You knew this space better as Alex's Tavern, a canker sore of a bar with air so foul it would send your clothes home smelling like a tire fire. Fortunately, as the recommissioned Mental Ward, much of the old charm remains. But it's better. The Tuesday open-mic night is the kind of low-key, good-naturedly offensive affair that can make the small back bar feel like a dormitory hallway. (Sample lyric from a song called "I'm Gonna Whoop Your Ass": "Stop calling my mama's house in the middle of the night. That ain't cool. I have to pay the phone bill over there.") If you want to get schnockered, five bucks will get you all the tap beer you can drink that night. Wednesdays are beer pong nights. Thursday nights are dollar shots, drafts, and well drinks. How this place makes money, who knows? Who cares? All that matters is it's about a two-minute cab ride from Lester's Diner or Taco Bell, and you still have some dough in your pocket for a gordita.
Sitting down to get drunk is serious business. You can't do it at home because society will look down on you, so you have to go to town to keep up appearances. CJ's Draft House in mid-Boynton Beach has everything you need. Most weeknights, it's a quiet bar that caters to regulars, but on Tuesday nights, things are entirely different. Lori and Carlos set up for their karaoke bash at 9 p.m., and the regulars start lining up for the mic and for the $10 buckets of domestic beer. The singing is better than most karaoke nights at other places, and the participants take their crooning seriously. (But in a good way, we swear.) Anyway, the singing and cheap beer make for a great setup for what you're really after -- to get bent in a place where it's not just acceptable but par for the course.
SAS Martini Lounge
"Man, the stories you'll hear if you hang around this place..." says Mike, a regular patron of the Sauer Apple Saloon. He's just finished telling us about his days in Detroit, working as a line cook -- with Eminem ("Marshall was a real good kid. Real down-to-earth. Just the way he is when you see him in interviews"). Then Eugenio, the bartender, interrupts to tell us about floating over from Cuba on a raft. When he dips out to go make another of the bar's signature Sauer Apple martinis (with green-colored sugar on the rim), the other bartender, Alex, takes over storytelling duties, explaining what it was like to fire guns from a helicopter in Sierra Leone and Kosovo. That was right before some chick named Jill sits down and introduces herself. There's something about the Sauer Apple -- the open, airy space? the bar that opens onto the sidewalk? the menu full of comfort food? the live bands? the barrel of free peanuts, still in shells? -- that makes you feel welcome. This is the bar that, during last year's hurricanes, fired up its generator and kept the whole neighborhood fed. Oh, sure, Eugenio and Alex and whoever's sitting on the next stool over may not be your best friends for life -- but until last call, they will be.
Grady's Bar
A bar made from wood? In downtown Fort Lauderdale? Not Italian marble or Spanish-quarry-mined granite or turquoise-colored melted glass? Yes, Ôtis true. Though Grady's has been an inner-city fixture for 35 years, it's now surrounded by growth and development, even as the block it sits on (for better or worse) remains much as it looked when the place started. Some of the regulars too have that weathered look. But a real neighborhood joint isn't about chasing trends or having ten flat-screen TVs, fancy drinks, or happy-hour specials -- at this wood-paneled institution, it's about pool tables, mismatched chairs, a fog of Marlboro smoke, un-mufflered hogs, Bud Lite by the glass with friends, and co-workers hovering around, marveling at downtown's renaissance. This place may be stuck back in the Medieval age by modern standards, but a bar without valet parking, $12 mojitos, and a strip-mall parking lot is such a rarity nowadays, and the folks who frequent this unpretentious watering hole realize that all too well. Grady's is still with us -- but for how long, Spock? For. How. Long?
No, you don't have to base-jump or sky-surf your way into Jesse's, as the name implies. But once you get past the slightly silly moniker, you'll find that the scruffy watering hole represents what we like best about this part of town. Namely, that there's little "pomp" in Pompano Beach. It doesn't get much more casual than this dive, and that's why this is the place we go to buy a bucket of beers and watch football while hanging out on the deck overlooking Atlantic Boulevard. Or when the Steelers aren't playing (this being a hardcore Pittsburgh hangout), you can suck down a cold one and join in on the electronic Texas Hold 'Em game that tends to rope in just about everyone sitting at the bar. But here's the best-kept secret about this unassuming hole in the wall: Jesse's food is far better than a neighborhood bar has a right to serve. Trust us on this one and order the boneless wings and the sweet potato fries. Now that's the way to fight the creeping frou-frou redevelopment overtaking the rest of the county.
