Exactly how many Pittsburgh-themed sports bars are there in South Florida? That is the first thing that flashes into my mind as I walk through the door of Hurricane Sports Bar & Grill in Dania. Hanging on the far right side of the bar just next to a projection television is an enormous mustard-yellow banner proclaiming "You're in Steelers Country." This might give me some sort of comfort, as I was born in the Keystone State, but I had the pleasure of living in the far superior eastern half of it. As soon as I finish contemplating if more Steelers fans live in Broward County or Pittsburgh proper, I realize I'm already feeling more comfortable at Hurricane than at almost any sports bar I've stepped into this year. There are plenty of televisions to watch but not so many as to cause epileptic seizures. A room on the far-left portion of the bar houses three pool tables, and the smell of stale smoke permeates the air. Hurricane Sports Bar doesn't try to be something it isn't. It's a place where you can sit on one stool and get all your vices without moving more than a few feet.

The biggest piece of advice when visiting Hurricane is this: Sit at the bar. I made the mistake of grabbing a table a scant few feet away and quickly realized that the bartenders are far too busy with the 30 or so regulars seated around the bar to pay much attention to loners who want room to spread out. The smoke in the air thickens as the buzz of the patrons builds to a roar. It's easy to feel at home with true sports fanatics at a bar like Hurricane so long as you can deal with serious drinkers and a thick fog of cigarette smoke.

When I walked into Kim's Alley Bar, I was struck by something strange. Here it was Sunday night, but I saw only two people in the bar: the bartender and a man strumming a half-hearted Goo Goo Dolls cover to rows of empty chairs. Not a good sign. I thought for a moment about the prospect of finding somewhere I could drink and ignore all other people except my imaginary friends, but my insatiable thirst vetoed that idea. I turned the corner at the back end of the bar and a welcoming cloud of cigarette smoke hit me — here was a whole other room, and it was much livelier than the first.

I sat at the end of the crowded bar. The bartender practically sprinted to me, took my drink order, and served it like he was being timed — an unbeatable trait in any drink alchemist. He pointed to two pool tables and a Ping-Pong table behind us and told me they were free to use for drinking customers. Before my barstool was even warm, I rushed off to an empty table. I had just grabbed a cue and begun to rack the balls when a man in a torn Cinderella shirt informed me the table was taken and most certainly wasn't free, no matter what the barkeep said. I walked back to the bar with a sense of relief washing over me — I'm terrible at pool. When I returned, the bartender asked why I wasn't playing. I explained what transpired, that Mr. Cinderella was being something of a clownshoe and that I had decided to spend the night drinking instead. He gave a knowning nod. Turns out, the '80s metal fan had been coming to Kim's for about as long as he'd been wearing that raggedy-assed T-shirt. And the more I spoke with the people around the bar, the more I realized this place was not just some watering hole to them — it was their second home. Mr. Cinderella might've been a bit of a douche, but his heart was in the right place: He was just being protective of the place he's been coming to for 20 years now. Still, I decided I'd rather stay at the bar than give pool a second shot. I ordered another stiff drink from the bartender. I'm way better at drinking than making friends with strangers anyway.

Coyote's Bar and Grill in Hollywood is the place to be on Friday nights. It's not some dimly lit dive bar, but it also doesn't go out of its way to look hip. The main room is simple: a long bar with ten stools lined against the bar, loud music playing from a digital jukebox, and a smattering of neon signs advertising different alcohols. The front patio is roomier, with enough space for 30 people, and it's usually packed with smokers watching the foot traffic on Hollywood Boulevard. The mixture of music styles coming from the neighboring bars makes for an interesting if chaotic soundtrack. The reason Coyote's stands out is what happens after you order a drink anytime from 5 to 7 p.m. on a Friday. Order one vodka tonic and they pour three. Three-for-one is always welcome to drinkers on a budget, but if you can't make it out on Friday night, Coyote's offers two-for-one every day from noon to 7.

It's becoming a tradition on Tuesdays for me to hit up Hollywood Vine, a wine and spirits bar on Harrison Street in downtown Hollywood. Although the words wine bar normally conjure up images of stuffy connoisseurs doing their best re-creations of dialogue cut from Sideways, you won't find much of that here. Sure, there are definitely some serious wine buffs who hang around, but the atmosphere is beyond relaxed. With more than 600 wines, plus a full selection of liquors, imported beer, and a food-pairing menu, Hollywood Vine is a one-stop shop for all your alcohol needs. If you've never been, I'd highly recommend stopping in.

Every Tuesday, Hollywood Vine offers a free tasting of four or five selected wines. If you like them, you're free to buy more by the glass or grab a bottle at a discounted price and take it home. More often than not, the place fills up with a variety of people, from 20-something hipsters to pushing-50 business folk united in a common quest to enjoy fine wine and casual conversation. HV is separated into two areas, one filled with tables, chairs, and a bar where you can hang out with a couple of glasses of wine and a cheese plate and the other filled with rows of fine wines and spirits for you to drool over while you decide which intoxicating agent to take home. My recommendation: Hang out and have a couple of glasses, then head over and grab a bottle to go, but not before asking for a recommendation from the helpful and cheery staff. You'll leave Hollywood Vine with a little extra knowledge and a new place to go on Tuesday nights.

