Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
The Starlite Lounge is hidden in an indistinct Pompano strip mall, behind a bank and a Super 8, parked between a laundromat and an antiques store. Stepping through the door, though, is like walking into a dark, wonderful warp zone that combines all the comfort (and pricing) of a bar in 1970s South Florida with all the toys of today. Inside, you'll find clean pool tables, dartboards, shuffleboard, a Wii that begs to be played, a collection of flat-screens tuned to local sports, weekly live music, and a jukebox full of classics. The drinks are cheap and stiff, the colorful cast of regulars is warm and welcoming, and the small team of bartenders is attentive and accommodating. It's easy to miss, but once you've been, it's hard to forget.
With its rustic, wall-to-wall wood and brick décor complete with moose-antler chandeliers, the Lodge Bar and Grill is the antithesis of any place you'd expect to find in chic downtown Boca Raton. Being an antipode to its Mizner-style surroundings is not what makes this cozy gem stand out; the rotating lineup of 24 imported and microbrews on draft are the main attraction here. With a blackboard denoting what's on tap in chalk scribbling, weekly tastings of savory suds from the likes of Belgium's Duvel and Colorado's Left Hand breweries, the Lodge is a beer lover's paradise. For around $20, take home the "Lodge Growler," 64 ounces of its favorite craft brew. The kitchen puts out some quality accompaniments too; juicy Angus beef burgers that have never seen the inside of a freezer and tasty truffle fries infused with white truffle oil and topped with Parmesan cheese make the perfect pairing to wash down a syrupy Ommegang Abby Ale.
Everyone makes bloody marys differently, and that's what makes them the ultimate brunch drink. Any Southern belle would be remiss not to sip hers with a skewer of pickled okra. The bon temps in Louisiana are most commonly supplemented by house-pickled green beans. Here in Florida, we're bastard children: We want our marys strong and extra bloody (read: spicy), and the more ingredients, well, the better. Enter Lauderdale Grill's weekend bloody mary bar. The restaurant offers an entire buffet table's worth of fixins and lets you concoct your own. Just ask one of Lauderdale Grill's waitrons for a glass and a double shot of vodka (only $4 each), and saunter up to the table to assemble. Choose from about five kinds of tomato juice, then spice your drink up with any of the following: cherry tomatoes, celery, scallions, spicy peppers, horseradish, A-1 Sauce, Worcestershire, Tabasco, okra, green beans, cilantro, pickles, onions, garlic, lemon, and lime. The combinations are as endless as the weekend is long. And if you want to go the simple route, there's always the most popular recipe: Owner Jamie Baker's own zesty secret blend made in-house from fresh vegetables.
Some you've already fallen in love with. Others will be entirely new. But if you're feeling lonely, any of these ladies will gladly go home with you for an uncomplicated romp. The smart gay girls you'll meet on the shelves at the Compass lending library include novelists Sarah Schulman, Sarah Waters, Dorothy Allison, and Rita May Brown; lefty lezzie social critics Karla Jay and Donna Minkowitz; British photographer Della Grace; sexperts Pat Califia and Susie Bright; and classic midcentury philosophers like Germaine Greer and Monique Wittig. Peruse hundreds of anthologies, biographies (Dusty Springfield, Melissa Etheridge), trashy Naiad romances, diaries, Gay & Lesbian Almanacs, tomes on film and history — any of which can be checked out for two weeks or read on the spot. The new Compass Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Lake Worth is a blue and white oasis of pristine leather chairs under ceilings painted to look like sky, tasteful sculpture, and vintage Madonna playing softly in the background. Compass hosts events and meetings and runs HIV programs, but you can also hang here with your laptop and use the wi-fi, peck out a tune on the white baby grand, or just sit and wait patiently. Ms. Right is bound to show up eventually to return that Jeanette Winterson novel.
Chef/owner John Zimmerman closed this casual neighborhood hangout in 2006 with plans to refurbish the kitchen and completely redesign the outdoor drinking and dining areas. Problem was, he ran out of money. But Zimmerman convinced a group of local patrons to pool their resources and invest, raising more than $2 million to complete his tiki-themed dream. Now the winding paths are in place between screens of banana and bamboo, the coconut palms and the waterfall have been installed and the docks rebuilt: It's a tropical fantasy that looks like a set some Hollywood King Kong might come crashing through in search of a damned good margarita. That Zimmerman was able to do this is testament to how well loved his waterfront bar has been over the years. The same oldies, hipsters, pleasure boaters, and reggae aficionados have come back to chow down on fish tacos and bloody marys. And they're still not dressing for dinner.
Strip clubs appeal to the simplest impulse of man: sex. So how did we let the strip club become so damned high-concept? Is the modern man really unsatisfied with merely the sight of impossibly gorgeous nude women? Must he also be seated on some regal piece of furniture within a palatial space throbbing with neon, nibbling on an impeccably cooked filet mignon? No, give him a stiff drink and show him some boobs and the modern man's a happy camper. This is the streamlined, classic approach at Cheetah's in Pompano Beach. Five beautiful women are dancing nude on stage while another dozen or so cavort in various states of undress on the club floor, in the VIP areas, or on the 13 "full friction" chairs. The music isn't so deafening that you can't have a conversation. There aren't laser beams shooting off every wall. This place isn't trying to be anything but what it is: a good titty bar.