Nippers
Nippers has managed to keep a local-bar feel even in a town like Boca. While other local watering holes pretty up and scare off working stiffs and college types, Nippers has created an oasis for getting drunk in a sea of haute couture. On Wednesday, the club fills with anxious players as the pool and poker tourneys kick off. Drink specials are frequent, and a DJ plays until 5 a.m. on Thursday. Soused scholarship kids sing karaoke until 5 a.m. on Friday. Ladies night, on Saturday, is when you want to make your appearance, when the club fills with coeds after 2 a.m. and last call is still three hours away. The bar grub is surprisingly topnotch, especially the wraps and fries, and it's served all night. Amazing that in a chi-chi landscape, a joint for the lunch-pail crowd still thrives.
Dirty and dwarf -- not the two most attractive words in the English lexicon. In fact, we'd have to say that the owners are kind of, um, brave to name their establishment the Dirty Dwarf Pub. But in a world full of fake tiki bars and Bennigans look-alikes, the Dwarf offers a welcome alternative. Kind of bizarre, kind of dark, and all the way awesome, this place has battle axes hanging on the wall, 95 flavors of beer (24 on draft), and a menu full of intriguing eats (from vegan subs to "Scotch egg with chutney" -- a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, breaded, and deep-fried). If you're not one of the late-nighters who frequents this stop on Lake Worth's main drag, do find some time to discover it. As the bar's motto goes, "You always have time for a Ôshort one.'"
Last call is one of the most depressing moments of the night. The lights come up and you can see exactly who you were hitting on all night. What a scary thought. At Foster's Too, it isn't last call; it's "see you in a few." The bar shuts down at 5 a.m., like all good watering holes should -- but the good folks at this favored local spot reopen only two hours later as the sun is just starting to get in your eyes. Once you're shooed away from the pool tables and the dozens of televisions, keep in mind it's only 120 minutes until the drinks start flowing again. So, hit the Denny's and refuel your gut for round two, because Foster's last call is more like a temporary delay before you get re-called.
Bahia Cabana Beach Resort
Kristin Bjornsen
Do you get the shakes when you venture west of I-95? Are you allergic to socks? Do you own more bathing suits than pants? Come, let us lead you to your people. They've just come from the beach across the street. They're gathered on the wooden decks of Bahia Cabana, watching the boats go by on the Intracoastal. They're sipping tropical cocktails, munching on dolphin fingers, laughing and bullshitting and flirting with the waitress. They're sitting on the colorful, hand-painted stools around the tiki bar listening to some singer/songwriter bring the tunes. Some of your more adventurous brethren have jumped in the pool (since the bar is attached to a hotel) or, even better, the hot tub. A few of them went in to the gift shop to buy coconut lip balm. Unless the temps have dropped below 75 degrees. Then they're inside, looking for a heater.
Hey, old-timer, what are you doing at a skatepark? You must be, what, 24... 25? This here's a place for young people. Shouldn't you be out at some nightclub tossin' back the brewskis and chasing women? Well, it just so happens that you can do all of that -- drink, skate, and (possibly) score -- the third Wednesday night of the month. For free. Just pop in to Automatic Slim's after 9 p.m. for its weekly Bump & Grind Skate Night and show 'em your AARP card, er, photo I.D. that proves you're over 21. Once inside, you'll know where to go -- there's a five-foot halfpipe adjacent to the front window. Oh, it's safe; there's a net to keep your board from flying onto the bar. Of course, there's nothing to keep you from falling off your board. If anything, the two-dollar Pabst Blue Ribbons are just another obstacle. Keeping the booze to a minimum might be wise, if not for the sake of your swollen hipbone then for the scantily clad bartenders you're trying to impress. Who knows? If you do well, maybe there'll be more bumping and grinding without your board.

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