Any South Florida live-music club not saturated with sticky, sucky cover bands automatically gets bumped ahead in line. And at the very front of that line, muscling past the chrome-domed bouncer manning the velvet rope gauntlet, is the Culture Room. Yeah, the Culture Room's competition became a tad jealous of its supremacy and the loyalty showed it by local fans and rock bands alike -- and waged a tepid little turf war that went absolutely nowhere. The Room survived, emerging from the chaos better than ever: A redesigned bar setup gives it a newly spacious feel, and the place continues to pack 'em in, night after night, week after week, year after year -- just the way we like it.
The folks who live in close proximity to the centrally located, easy-to-reach Pompano Beach Amphitheatre may not appreciate our naming it the best place to see a concert. They may even wish it would go away. But we love this place more and more each time we visit, mainly because an outdoor venue that can be used any day of the year is something the rest of the nation's concertgoers can only dream about. So maybe it makes us feel special. The size is perfect -- about 2,500 seats -- and you don't have to wonder about the sound and vision, 'cause they're both perfect. Plus, our trustworthy independent promoters seem to grab some pretty choice shows, like Oasis; Soundtrack of Our Lives; String Cheese Incident; and Zwan, ex-Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan's new band. Talk of expanding the amphitheater has dwindled of late -- no doubt music to the ears of its neighbors.
>Neither strictly gay nor strictly a bar, newcomer Hamburger Mary's nevertheless qualifies as a breath of fresh air -- literally -- on the gay-bar scene: Its doors-wide-open breeziness is one reason it's such a refreshing place to sink a drink. A welcome jewel in the city's rejuvenation plan for the Wilton Drive corridor near Five Points, this uptempo eatery has a fully stocked bar, including Foster's, Guinness, and Bass Ale on tap and as many sprightly and colorful concoctions as there are colors of the rainbow (signature drink, naturally: Bloody Mary). Weekday happy hours (2 to 8 p.m.) and daily specials keep the costs down and the fun quotient high. Lively, friendly, campy service adds to the frivolity. Part of a California-based chain of "alternative" bar/restaurants generally located in cities' gay neighborhoods (Hillcrest in San Diego, West Hollywood in Los Angeles), this Mary's is only a few months old but quickly coming into its own. Generous outdoor seating, bright colors, and casual-chic furnishings help add to the lighthearted, high-energy charm. And the food, mostly juicy variations of big gourmet burgers, is pretty tasty too. New, free valet parking -- a sign that the management here is on the ball -- nullifies the only real negative of its growing popularity. Indeed, as its slogan would have it, you need only "Eat, Drink, and Be... Mary!"

