For years, the Hooters restaurant chain has aroused both groups of wing-eating dudes and the tempers of militant feminists. Questions have been raised: Are Hooters girls objectified? Are the wings really as hot and tasty as the ladies who bring them? Will they ever get rid of those horrible orange shorts? Personally, I'm a feminist, if you get right down to it, but I've got no qualms about a pretty young thang serving up dinner at a family-friendly, all-American restaurant. C'mon, it's not like they're naked.
Though... they almost were on Tuesday, when 128 girls stripped down to their bikinis in hopes of being crowned Miss Hooters at the 12th Annual Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant. Right after that, though, they put on club clothes like the respectable girls they are and went to the big invitation-only afterparty at Nikki Marina (3660 S. Ocean Dr., Hollywood). Having skipped the actual pageant (pffft, I can see all the bikinis I need to on the beach), one of my sexy lady friends suggested we slip in and check out the party. So we infiltrated the lax (er, nonexistent) security and made our way in to mingle with troops of iconic Hooters girls as they partied.
Ambience: By day, Nikki Marina is an expansive, oceanfront eating area, and by night, it's a bumpin' party. But Tuesday night? Extra bumpin'. Despite recent nonstop rainstorms (and hair-frizzing humidity), the night was clear and breezy, and the hot spot was packed full of party people. White couches, wood tables, tiki torches, and unbearably attractive Hooters chicks covered every square inch of the giant outdoor courtyard area. I darted past a giant fountain and boat-sized coolers full of bottles of Bud, fleeing to the large, circular bar. Ritzy hotels stretched skyward behind me, and the Hooter Patrol IV yacht, roped off and marked "for contestants only," was docked a few feet away.
Nobody could explain why the affair wasn't held at one of five Broward Hooters (the original was opened 25 years ago in Clearwater by "a bunch of guys who got tired of going to fern bars," according to one founder), except maybe they needed a restaurant with a dock. Nikki was cool for me, though.
Partygoers: Put a bunch of hot girls at a VIP party and you're also going to collect an eclectic array of shifty people slipping in: sleazy guys looking for a hookup, maybe even a nightlife reporter who didn't bother to get a press pass. Single dudes stood lurking near the entrance to the yacht, each waiting to snag the next alcohol-drenched beauty queen to saunter off. Joe wore glasses and was downin' some greasy, good ol'-fashioned Hooters wings when he approached my friend and me. He mistook us for Hooters girls (I went to college to avoid those dreaded orange shorts but, in truth, haven't ruled 'em out yet completely) and talked about being "involved" with pageant coordination.
"Do you do work with kids' pageants?" my friend asked.
"Uh, no, I don't touch 'em until they're 18," he said. Yuck. "I like 'em best like you. Blond, blue-eyed, and looking like you just walked off the campus of a Baptist college." Yeah, I might look sweet and innocent, but lines like that, and those who deliver them, I flick away like flyspecks.
Drinks: Bartender Jennifer, clad in a blue tank top with her black hair pulled back neatly, informed me that all Budweiser products were free. Chris was short, wore jeans and an earring, and was pretty drunk by the time he and his two friends made their way over to us.
"He recently quit World of WarCraft," one of his friends said. "Trained someone to take over his clan and everything." Yeah, I've had a few friends who gave up social interaction for the biggest online role-playing game ever. But don't we all?
"Nice, what'd you play as?" I asked.
"Night elf," he said with a smirk. Would have pegged him for more for a Tauren or an Orc player. (No denying it, Night Watch knows nightlife and videogames. So what?)
"Nice choice," I said. "How's the real world treating you?"
"Honestly, it's way better," he said.
"You only think that because you're drunk," I said, indicating the Bud in his hand.
"Well, the beer's free, and I don't know how much I've had," he admitted. "Plus, there is a lot of hot ass around here."
Girls: "A lot of hot ass" was an understatement. Homogenous legions of sexy young ladies congregated everywhere, all slender, all with perfect eye makeup, and all in perfect hot little party dresses. Heather, petite in a silver tube top, and Gina, with neat eyeliner and a tight ponytail, sat on a couch with plates of chicken wings in front of them, grabbed from one of the long buffet lines.
"You guys compete in the Miss Hooters pageant?" I asked.
"No — we're former employees," Heather said. "But we're still involved with Hooters, so we came to see the pageant. It went on forever — nearly 130 girls competed." Memo to Night Watch from herself: Once you've seen one bikini babe, you've seen 'em all. Always skip the pageant and head for the party.
"No offense, but 'hot' all kind of looks the same here," I said. "How does anyone judge who's the hottest in a herd of hotties?"
"You can't," Gina said, tearing into a wing. "Personally, I think this pageant is all politics."
Politics? At a Hooters swimsuit competition? What's the world coming to?
"What do you say to feminists who think this whole thing's degrading?" I asked.
"Oh, please," Gina snapped. "They've obviously never eaten at Hooters. It's a fun family restaurant. It's not a strip club — we wear outdated, ugly shorts and nylons."
"Working at Hooters opens a lot of doors," Heather added, "especially if you want to be a model. They're just jealous."
"Of the ugly shorts?" I asked.
"I've heard Hooters is supposed to be updating the shorts soon," Gina said. "The newer ones will be better-looking. Thank God."
Hallelujah for that.
Miss Hooters: To get to the heart of the party, I needed to get acquainted with Miss Hooters herself and see if her, um, hooters, were all they were cracked up to be. Pageant contestants who didn't quite make the cut gave blindingly white smiles and amicably described the winner as "cute." Apparently, not only are Hooters girls "all-American cheerleaders," they're also a bunch of really good sports.
I recognized her by her shiny tiara and white sash. Slender, tan, and blond, the quintessential high school cheerleader. Though dressed down in flip-flops and jeans — she had nothing to prove now, I guess — her eyes and hair were still perfect. She also seemed to be in the process of trying to get to the bar, but she was snagged every two steps for a photo op. Amateur photographers, contestants, other Hooters girls, store owners, Hooters bigwigs — everyone was grabbing the poor beauty as she no doubt was trying to procure some sort of alcoholic beverage. When I intercepted her, she got ready to pose — face to the camera (even though, for the moment, there was no camera there), shoulders back, wide, toothpaste smile.
"I just want to talk," I said. "So you won."
"Oh my God, yes," she said. "It's so exciting! I don't even think it's sunk in yet."
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"San Antonio, Texas," she said.
"I'm from Dallas!" I said, her contagious enthusiasm creeping into my voice. We briefly celebrated her win and our mutual home state (though, truth be told, there's a whole lotta land between the big D and San Antonio). We bullshitted for a few minutes about random hot spots — such as the Czech Stop, a deliciously infamous West Texas bakery. But someone else quickly grabbed her for another photo op.
"More pictures," she said apologetically. "Can you give me a second?"
"Oh, it's OK, I hear the beauty-queen life is a busy one," I said, patting her arm. "Wait, what was your name?"
"It was so great talking to you," she said. "And my name's Sara Hoots."
The crowned beauty queen of Hooters is named Sara Hoots? Talk about destiny. (Or was it, as my new BFF Gina had suggested, politics?)
All right, Sara Hoots and the extended Hoots family probably aren't furthering the cause of women's rights, but she's sweet as fucking apple pie. Bet she serves up a mean plate of hot wings. Think my feminist group will want to meet at Hooters next month?