Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
There are a handful of places in Broward and Palm Beach counties that offer 100 or more different brews. And there's nothing wrong with that. We'd give them all commendations for bravery in the service of beer if we could. However, one small, independent brewery that's sat in suburbia unnoticed for ten years deserves the highest honors: Big Bear Brewing Co. The upscale brewpub does not have a large selection. It doesn't stock rare English imports, indie microbrews, or even Budweiser. What it does have is eight masterfully crafted beers made in-house, in the large silver kettles that decorate the restaurant. Brewmaster Matt Cox is the wizard behind the cauldrons: He imports Belgian malts for Big Bear's award-winning Kodiak Dubbel, sources fresh cascade hops for the Hibernation Pale Ale, and brews seasonal fruit ales, porters, and stouts with adoration and care that more than makes up for the drive to the far reaches of Broward — especially when the place has Bourbon Double Barrel IPA on tap, perhaps the best beer ever crafted in Florida.
The lobby bar at the Ritz Carlton in Manalapan serves a delicious little plate of olives with its dry Sapphire martinis. There's so many of them, and they pair so satisfyingly with the cold gin and the light streaming in from the beach, that you can't help but have another drink. And then you're doomed. What to do? You don't want to go to Florida Stage, which is just across the street — it's very uncool to pass out in the middle of serious theater. And nearby Sushi Bon, though delightful, is probably not an option, as even good sushi can make drunk people yak. Anyway, you've just spent plenty of money. So why not just... walk? We recommend heading north. In just a mile or two, you'll see some extraordinary things. Just recently, we spied Ann Coulter standing outside of what was presumably her house, watching as a cute young valet from a nearby country club parked a car. Even if Ann's out of town on one of her peerlessly illuminating book tours, you might catch Rod Stewart weeding his lawn, Rush Limbaugh grazing in his, or Henry Paulson sitting glumly on his front porch, wondering how it all went so wrong.
The taxidermy foxes have seen better days. Their fur is matted and thinning in areas, but the artist captured them in that moment of frisky scuttling — just before some Brit shot them both full of lead. You can't help but make up stories like that about these furry scamps while knocking back pints of lager at the Fox and Hound. After all, their eyes stare at you — one pair from the fox on the bar and the other from the fox high up in a picture box on the wall. You suspect they used to wear monocles, or perhaps top hats. Surely they carried pocket watches and spoke with refined British accents that bordered on purring. Sometimes, around the holidays, the bar fox is decorated with a tiny Santa hat: That's got to piss off the fox on the wall, on top of the fact that the bar fox is already closer to the packets of crisps. Taxidermy décor does more than make us feel classy when we hang at the Fox and Hound; it makes us wonder. And for that, we're thankful.
There are two things you cannot school Kilmo on: playing the bass and cooking great bar food. Alligator Alley is Kilmo's joint, and it's his knack for combining freely flowing live music with a southern/Cajun menu that keeps us stopping in for dinner year after year. Ideal bar food must be absorbent, and the Alley has the best selection of fried in town. Kilmo uses a secret batter, but there have been less sober moments late in the night when he's dropped a few clues to its components: buttermilk, specially seasoned breadcrumbs, and "love." Check out their shrimp po' boy: this generous hoagie overflows with shredded lettuce, breaded and deep fried tiger shrimp, and remoulade sauce. It's enough to make Atkins quiver in terror and us squeal in delight. The rest of the menu offers fried gator, fried oysters, gumbo, ribs, and more. Everything is great. To eat a bad dish at this bar, you'd have to phone in an order to another restaurant and have it delivered.UPDATE: This location is now closed.
Some smokers like to sit in a dense fog while they imbibe cocktails, absorbing just as much second-hand smoke as they do first-hand. But others, the more enlightened smokers, prefer to toke outdoors. And in the warm South Florida clime, that should spell out lots of options. Except that a surprisingly large number of bars here are hidden inside shopping centers. Then there's Anglesea — which looks like a funky little fishing shack and boasts a relaxed vibe to match. Technically you can't smoke at the bar inside Anglesea Pub. But hardly anyone sits at the actual bar anyhow. That's because the outdoor covered deck, and a few picnic tables near the canal, are where the action (and the occasional breeze) is at.