Born under a bad sign, Fort Lauderdale's mullet haven the (ex-Metal) Factory doesn't want to die that way. It sure doesn't want to go out like the poor, doomed Station in Rhode Island, as a convalescent care center for hair-metal bands sputtering on their final fumes. At least, that's the objective of the ambitious local promoters working overtime to expunge the scent of Poison and Ratt from the room by booking area debuts from indie acts like Guided by Voices and Frank Black. The Factory's owners, unfortunately, haven't yet recognized the wisdom of this turnaround, stuck as they are in the era of wet T-shirt contests, cheap beer, and Axl Rose worship. But taking the Metal out of the name and filling the Factory with less-embarrassing fare has given the club the cachet it'll need to finally win the club crown.
In carb-counting South Florida, beer hasn't historically been a big draw. For the most part, it's consumed without ice cubes, drastically diminishing its refreshment capabilities in the summer -- which for us is about nine months out of the year. To many of us, a microbrew is just a regular American draft lager served in an itty-bitty glass. The Billabong isn't a brew pub, nor does it go out of its way to champion regionally produced ale. But its taps regularly dispense beers you won't find anywhere else in the area, including Belgium's yummy wheat beer Hoegaarden White; Raspberry Lambic's sharp sour tang ; and dark mysterious Fuller's London Ale, a true cask-conditioned masterpiece just like you'd find in England. Hundreds more bottles of stouts, ales, and lagers mean you can take a trip around the world even if your elbows never leave the bar. The employees are zymurgological experts ready to answer any question or provide samples and guidance, but don't come in, wade through the regulars packing the 'bong, and ask for "the closest thing you've got to a Bud." The wiseacre behind the bar might just pour you a glass of water.
Here's the scenario: Your old man comes to town for the weekend and you're hoping for some grown-up male bonding to show Dad how mature you are. Baseball's boring, and the Marlins stink. So why not a strip club? Well, if you can stand the vision of Dad getting a lap dance, Rachel's Steak House is the place. This isn't the seedy strip joint of bachelor-party yore; no girls will grab dollar bills with normally hidden body parts, and you won't find any chili cheese fries on the menu. Tuxedoed waiters serve $35 fillets and three-pound lobsters on linen table cloths. Perfectly aged steaks, served à la carte, are lightly coated in butter and spices to give them a rich, creamy flavor. A dozen girls gyrate slowly and sedately, clothed for one number, in undies for the next, and then in only those five-inch stripper heels for the last. The girls aren't allowed to take it off where diners are paying $9 for asparagus, though a patron requests that they join him (clothed) for a bite, um, from the menu. The closest they'll get in their birthday suit to the dinner tables is in the brass cage five tables away from the $20 lunch buffet. While your waiter lights the flambéed bananas foster at tableside, take the opportunity to remind Dad about that once-awkward birds-and-bees talk.
On your right is a Vietnam Vet named Bob talking about witnessing Cambodians shot in a river as they try to flee the Khmer Rouge. On your left is a former SDS radical named Bill who has enough September 11 conspiracy theories to fill three Oliver Stone feature films. And across the bar is a cocky construction worker called "The Rickster" who talks smack with the best of them but has a good heart. On top of all that, you got two pool tables, buck-25 domestic drafts, a decent jukebox, and a waitress who'll wait to close the bar until the drinkers are ready to call it a night (morning). Welcome to paradise.

As Sir Elton said, Saturday night's all right for fighting. But Friday night's all right for off-key renditions of classic and not-so-classic songs. Manor Lanes' Sports Den hosts one of the more interesting karaoke nights in Broward County every Friday. Witness as punk-rock kids, frat boys, and seasoned regulars put aside their differences and duet on everything from "Memories" to "I Wanna Sex You Up." Then erase all those memories with cheap beer and bowling. Who says there's nothing to do in Wilton Manors?
What better way to score a phone number than to dance cheek to cheek? Between the hot-body contests, Cream Thursdays, and free champagne giveaways, this Floribbean-themed venue feels like spring break year-round. Hip-hop and dance beats that radiate from DJ Radamas' turntables fuel the rhythm of the body friction heating up the dance floor and have bum-lookers doing a double take. There's no room for wallflowers to hide in the mini-palm trees on the sidelines: This is full-contact grindage stacked two and three deep. The DJ eggs on the peppy mix of 20-something and slightly older singles with shoutouts and within earshot of those chilling across the room at the tropical bar area and pool table. If only the cheeky-monkey plush animal sitting on a swing that overlooks the dance floor could talk...

Smith's has got to be the best place to take your hog these days, if only to pay respects to the memory of the late great Geno Mahler, the bar's effusive, animated night manager, who died earlier this year. Smith Bros. soldiers on without him, with the exception of the caricature now painted on one of the mirrored walls. He has a halo in the picture, and if heaven has a dive bar, he's probably managing it now. In any case, those left behind can expect everything out of Smith's that the biker-bar connoisseur has come to expect -- a pretty lady behind the bar, a cheap bottle of suds, the occasional deafening approach of a local motorcycle club, and a jukebox that'll make you party like it's, oh, about 1988 or so. The occasional cover band adds to the raucous good time. Just, for God's sake, don't pull up on a Vespa. For your own safety.

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