It's one of the strangest things I've ever seen at a bar. Here I am, sitting down enjoying a vodka tonic with an extra lime and waiting for the evening's entertainment to start (a cover band named Pyro) when I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. There is a man behind the far end of the bar with long curly hair, a headband, and an executive chef outfit on. Seriously, an executive chef coat at a small bar in downtown Hollywood. I focus my eyes at other things around the bar to make sure I'm not hallucinating. There's the typical array of liquor bottles lined up behind the bar, a touch-screen videogame at the smaller bar at the opposite end, a small stage set up for Pyro, and a gaggle of buzzed patrons on either side of the pass-through window overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. I turn back around, and the executive chef introduces himself.

I immediately voice my skepticism: "Why would a bar have an executive chef?" He tells me a quick story about his plans to make the finest bar food in South Florida and runs back to the kitchen to cook up a specialty of his. While I'm on a specialty kick, I ask Justine, the beautiful bartender who's been putting up with me this particular evening, to make me her favorite drink. She comes back a minute later with a strong lime-green concoction that tastes like melon-flavored candy without a hint of alcohol. At the same time, the chef brings out a delicious plate of Polynesian-style chicken fingers to help soak up the booze. I fill my belly as I realize Octopus's Garden is really onto something here.

Normally if a bar or club has no cover charge and an open bar for 90 minutes, it's because the club is seriously lacking, but not Gryphon. During the Summer Spin Series DJ contest (August 21, September 18, and October 16), Gryphon will waive the cover fee and continue the open bar while DJs compete from 10:30 p.m. to midnight. Then, resident DJ Matt Spector takes over until 4 a.m., leaving plenty of time to burn off the open-bar calories. The recessed, European-style dance floor is surrounded by comfortable couch-style seating, perfect for bottle service with a close-up view of scantily clad patrons gyrating to nonstop house music. The two bars surrounding the dance floor are packed for the first few hours after the club opens, but shortly after midnight, they clear out as people do less drinking and more dancing. The sound system is capable of handling subsonic sounds with enough volume to shake your clothes without hurting your ears.

Buzzed in Paradise: Dania Beach Bar and Gril

The aptly named Dania Beach Bar and Grill has a certain no-frills charm that's hard to find in South Florida. The owners clearly didn't spend a lot of time and money coming up with an elaborate theme, an intricate menu, or a host of "themed" nights in a bid to bring in different crowds. Instead, they put together a bar that feels like you're hanging out in a friend's backyard. The seating is simple: wooden tables, chairs, and benches. The menu features Chicago-style hot dogs, burgers, and boiled peanuts, and the bar serves a handful of bottled and draft beers, wine, and soft drinks. No liquor, no drink-till-you-drop college nights, and most important, no people who make you feel uncomfortable just being yourself. Strike up a conversation with a stranger watching a baseball game on one of the bar's small television sets, or be left alone to watch the waves break over a mostly unpopulated stretch of Dania Beach.

Buzzed in Paradise: Pirate Republic Seafood Bar and Grill

I've been at Pirate Republic Seafood Bar and Grill for a few hours now. Since it's late on a weeknight, there aren't many people sitting around me. I shut my eyes for a moment and I'm transported to a different world. Thanks to the bevy of strong rum drinks weaving their way through my bloodstream, the thick scent of seawater in the air, and the 30 or so pirate flags hanging from the ceiling, it's hard to remember I'm in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I'm getting an almost uncontrollable urge to snap on an eye patch, grab the nearest stuffed parrot, and try to commandeer the water taxi docked just a few feet away. Before I'm able to spring my plan into action, the bartender slides another drink my way. As I take in the various pirate paraphernalia hanging from the walls, I can't help but wonder how pirates got anything done with so much rum around. n

Buzzed in Paradise: Stratford's Bar

Stratford's Bar is the oldest, diveyest bar in Hollywood. Don't take that as a knock on the place, though. Stratford's is a place where you can proudly wear your faded Hypercolor shirt. Stratford's has been serving good, cheap drinks since 1938, and not much has changed since its doors opened. There's a jukebox, some pool tables, dartboards, a table for shuffleboard, and, most important, $3 imported beers any time. There's plenty of parking for your designated driver in the adjoining lot, or you can stumble your way to and from the Tri-Rail, only about a hundred yards west.

Buzzed in Paradise: The Whale Raw Bar and Fish House

The decorations on the walls of the Whale Raw Bar and Fish House are a strange mix of surf and turf. I sit at a long bar near the open kitchen and scan the room. An orca whale hangs just above the entrance, license plates from across the nation dot the walls, and faux stuffed fish and harpoons fill in the gaps. It's just enough kitschy charm to put a smile on my face as the bartender asks for my order. I ask for a tall, stiff drink and watch as she saunters off to the far end of the bar to prepare it. She's dressed in a sort of cheerleading/sailor getup: short ruffled skirt with long stockings and a navy-blue top with matching scarf. The only thing missing is a little sailor's cap. She hands me the drink and lets me know there is plenty of seating outside, which I take offense to. Why is she so quick to point me out the door? Is she reading my mind or feeling my eyes scanning her outfit? When I notice I've left my cigarettes on the bar in front of me, I sheepishly grab my drink, walk out the side door, and take a seat next to the fountains. By the time I finish my drink, the Whale is packed with regulars gathered to watch the Marlins on the televisions above the bar. I order my second drink and settle in for a night of trying to force puns about the Marlins and the house décor.

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