Pub crawls are usually the sort of thing randomly cooked up by groups of friends or orchestrated by groomsmen. But if the city wants to sanction this drinking tour and throw in a trolley to transport drinkers from bar to bar, well... who are we to argue? During a night out on the Fort Lauderdale Bus Loop, you'll be chauffeured around town via a red-and-yellow Sun Trolley. You'll be getting blasted for a good cause, as proceeds go to charity. After forking over $18 beforehand or $25 at the pickup stations, you score a drinking card — sort of a passport to get smashed — that allows you free drinks and some appetizers from nine hot spots along Las Olas Riverfront and A1A. Each venue stamps the card, leaving you with a nifty souvenir at the end of the night. You can stay at each bar as long as you like (total drinking time: five hours), although it's hard to stay at the bar when you can drink on the trolley. Just be courteous, and try not to spill anything, especially on the bus loop driver.
The promise of free alcohol ain't what lures ladies to Round Up on Wednesday nights. That's just a marketing strategy to appeal to the male mind: "Hell, I'd go to any bar that lets me drink for free," he reasons. Rather, women flock here because this saloon has what women call an "activity": namely, line dancing. However sausage-heavy the male-female ratio may be in the bar's aggregate, you'll notice that the fenced-in dance floor is dominated by dames. Each is aware of how the line-dancing moves show off her curves and her rhythm. It's up to the lone rangers hanging on the fence to go ahead and ask that divorcée from Tamarac exactly how to do the achy breaky. You might not lasso the first one, but keep at it, cowboy. When it comes to the mating dance, practice makes perfect.
For those who have a well-built neighborhood bar, the world is simpler. Take this man: It's Friday night, and he's exiting his job at the Corporate Center. We won't shoot you with his troubles — hell, he's not even thinking of them — because he's only minutes from his neighborhood bar. That bar for him is Maguire's Hill 16. He can already taste the pint of Guinness. On a more stressed day, it might be a car bomb to shoot and a whiskey to sip. This cozy Irish bar keeps a stock of full liquor, and tonight, he'll be tucked away in one of the wooden back booths. Most nights, it's nicely packed with folks of all ages, and tonight happens to be no different — and what this means is that he doesn't feel like he's missing out on the action on Himmarshee. What a wonderful bonus, he muses, of not having to deal with parking downtown. When he wants a smoke, he'll head outside and sit in one of the swinging booths. After a while, he'll order some food, perhaps the bangers 'n' mash or the lamb stew mingles. Afterward, he'll stumble home, being one of the loft/condo/apartment dwellers of north downtown, which has itself one sturdy neighborhood bar.
Double-apple-flavored smoke churns through the water of an ornate pipe. It passes through lungs and curls from parted lips, finding itself floating through the heavily wrought, massive party complex of Off the Hookah. The smoke clings to the Middle Eastern-inspired curtains, the flamboyant décor, the beautiful furniture. It appears thick and ghostly under the bright spotlights and flashing colors. That scented smoke wafts past the olive-skinned, barely clothed belly dancer as she swallows a ball of fire. It finally dissipates in a gyrating mass of sexy partiers in high heels and short skirts. You, the inhaler, get a heady, delightful buzz.
What do Hendrick's gin, Patrón tequila, and Bulleit bourbon have in common? Each liquor can be bought in a bottle larger than a human head (Let's not spend too much time imagining how many human livers you could stack up, mmm-kay?), and each is in stock right now at Cellars Wine & Spirits Warehouse. Now, it's probably bad form to lick spilled Sauvignon Blanc off the floor, but you probably could — that's how immaculate this place looks inside. From the back "cellar" wine section to the midpriced racks in the center to Johnny Blue they keep behind the counter to the neon stuff that tastes like a melted Jolly Rancher, it's all right here at absurdly low prices. Monthly winetastings turn the store into a neighborhood social scene, so you never know what (or whom) you might bring home.
A man with a fervent passion for allthings horror,Tom Rampage works the back bar at the Poor House. He's the lead singer of local metal band Murderous Rampage (read more on them above), so his kindness may come as unexpected. In this romantically gothic bar off Third Avenue, Tommy welcomes you — like only a happy man could when being surrounded by half-naked zombie chicks. Of course, you must take that last statement correctly: To make him happy, he must be really into zombie chicks, which he is (just check out the music video for "Eat, Shit, Sleep"). The man says his "thank yous," and they're genuine — and that's not the norm for Himmarshee. Even though the back bar at the P-Hizz is next to the stage — even in a packed house — Tommy will spot you through the dancing dervishes. His interests are seen though the classic horror films he plays on the flat screen above the bar. Side note: He was also homecoming king.