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.
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.
It was a trip to get a secondhand couch for the new apartment. The God-fearing man behind the front desk looked at the delivery address. That's near Duck Soup, he said. He had seen some bad stuff in Duck Soup. His parting advice as he handed over the receipt: "Don't go to Duck Soup." Up his. Duck Soup turned out to be a homely dive joint where the beer was cheap, the jukebox decent, the TVs turned to basketball, and the bartenders thrilled to have guests. Over time, it appeared, it also got some ambition and some dough. After months of renovation, the place has climbed a couple of rungs on the great bar ladder, with new TVs, a refinished pool table, higher ceilings, live music, and noticeable interior lights. Soon, we hear, the bar's also going to get a new name, but we could get no hints on what it will be. The laquered copper top of the bar gleams like a lunar surface lined in pennies. And behind it, an affable blond with all manner of piercings in her face and ears and a too-short T-shirt that reads "Rotten Little Girl" and shows off her tattoos: an upturned bleeding skull on her left shoulder, a line of ghostly skulls on her upper spine, six-shooters emblazoned over her kidneys. She laughs with the patrons, dances a little to the music, and serves a mean $2 bottle of Miller Lite. Her name is Jessica, and though her presence may deter some, you should heed your impulse, not their advice, and go to Duck Soup.
Back in '99, a young bartender traveled to Islamorada to watch the superstars of bartending compete in the Bartender's Bash. Rob Husted watched the best of the best twirl cups and juggle bottles and got hooked on "flair bartending," and in seven short years, he's climbed to the top of the sport. In 2004, he won the title of Most Accurate Bartender in the World, and the next year, he placed 11th at the Legends of Bartending World Finals and outranked many grizzled shaker-spinners. Rob not only entertains the hip crowd at Palm Beach Gardens' hottest nightclub full time but he also teaches the art to others looking to twirl and pour their way to a fatter tip jar. If that weren't enough, he manages to organize BarWars, an annual Flair Bartending Competition, and is vice president of -- the sport's most popular magazine. This guy makes the fancy cup-twirler at your local dive look like a clumsy oaf while he pours a half-dozen shots at once, juggles bottles, and performs total liquor magic to get the booze from the bottle to your mouth.
Case and Keg Beer World
How many times do you have to listen to your significant other say "Oh, Milwaukee's Best... again" before you get the clue. Before you have to face the embarrassment of asking the clerk at some chain store if Sam Adams is better than Corona, go to Case and Keg and get some expert advice. Right when you walk in the door, you know you've found the place where beer lives. It feels like you've strolled into a whiskey barrel -- tight, dark, and filled with booze. Wherever your eyes fall are colorful labels and bottles that you won't recognize. Micro, domestic, and imported varieties of brew reach into the hundreds, with more coming in weekly, as well as more than 150 beers by the keg. Too lazy, or drunk, to drive? Give them a call and have the infamous Party Wagon roll out to your pad and drop off a keg of Native Ale or South Florida's favorite microbrew, No. 11 Brown. Oh, and make sure you also check out the website,, for Beer Babe of the Month.
If you take your beer seriously, you take Guinness seriously. And if you take Guinness seriously, you take the way it's poured seriously. Advertisements for Guinness claim that "it takes 119.6 seconds to pour the perfect pint" of Ireland's famous stout. That might come as a surprise to many local bartenders, who pour a Guinness with the same quick hand they use to pour a Budweiser. But a fast pour of Guinness creates a cloudy pint that never quite settles -- a mortal sin in the world of Guinness drinkers. A bartender with Irish in his heart knows that a true Guinness pour -- known as the "slow pour" -- requires two stages: First, the bartender pours three-fourths of the pint while the glass is at an angle. He waits about a minute for the beer to settle, then pours the remaining one-fourth. That creates a beautiful pint of black-as-night beer topped by a creamy brown head. For style points, bartenders will sometimes use the beer tap to create a design (often a shamrock) in the beer's head. Such bartenders are hard to find in South Florida, but you'll find an entire colony of Guinness experts at Kavanagh & Morrissey's in Plantation, on Pine Island Road near I-595. A charming pub and restaurant with vaulted ceilings and an interior straight out of the Irish countryside, Kavanagh & Morrissey's offers great food, good company, and a wide selection of beers. But most important, at Kavanagh & Morrissey's, you're guaranteed to get a perfect pour of Guinness. If you're lucky, it might even come with a shamrock on top.
The primary ingredient of a bloody mary isn't hair of the dog, but it should be. After all, what better time is there to drink a bloody mary than when it's daylight and you're still hurting from last night's no-holds-barred partying session? The folks at Buzz's Lounge in Sunrise know better than anyone the powerful tonic created when you mix vodka, tomato juice, lime juice, and a few olives. That's why there's no better place in South Florida for a Sunday-morning bloody mary than Buzz's, which offers $2 bloody mary specials all day Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. At Buzz's, an unpretentious bar at the end of a nondescript shopping mall, the bartenders are warm and friendly, and the drinks are cold and stiff. What more could you ask for on a hungover Sunday afternoon?
Of the roughly 50 martinis available at Swig Bartini, a classy nightlife spot in Weston Town Center, any one is good enough to win this Best Of. "The Swig" ($11) -- a classic, just-as-Bogie-would-like-it martini with Grey Goose, vermouth, and three large olives -- is as good as any martini gets. But due to style points, this year's Best Signature Cocktail has to go to Swig Bartini's "Marilyn Monroe" ($10). A martini as red as the Hollywood vixen's lips, the Marilyn Monroe features Absolut Citron, a splash of cranberry juice, and a hint of lime, champagne, and, for a final touch of Tinseltown class, a strawberry on the rim. A sweet-tasting champagne martini, the Marilyn Monroe will have you ready for a night on the town -- or just a night at Swig Bartini, whose brick walls and modern interior can make you feel like you're in the middle of Manhattan rather than in the middle of Weston.
Yucatan Mexican Grill
We've studied the South Florida margarita scene for a long time. It's a sad, lonely pursuit. There's the place that serves margaritas flavored with exotic fruits, like the prickly pear (boring). There are joints that pump out phosphorescent-looking frozen margs, distinguished only by their high alcohol content. And there are bars that just don't know how to make a marg, like the fancy Boca joint where they squeeze so much lime and lemon juice into the mix that you get a bitter aftertaste. But then we go back to the Yucatan. Most of the margaritas there -- a menu column's worth -- are leavened with Cointreau and Grand Marnier, as well as the restaurant's patented sweet-and-sour mix (and no, it's not bitter). The Golden Margarita starts out with Sauza Comemorativo; the Yucatan Margarita uses Sauza Tres Generaciones. All use fine añejos, and all cost around six bucks, though you can get a twofer during Happy Hour, 4 to 7 p.m. Close your eyes and you are drinking in Mexico.
Culture Room
Photo by Monica McGivern
Could there really be any other choice? For almost a decade, the husband-and-wife rock-star team of Greg and Sharon Alliferis has run this midsized venue as if it were a major-league ballroom. They regularly pack the house for big names and offer a solid sound system and friendly service to smaller fries, both important elements in creating a buzzworthy club. In 2005, though, they really honed their focus and put together a consistently eclectic, exciting roster of shows, including the Killers, Soulive, the Extreme Music Festival, Railroad Earth, and Reigning Sound. The décor is all black and perfectly sparse, kind of like a blank palette for the music, and bands tend to step up and offer topnotch performances thanks to the room's iconic history. From death metal to bluegrass to local faves to national headliners, there's no better place in South Florida to rock the hell out.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of