, he would spit on the floor.
"Another?" asks the bartender.
The old man shakes his head. Nada, he thinks. Now, he will have nada. Two of the bitter mixtures of gin and quinine water ($6.75 for both, at the happy hour rate) are enough. He is sufficiently steeped in gloom. But he will be back. He will return when he senses the necessity of drinking quietly in public during the happy hour.
So there's Fast Eddie, the balding barfly. He always tries to sell his blood for money. He drinks Honey Brown. He has track marks up and down his arms. He has a nervous twitch. He has an itch he just can't scratch. He performs at the open-mic night down the street, and he always sits at the end of the bar. Then there's Mary, who, quite contrary to popular belief, has never been with Eddie, or Freddy, in the back of her Chevy. She guards the jukebox and plays the Jam. She drinks Blackbeard Ale in flipflops bought at a yard sale. Then there's Bobby and Jenny, with their skinny jeans and thrift-store shirts, talking to Shelly and Tracy, with their high-pitched laughs and vintage skirts. They're all drinking Tsingtao and mussing their 'dos, tapping their toes and talking about the Who. Another beer? Make that two. These are the various characters who inhabit the tables, barstools, and dark corners of the Billabong Pub, an unassuming joint nestled in a strip mall behind a strip club, next door to a "massage parlor" and a Mattress Giant. Sound intimate? It is: The lighting is low (and most of the time, this is a good thing), and the crowd is forced to stand eye-to-eye with the band, as there's no stage. And if you happen to be lingering after the pub's 2 a.m. closing time on Fridays and Saturdays, you can spot Indie Rock Rob chatting up Carl the Car Salesman with the lazy eye, over a delicious flute of Lambic Frambois ($5 per glass, $10 per bottle). Readers' Choice: Culture Room
A "traditional" Irish bar located smack dab on the corner of Sleazy Street and NE Drunk Avenue in Pompano. Really doesn't sound like it should work, right? But the clientele that packs the Briny every night (especially Saturday night, when Rob Rage, the Briny's own rock 'n' roll cover band, plays) doesn't give a shit. They're just there to drink, shout incoherently, and hope the room stops spinning before they get thrust out upon the beach at 2 a.m. Actually, it's easy to think the room's spinning even if you're not drunk, since the bar is cluttered with kitschy Florida décor (mounted fish, thick ropes, life preservers, photos of people holding mounted fish and life preservers) and other assorted oddities such as encyclopedias. A word to the bar fight-inclined: The Briny has an extra-long bar top, perfect for throwing the raving lunatic hitting on your girlfriend down the bar, where your friend will have hastily set up a pyramid of beer bottles for him to smack into. Readers' Choice: Poor House, Georgie's Alibi (tie)
The lights are low. The clinking of silverware and hum of conversation, mixed with anticipation, swirls around the room. Tonight is someone's lucky night -- you can feel it. The large book is passed around the table. They must make the right decision. And then, it's go time.
"When I was young, I never needed anyone/And makin' love was just for fun..."
You listen, the sound filling your ears.
"All by myyyself... don't wanna be... alll BYYYY MYYY SELLFF."
Things have taken a turn for the worse, and it suddenly sounds like a dying cat has lodged itself in the speakers. But you can't leave; you still have a plate of food. It's just another night at Sushi Toi. The restaurant is named after owner Sushi Boy's wife, but he's the master of ceremonies. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, it's Boi's job to coerce patrons, preferably those tanked on 15 glasses of sake (but then, they really don't need coercion), to the Sushi Toi stage to belt out tunes picked from the massive songbook. And if the stars happen to be aligned just so, you might be able to hear Boi himself sing "Lady in Red." If that doesn't drop a tear in your Kirin, you're dead inside.
Ladies who dig ladies are throwing lipstick across their smackers on Friday nights and heading to Wilton Manor's Five Points to experience the 7-month-old lesbian hot spot, Martini Cabaret. Resident DJ Daddy spins Latin and dance mixes for a crowd that's thick till 3 a.m. The digs are upscale, and martinis run around $8.50. Happy hour is 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Cathode Ray is the standard gay bar in Broward County. Described by co-owners Larry Wald and Scott Belding as an S&M club -- stand and model, that is -- the three-room bar draws a large crowd on the weekends. But if there is pretension at the 20-year-old Cathode, it's overshadowed by the ready-to-go-crazy crowd that doesn't take itself too seriously. Smokers and shmoozers pour through the door onto the sidewalk and bust sensational moves to music that ranges from Madonna and Whitney to '90s booty mixes. Formal fun includes Wednesday night's Pick-a-Trick contest hosted by Larry and live drag performances by Monica Moore every Thursday at 10:30 p.m. There's always a drink special during the relaxed happy hours, and it's unlikely that you'll go home without a new number in your cell phone. The new madness at the club is a 4-month-long drinking contest called "Cathode University, The Institution of Higher Drinking," which includes a two-tiered mock fraternity system and cash prizes to be handed out along with mock degrees at the September graduation.
Don't hold this bar back because its name is as inventive as a Sun-Sentinel headline. Yeah, and ignore the classic rock advertised on Friday and Saturday nights. That's not why you should come to Cheers. This large watering hole, with two fully stocked bars, three pool tables, and a stage, offers a neighborhood feel, friendly clientele, and an escape from the elbow jockeying needed to get a buzz at Riverfront. This joint's happy hour runs every weekday from noon to 8 p.m., with wells, domestic beers, and house wines priced at $2.25. After nearly two decades in north Fort Lauderdale, Cheers should be considered an establishment. It lacks the pretense of new Fort Lauderdale but caters to the urge that made the city famous: bottoms-up drinkin'. After all, the bar's motto is: "Music and mayhem till 4 a.m." Make of that what you will. Just call a cab when you're done.
