It was Friday, just before midnight, and I was standing on the third floor of Exit 66, a new club that overlooks the water on Fort Lauderdale Beach and is decorated around a road-trip theme. With its flashing lights, road signs, vacation paraphernalia, loud music, and a dirty catch phrase ("Get off!"), it was easy to see why people were coming in by the dozens. To avoid the swarming crowd, I leaned against the chainlink railing and peered down to the first story.
On the floor below, a petite pole dancer in tight spandex shorts and a next-to-nothing top pretended to kick a bartender in the face. Then, effortlessly, she climbed hand over hand up the pole. She hung at the top (just barely below my feet) for a couple of seconds. Then she arched back, turned upside down, and with her firm thighs locked solidly onto the pole, squeaked to the floor as Flo Rida's voice — "from the top of the pole, I watch her go down" — blared over the speakers. She splayed her legs as she hit bottom, then stood and looked around. From a VIP section, a dozen guys inexplicably dressed in costume (derby hats and fake mustaches) seemed appreciative.
The last time I took a road trip, it involved gas-station bathrooms and cheap motels — not stripper poles or exposed female flesh. Clearly Exit 66 (not Route 66) is no leisurely drive to Grandma's house.
Ambiance: "This place is lame," said a dark-haired dude in a black shirt. He stood on the patio out behind Exit 66, near its tiki bar and swimming pool, beside his three slick-haired cronies. "There's no one here!"
"Have you... checked inside?" I asked.
"There's an inside?" He looked at his black-clothed brethren.
"Yeah," I said. "By the way, I like the matching outfits. Black. Very nice."
"We're not matching," he snapped, pointing to his Ed Hardy duds. "I have a T-shirt on!"
It was black.
I tailed them into the club, which was teeming with young, glittered-up partiers on all three open stories, all the way up to the industrial-like ceiling. The first story contains the dance floor, stripper poles, and DJ booth. The second story holds a small VIP section; the third re-creates the vibe of a pool hall and cheap motel. Bars dot all walkable surfaces.
Strobe lights flashed overhead. The DJ booth is nestled inside a giant truck tire. Road signs and pictures of icons of yesteryear (Clint Eastwood and James Dean) decorate the walls. Remixes of Top 40 classics (think Aerosmith and Journey, set to throbbing bass and lightning-fast drums) blasted over the speakers.
Explanation: "The bar describes different moments in time during Billy's road trip," said Paolo, the hyperactive corporate man for Exit 66, in between bouts of brisk communication on his walkie-talkie. "He travels from the East Coast to the West Coast."
You see, "Billy" is a fictional character, and Exit 66 is the decorative manifestation of his fictional road trip. Apparently Billy's road trip involved booze and strobe lights. And stripper poles. ("Billy" conveniently stopped at a strip club, Paolo tells me.)
Jon, a wide-shouldered employee with a winning smile, gave me a brief tour of the club. He pointed out (and seemed delighted by) the motel room keys, ticket stubs, pens, lighters, sunglasses, and cards set beneath the clear plastic surface of the club's central bar.
"That represents what's in Billy's pockets," Paolo explained.
Holy matrimony: A few minutes later, I grabbed a Crown and Coke from the Billy's-pockets-bar bartender (who, when I'd asked him to break a $5, had pretended to rip it in half) and traipsed to the slightly quieter patio bar. Once outside, I reliquored Beard, my ever-present chaperone, and then began chatting with a couple who were stationed on one of the outdoor couches. Matt, blond and high-school-quarterbackish, and Marcia, dark-haired with perfect skin, had just gotten married and were currently in the throes of their honeymoon.
"This is the best club I've been to around here," Matt said.
"They've only been open four weeks," I offered. "Anyway, what else do you have planned for your honeymoon?"
"We're going to Orlando to do the whole Disney thing," Marcia said.
I made a high-pitched girly squeal.
"Here's a question," said Matt, drawing out his iPhone. "Which group looks better?"
He showed me two wedding pictures, side-by-side on his small screen. One was of Matt, surrounded by several groomsmen in tuxes. The other was of Marcia, clad in a sparkling white wedding dress and surrounded by smiling women in up-dos.
"Is this a contest?" I asked.
"Yes," Matt and Marcia chorused.
"Well, she is smoking hot," I said. "And therefore has to win."
"OK, so I'm ugly," Matt said. "That's irrelevant. Look at the stupid facial expressions the girls are making. My group is focused, in sync."
"Yeah," I said. "But on her wedding day, the bride always wins." To my vast catalog of potential husbands: Take note.
Patrons: At that point, a big, bald-headed, burly guy asked Matt to take a picture of him with his two buddies. His name was Ray, and he was vacationing in Fort Lauderdale from Houston.
After the photo shoot, Ray leaned on me a little and asked for my phone number. His two friends exchanged a glance. Joe was tall, with sandy hair and a goatee, and Jay was dark-haired with a slight build.
"So what brings y'all here?" I asked.
"We're meeting for the first time," Joe explained. "We've never met in person before."
"We play X-Box together — all kinds of games, including Call of Duty," Ray cut in.
"You've probably been killed by my 17-year-old brother at some point," I said. "He specializes in pwning n00bs."
"I'm not a nerd," said Ray.
"He is," Jay said, disgusted. "I'm the one who's not."
"I don't mind admitting that I am," Joe said calmly.
"I'm not," Ray snapped. "Do you know how much this shirt cost? Ninety dollars!"
"I'm going to leave you here," snapped Jay, jingling his car keys. "When I come back to get you, you'll still be sitting here by yourself."
"You think I can't walk in that club and get any girl I want?" Ray shrieked. "I make $90,000 a year!"
"You couldn't get a girl as hot as this one," Jay said.
"Come home with me," Ray turned to me. "I'll buy you a shot."
"Instead why don't you buy my boyfriend a shot?" I said. My good buddy Beard was still sitting at the tiki bar a few feet away. He'd spent the evening watching the bartenders precisely measure minuscule bits of alcohol and serve watered-down drinks. "He makes $90,000 a year," I shouted to Beard, pointing at Ray. Beard rolled his eyes.
"Oh, are y'all swingers?" Ray shouted at Beard. Then he pounded the bar and summoned a server: "Hey, baby, over here!"
Next time I turned my head, Beard had disappeared and Ray had thrown his glass into a trash can (the glass shattered loudly). I thought it was about time to grab a drink before departing and hit the open road. Exit 66 is cool — particularly if you like strobe lights, loud music, and go-go dancers — but there's a whole other highway of bars out there to explore.