Gerri's Sports Pub
6500 W Atlantic Blvd, Margate
Gerri's is the kind of bar that has been around for years, and looks the part. It's got a homey feeling, a comfortable smell, and a smorgasbord of beer-related decor. Rows of ceramic beer mugs dangle over the bar; giant inflatable bottles and beer cans labeled CORONA and BUD LIGHT hang at the corners of the room; shiny metallic signs advertising Icehouse, Amber Bock, and Michelob lurk in every direction. A fantastic mural of destruction - a bunch of race cars locked in a dramatic collision - has been painted on the wall facing the pool table. The U-shaped bar is decorated with Florida license plates.
When I walked in, Ron Roberts, sporting a T-shirt with a Gandhi quote on it, was dealing cards and Jennifer, the bleach-blond, mini-skirt-wearing bartender, was in the process of turning up the volume on all of the televisions. It was Jeopardy time, and tonight they were airing an episode on which Ron - who deals poker games at Gerri's a couple nights a week -was a contestant.
"How'd you do it, Ron?" shouted a rough-looking regular from the bar. "Fifteen years and I never once got them to lower the jukebox for me!"
"Well, he's famous now," Jennifer said. "He's on Jeopardy!"
"He's famous because he comes to Gerri's," the regular snapped back.
"Vinnie's one of our regulars," Jennifer explained to me with a nod of her head. "As he said - he's been coming in forever."
"I'm not an alcoholic, I swear," Vinnie said gruffly.
The game show started - Ron versus two younger women, Molly and Eureka - and was off at lightning speed; a whirl of buzzers and questions and Alex Trebek's booming voice.
"When I saw the categories, I knew I was in trouble," Ron muttered to the table as he slid cards around, dealing out a poker game with incredible speed.
I took a seat at the bar - near a sign that said "Beware pickpockets and loose women" and directly beside a Jager shot machine. Above me, a ceiling tile had been painted with a creepy picture of a frog licking a beer bottle.
"So, what do you know about this bar?" I asked Vinnie.
"Man, it's home," he said. "We're Gerri's kids. Everyone knows everyone, and if we don't know you, we'll talk to you anyway."
"Who's Gerri?" I asked.
"Well, Gerri - a woman - was the bar's owner. But then she sold it to Jerry - a man - and he owns it now," Vinnie explained.
Alex Trebek's voice boomed from the TV: "This chief Facebooker is the subject of the biopic 'The Social Network." Ron buzzed in quickly. "Who is Mark Zuckerberg?"
I tried to catch Ron's gaze from the corner, but his players were forcing him to continue to deal. At one point he shouted out: "I just missed a Daily Double and you're worried about this game??" But an old man dismissed him. "We know you taped this show like three months ago, it's not like you're missing it right now."
When the game show had ended - Ron's valiant effort landed him in second place - and the poker match had concluded, Ron introduced me to a few of the regular players. Blanche "The Blanchinator" was an elderly woman who walked with a cane; Lenny kept a bucket of beer at his feet while he played; Pearl "The Earl" had flaming red hair.
Bob, who wore a ball cap with playing cards on it, had won the match.
"In these poker matches, we play for points," Bob said, showing me an elaborate spread sheet. "You get certain points, you win stuff. Pearl's already won a T-shirt. People with the highest points go to the championship tournament."
Pearl came over to model her shirt. "Poker is like crack," she said. "I've only been playing since October, but even my husband is hooked now!" The man next to her nodded in silent resignation.
"People look forward to playing poker all day," Ron said. "And I love it. I picked it up after my divorce and realized that I could make money going to bars and dealing. Now it's my full-time job." He smiled. "You just gotta find something you love doing, and figure out how to make money doing it."
"How do you feel about your Jeopardy game?" I asked him.
"You know, before I started with animal rights activism, losing this would have been a huge disappointment," he said. "But now I'm involved with something more important - making a difference in animals' lives - it's not the end of the world. Those pop-culture categories were terrible for me, and I lost. But that's OK: I always wanted to be on Jeopardy, and now I have been."
"I haven't wanted meat nearly as much lately," Pearl bragged.
"I had only a salad with cheese for lunch," Bob offered.
"I could do without the cheese," Ron said. "But you've gotta start somewhere right? If I can do vegan outreach at Gerri's, I can do it anywhere."
The nearby folks laughed. Articulate, positive, and a poker-dealing, trivia-filled vegan to boot. They love Ron; they can't help it.
"Here at Gerri's, we're a good mix of folks," Ron said. "We're the degenerate-biker-gambler-vegan crowd. And we have a good time."