Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
As night poured into South Florida on July 30, 2005, so did a heavy torrent of rain. Anyone who drove up I-95 to Respectable Street's "18 Years of Oblivion" party was certain they'd find a couple of poncho-clad parking attendants telling everyone it'd been canceled. But the gods of bacchanal were surely watching over the 500 block of Clematis Street, which saw little more than a drizzle. By about 9 o'clock, the only meteorological menace to deal with was the usual July heat. So like people who have been given a new lease on life, partygoers took nothing for granted, turning out in droves to various 500-block venues. Some 25 bands played, from local faves (El, the Psycho Daisies) to newcomers (Truckstop Coffee) and even a few out-of-towners (Not for Sal, the Sweetkisses). Seriously, how many block parties offer live music, free drinks, and free pizza without charging admission? Well, here's one. And here's to the hundreds of people who wouldn't let a little rain dampen Clematis Street's best night of the year. And if we're lucky, they'll do it again.
Yeah, it's known to attract monstrous, man-eating sharks, but that's only in New England. In the movies. In real-life South Florida, nothing is more randy than a few brews on a blanket under the stars and a communal dip in the buff. The important things to remember here: 1. Watch your clothes. Those teenagers smoking a joint up the beach are gonna think it's hilarious when you're wet and shriveled and can't find your skivvies. (The fact is, they're right.) 2. Watch for police. Certain beaches -- and we're not gonna reveal which ones for, um, liability's sake -- attract the fuzz more than others. Public nudity is illegal in Florida, but more than that, cops just hate to see you having fun. 3. If there's a meter in the parking lot, feed it. There's no bigger turnoff than getting back to the car with a good buzz, a libido in full throttle, and a ticket under the wiper. And 4. A full moon is very bright. And we mean that in more ways than one.
Michael Kostick gets a little carried away when he talks about his favorite nightspot, Café 27, on U.S. 27, across from Everglades Holiday Park, out where Griffin Road meets the wilderness. It's bike night there on Fridays, when the motorcycling dudes crowd into a series of chickee huts and wet bars and the beer flows like water. If you're lucky, one of the motorcycle clubs will be holding a party there and Kostick, who goes by "Nasty" with his friends, will be in charge of the pudding wrestling, with wenches in bathing suits writhing in mounds of mushy stuff. Last time that happened, Nasty says, it was phenomenal. "My God, it was the best condiment wrestling I've seen in years," he says. Nasty, who in his day job is vice president for sales and marketing of a manufacturing company (they make air purification apparatuses for firefighters), is well-known in biking circles as a longstanding writer for the monthly Wheels on the Road. Maybe Café 27 isn't for everybody, Nasty says, but it actually draws a diverse crowd -- "from open-road truckers to Everglades hunters to hard-riding bikers." If you can't get into the scene, get into the great people-watching.
As soon as we rule the world, we'll raze all the condos and build a string of tiki bars right on the beach so that you can spend happy hour properly... barhopping along the sand. Until then, the best place to de-stress after work is right in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Despite its urban location, Tarpon Bend creates a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe by displaying fish sculptures and world records from the International Game Fish Association. Furthermore, it has sidewalk seating, giant windows, and a second-story loft that gives it a wide-open feel. We're not the only ones who love it; happy hour -- especially on Fridays -- gets slammed. The "hour" lasts from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 9 on Friday, and 6 to 9 on Sunday, and it includes two-for-one drinks on everything except shots and pitchers. Live bands play every night, and promotions like the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Contest attract a fun, young crowd. A waitress named Megan has three additional explanations for the bar and grill's allure: one, "You get the best service you ever had in your life." Two, "Every server has a great personality." And three, "We're all hot." Just in case happy hour leads into happy night, there are 20 other bars within hopping distance.
Crabby Jack's has made a name for itself with the FAU college crowd for good reason. While most students are late-night partyers, this seafood joint knows the importance of a good pregame technique. Not many folks spend the entire night at Crabby Jack's -- but that's what happy hour is all about. You get in, you get bent, you get out. What better way to tie one on than 69-cent Miller Lites? Don't like Miller? Choose any domestic draft for 99 cents. But seriously, you're here to get a job done -- why spend the extra 30 cents?
Eleven-thirty on a Thursday night may be sheep-counting time for most 9-to-5'ers, but at Delux's weekly indie night, Flaunt, the dance floor's just getting warmed up... and how. The club's plush interior seems to belie the unrestrained activities of the mostly 20-something regulars. You won't find the usual hipster posturing here. But there's no time for that anyway, not when there's free Ketel One vodka (for groups of ten) and well drinks are half-priced before midnight. By that time, though, only the true barflies are still sitting on stools; everyone else is on the dance floor. On any given night, you can hear anything from the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" to Elvis Costello's "High Fidelity" to the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" and even DJ Assault's "Ass 'n' Titties" (for a little bump-and-grind time). As the 2 a.m. closing time draws near, the sounds often veer into punk-rock territory (the Misfits' "Last Caress," Operation Ivy's "Knowledge"). And when it's time to leave, there's no fear of finding out that your new love interest is underage; Flaunt is strictly 21 and up. So drink, dance, and for Pete's sake, keep it debauched.