Think you're pretty experienced at bending the elbow after a long day's labor? Then maybe it's time you tip one with the boys and girls of HHH. For more than 20 years, Bo Zaza has gathered the Happy Hour Crew on Fridays at 6 p.m. at bars in and around greater Fort Lauderdale. These are not spur-of-the-moment choices. As Zaza notes on his website, the selection is made "after weeks and weeks of extensive research, intensive analysis, careful scrutinizing, and painful soul-searching." In other words, this selfless man spends the other six days of the week locating the very best watering holes for mankind. And he invites each and every one of you to join him. Destinations for 2004 are laid out on the website, except for a few Fridays, which are slotted as "mystery picks," for which Zaza solicits votes for a handful of candidate bars. If you prefer to drink by yourself with nobody else, then check out Zaza's list of Broward County bars, which must be the most complete compilation of saloons, pubs, package stores, holes, and dives online.
I tell them, 'Get the fuck out!'" says Ugandan-born owner Ashok Patel (a.k.a. Pat), demonstrating how he clears his sophisticated cigar shop/bar of rowdy clientele. A sign in front of the toilet in the storage/bathroom reads, "Gentlemen, it may be smaller than you think, so stand closer. -- Pat." The walls of the tiny bar that he runs with his wife, who goes by Kit, are lined with cigars that range from $3 to $30. And if, after downing a pint or two of Spaten Dark or Light or Warschteiner ($5), you get too close to the cigars, spill a drink while lounging on the chairs by the window, or get loud, well, then, you might as well be skating with Tonya Harding on pond ice in April. Any combination of these behaviors will definitely get you tossed out on your ass. When you come back, they'll let you in, but they will not hesitate to talk about your uncouth antics within earshot. If you've got a masochistic bone in your body -- and, come on, we all do -- you'll love the challenge of staying in their good graces.
Amsterdam. Just hearing the name of the Netherlands' famed capital city elicits images of people lounging in a marijuana café, happily toking away the hours. But we live in America, where antiquated marijuana laws treat pot-smokers as if they're violent criminals. For the grass-loving Yank, the only chance of getting a legal dose of doobage is to get hospitalized or contract glaucoma. But there are other ways to lawfully mellow out, such as drinking kava, a plant from the South Pacific popular for its mellowing effects. While you can find kava products in supermarkets -- most commonly as processed capsules or in iced teas -- the Nakamal serves only pure kava juice. Servings range from single shot ($3.75) up to a one-kilogram home kit ($63.60). For those who dig the relaxing atmosphere but would rather stay alert, the Nakamal's menu includes dozens of flavorful teas ($1.25) and juices ($1.75), as well as sodas and cocoa. And for the aspiring poet, the Nakamal hosts an open-mic night every Wednesday. Either way, it's the right environment to peacefully meditate while your body loses coordination. Call it Zen and the Art of Motorskill Malfunction. The Nakamal opens every day at 5 p.m.
Like we'd imagine heaven's very own dive bar to be, Curly Sue's Hideout is directly across the street from a McDonald's. Why it's located only feet from a middle school, well, we don't know. Here's what we do know from a recent reconnaissance mission to the Hideout: Ol' Curly Sue herself sees us dawdling outside and says, "What's the matter, you fuckin' scared to come in?" Her tattered T-shirt reads "Fuck You, You Fuckin' Fuck." That's a friendly enough invite in this part of town, so we grab a well-worn stool in the dark, narrow room. You will not be using your debit card here, Mr. Yuppie, so bring cash. Or a roll of quarters. And it's beer and wine only, but you'll look like a complete doofus if you don't choose a ($2.25) Bud longneck. Handwritten signs everywhere insist "No Tabs," but they're followed by more hastily scrawled lists of patrons who either have tabs running or have skipped 'em. Whatever you do, don't miss the tear-inducing memorial to a dead biker named Scumbag. As a romantic backdrop for that special occasion, the barbed-wire back patio faces a water-treatment plant's massive tank. Hey, kid, run across the street and fetch me a Quarter Pounder, will ya? Readers' Choice: Le Tub
It's early afternoon on a Saturday, and there aren't any posers here. These bikers are the real deal, the long goatees, the black vests, the black halter tops. Twenty-odd men and women with faces as lined as floodplains. The hogs are out back, not far from the barbeque grill made from 50-gallon drums. This two-wheel haunt's in a backwash of a neighborhood, an aging industrial ghetto just west of I-95. Near the door stands an enlarged photo of a long-haired blond, model-pretty, dressed in black leathers, smiling like an open road. Kimber is her name. Was her name. She died not long ago astride her machine, up in Pensacola. Beside her picture is a flier: a memorial service at a nearby chapel later this afternoon for the 39-year-old. Party at Mickey's afterward. These are real bikers. How'd it happen? a bartender asks a brooding man at the end of the horseshoe bar. She made a mistake, he says, thought a four-way was a two-way, went down the wrong way. Hit a car head-on. "She probably never knew what hit her," the bartender offers. She turns to walk away, then stops and calls back, "I hope so, anyway."