A room full of beer-swilling pirates swaying to loud AC/DC near the beach would be the best place to take the cool guests you're hosting — that is, folks you want to get drunk with, and set to reminiscing, not people you need to impress. This would be true even if the Pirate Republic were nothing more than a laidback bar across the street from the beach with cheap beer and good-looking girls. But it's a little more than that. Take the décor: Its walls are covered with pirate paraphernalia – skulls, planks, and more black flags than a Henry Rollins scrapbook. Plus, there's a store next door that sells mementoe ss, including "I want your booty" panties and life-size pirate dolls.
Not all DJs feel compelled to overwhelm their audience. And as an audience, we usually prefer they not try. Be content with more muted feedback: a foot tapping to a subtle beat or hips swaying in time with a record's mellow groove. That's the jazzy mood that comes from a Haviken Hayes set. HH consists of DJs Manifesto, JG, and whomever they feel like inviting to a gig. They have old school tastes in hip-hop, which they mix with funk and soul. Though this duo is based in Hollywood, its most recent appearances have been in Miami nightclubs like the White Room and lounges like the one at South Beach's Catalina Hotel. Here's hoping that for the rest of 2008, Haviken Hayes is a more familiar sight on the Broward and Palm Beach nightlife scenes.
Spirits features a wide variety of music from DJs that all know their stuff. That means you aren't just getting Top 40 diversity a la Rihanna and Sean Paul. Expect to hear some of the hottest jams in pop music, period — including hip-hop, Latin, R&B, dance, and electro. With distinct dance rooms, there's always multiple vibes being set by the DJs, and the club tends to draw sexy girls of all ethnicities — and hot guys, too. There's no shortage of skin here on summer nights, and as folks consume their fair share of spirits, the sexual energy in the club grows. Nowhere else does that manifest itself better than on the dance floor. Salsa lovers can get a workout here, as can dancehall fans. As for coolness, folks here seem to be more down to earth than the South Beach crowd. It's not because those with money don't hang; there's just a lack of pretentiousness as everyone parties on the same plane.
Men want her; women want to be her. Wait a sec... Women want her, too. We know, ladies, you're not gay; you just have a girl-crush on Julie. And who doesn't? Her bewitching green eyes. Her hair gelled into a little fauxhawk. An armful of ice cold Polish brews nestled in her glistening bosom. Just because PRL is a beer-and-wine kind of place doesn't mean the bartender doesn't need talent. Instead of memorizing some trendy shot every week, Julie spends hour after patient hour explaining the difference between a stout and a lambic, and she knows which pint glass or snifter to pour them in. Julie can beat you at chess while holding a snappy conversation — and my God, the way she wields a bottle opener! Just as you begin to feel totally intimidated, she'll pull some sweet and dastardly trick, like telling you how much she loves her puppy. Come with lots of tip money.
A gay bar is not to be confused with a gay club. A club is a very different matter — bright lights, hot bodies grinding against each other, cute underage boys shoving ecstasy tablets up their bums in the bathroom. Bars are for something else: for sitting there and drinking your beer and minding your business until some totally wasted freak ambles over and strikes up a conversation. This happens all the time at Monkey Business, but it's not oppressive — most nights, you can sit with a friend or three and be left in peace while the aging, bearish regulars and one strange old lady from the apartment complex across the street catch up on the gossip at the next table. Granted, plenty of people don't think a great bar is necessarily a peaceful one, but there are lots of places for those folks: Scandals, Sidelines, Georgie's, etc. Basically, nearly every gay bar in existence ever. But if you're one of those who want to get serenely blotto among good, unassuming folk, Monkey Business is for you.
Too often, happy hour means watery macro-brews and insipid appetizers. It's cheap, but you get what you pay for. The Grape on Las Olas gives this pub standard a sophisticated twist, offering discounts on its stock of over 100 wines, available by the glass for $4 to $7. Between sips, spread gourmet cheese across the pita chips, or munch on the sweet tomato bruschetta. Sounds a little more palatable than Bud Light and buffalo wings, doesn't it?
It's not blowing smoke to say the most appealing part of an evening at the Funky Buddha Lounge is the list of microbrews — there are more than 50 and they come from all over the country, brewed from all manner of fruit and vegetation. There are also almost 50 wines and more than 40 different kinds of teas. You can drink beer, wine, and tea in a lot of places, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another establishment with that and 40 flavors of shisha like the Funky Buddha. Have some cider before you start pulling on a bowl of some of the original house mixes like California Dream. Check out the freaky, nipple-centric art on the walls and listen to some acoustic tunes. Bonus if you can impress your friends with your ability to blow smoke rings.