Downtown Hollywood has gone through a slew of changes over the decades, but none has fazed Club M. This downtown drinkery has been handing out booze for the past 85 years with little concern for fluctuating obsessions about air quality as time elapsed. The bar sits next door to a great little Thai and sushi joint, so if you ask for a menu, you'll get good food -- not burgers and fries. That's a nice perk for smokers, who'd rather focus on drinking and watching live music than hunting down good grub. Regulars such as Max Green and Dave Camp belt out live blues and rock each night on the stage across from the long bar. Sundays, the pool tables are open for free play, and every day before 8 p.m., drinks are two-for-one. So, smoke 'em if you got 'em, 'cause there is plenty to see and do.
The day is nigh when the entire downtown village of too-loud, too-expensive bars is going to be plowed under to make way for the encroaching condo canyon. When the ordinances come for these joints, which make such a ruckus indeed, they will come first for the likes of the Brick. Imagine, the nerve to have a live DJ spinning in an open-front establishment every night of the week! Have you seen those waitresses, pouring drinks into funnels while hair-gelled patrons try to peek up their plaid skirts? Disgraceful. For seven bucks, they'll sell you a beer and a shot, libations with licentious handles such as the Blow Job and the Buttery Nipple. When gentrification comes, people will look back in wonder at the Brick and remember the days when $2 Coors drafts, stripper poles, and more than a dozen flat-screen TVs with networked trivia could survive inside the same blue-neon-lit room. For now, it works.
This upscale pub boasts that it serves the "world's largest selection of draft beers." Hard to argue with that. Nestled behind the tennis-court-length bar are 130 spigots for pouring 110 different beers. Few bars offer that variety even in bottled beers. The brew names alone are entertaining: Lost Coast Downtown Brown, He'Brew Kosher, Gulden Draake, Chimay Cinq Cents, and Hoegaarden White. Yard House, a chain that's quickly expanding across the country, brags up the Anderson Valley Hop Ottin India Pale Ale, which is as hoppy as a bunny, and the deliciously bitter-tinged Anchor Liberty Ale. Pints cost from $3.75 -- yes, they have Budweiser and some of the usual suspects -- to a little more than $8 for the exotics. Open 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and Sunday and from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 a.m. Friday and Saturday, but the doors close later if the tippling's hearty.
So it seems that almost every hot spot in Fort Lauderdale has the shelf life of a ripe banana -- here today, gone in an hour. It's often those random, out-of-the-way places that seem to keep people coming back for what they can't get at the meet market (as in, serious fun and damned good people). Roxanne's on Main has had many incarnations, but then it became home of the Saturday-night new wave, post-punk, avant-garde revue Revenge. And that ain't all. Roxanne's hosts an event every damned night of the week: Tuesdays is rock and cock ("No cover, no assholes"); Wednesdays, Bernadette's Karaoke runs from 8 p.m. till the last drunk sings; Thursdays features the rockabilly of Ring o' Fire and $2 PBRs; and Friday nights, Phoenix serves up indie/electro for the dance floor and all the trappings of young American debauchery you can shake a slick at.
Sure, local cities are bringing in slot machines all over the place, but there's a reason the Hard Rock has established gambling dominance in South Florida. The Rock set aside 130,000 square feet for pure gaming purposes, with 2,100 one-armed bandits and 50 poker tables. And for the thirsty, the Center Bar reaches toward the ceiling from the middle of the gaming floor like a TV-encrusted tower of drink dispensing. But what makes this place such a mecca for weekend partying in Broward is that the Hard Rock gets right what so many tarted-up bingo palaces don't: Even the sharkiest card sharks get up from the table from time to time and want more than felt-covered tables and jangling machines. It's all the stuff that surrounds the gambling den -- nightclubs, eateries, and people, people, people -- that draw us like moths to a flame on hot summer nights. That, and the chance to win our share of the $5.9 million the Hard Rock claims to pay out every day. Now, if we could just get back the shirts we've lost...
Sorry, folks, no marble-lined, zero-horizon swimming pool here. No toned, tanned, bikini-clad nymphets serving fruity frozen drinks that cost more than a tank of gas. No tapas, no trendoids, no high-tech lighting or European house music on a state-of-the-art sound system. Nope, Big Game is none of that, and so much more. This rustic Lauderdale dive bar sits in the parking lot of an old, nameless motel, and during the day, you're just as likely to find snowbirds drying out by the pool as grizzled barflies buzzing under the tall, shady tiki bar a few steps from it. Hewn out of rough, sturdy wood and draped with dried-out palm fronds, that tiki bar is a true gem, manned by a prompt, no-nonsense staff of stiff-drink makers and veteran small talkers. With fishing trophies arching overhead, a hard-rockin' jukebox, and the telltale sign of a well-stocked bar (that's Jameson, folks -- ask for it by name), Big Game would be a cozy locale full of character and characters no matter where it was located. But throw open the doors to the mint-green pool just outside, imagine the sound of traffic on Federal Highway as the roar of ocean surf, lie back on a piece of well-worn deck furniture with a Bud Light in hand, and know you're taking in a true South Florida landmark.