There are some places where spring break never ends. People there will always be dancing and drinking till they publicly pass out. There will be fights and fondling and impromptu football, booze-swigging and beer buckets and pickup attempts on perfect strangers. And that is the beauty of Fort Lauderdale.
Elbo Room: "DICKHEAD! HEY, DICKHEAD!" A trashed young man wearing a Kiss-like wig was yelling from the second-story balcony of the Elbo Room.
"Who are you talking to?" a guy from the first story screamed up at him.
"I don't know — " Kiss-wig dude responded. "Everybody!"
Fortunately, this is nothing new. Drunks have been screaming obscenities from the balcony of the Elbo Room, an old-as-dirt Fort Lauderdale party staple, stationed across the street from the beach, for going on 70 years now. And clearly, no changes are in the works.
As I was ducking through the crowd, a tall woman with striking blue eyes grabbed my arm. "We need more young girls in this picture!" she screamed in my face and tossed me headfirst into a group of rabid Saints fans, all decked out in their black-and-gold best. After the photo was snapped, I peeled myself off of J.R., her short, chiseled but feel-up-happy friend, and straightened my shirt.
"I love Elbo Room!" J.R. said. "I love Fort Lauderdale!" The small gold and black beads around his neck swung, and his beer sloshed enthusiastically.
"And I'm from New Orleans, and we know how to party!" He put his hand on my shoulder and then inconspicuously dropped it down to the small of my back. I pulled away when it became clear he was going in for an ass-grope.
"She's a yacht captain!" he pointed at the tall woman.
"I tell people I'm a homemaker," she said. "I don't like the attention."
"Yeah!" yelled J.R. "I don't go around telling people I'm an astronaut."
"But you aren't," the yacht captain muttered, before walking away to talk to a balding dude with a string of overly large gold beads around his neck.
"She only likes you for your big balls!" J.R. screamed at the other man.
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A Ramones cover blared as I darted deeper into the Elbo Room. The place showed its age but captured that old spring break charm — from its rickety second story to its dingy red walls decked out in neon beer signs and framed photos. The tables outside were decorated with mementos of spring breaks past — coins, Where the Boys Are blurbs, shells, beads, and at least one snapshot of a woman in a thong bikini. The long narrow bar boasted more bottles of liquor and cheap beer than a frat house, and the bartenders spun over one another trying to serve the surging masses of thirsty partiers. After several unsuccessful attempts to procure booze — I would have taken shot liquor from a Dixie cup by this point — I was suddenly distracted.
"I fucking hate it!" a big, broad dude with a strong Jersey accent was screaming. "I hate walking in Vegas! I love the girls and booze, but I hate walking around." He punctuated his statement with a swig of beer, and Sheila — a black-haired beauty who'd been swept up in his story — laughed.
"On the day I was supposed to come back here, I canceled my flight and got hammered," Jersey dude continued. "I started drinking at 10 a.m. By 5 p.m., a friend invited me up to his suite — in the Bellagio or some shit."
"Nice place," commented Sheila.
"My friend had a room full of naked girls!" Jersey dude said. "One girl was ironing his clothes!"
"Busted!" said Sheila, nudging me. "That's how we know you're lying. Naked girls don't iron!"
"OK, that's a lie, but the rest is true," he said, sloshing his beer. "Anyway, Vegas is fine, but I like Costa Rica way better."
Pirate Republic Bar: In front of a sign that reads "The beatings will continue until morale improves," the bartender babe leaned over to pour a drink, and a raucous drunk used his camera phone to snap a picture of her impressive cleavage.
Pirate banners, witty signs, and Mickey Clean original crayon art covered the walls. The Pirate Republic is a smoky, partially outdoor bar between two buildings: It's chock-full of knocked-over beer bottles, loud rock music, and take-no-prisoners bartenders.
Outside the bar is a wooden seating area, complete with ledge and stools, plus half a dozen pirate flags and a shitload of graffiti. I took a seat by a slew of scribbled names, carefully formed hearts (with initials inside), and the inscribed words "break bread, not hearts." Ah, the words of prophets.
Brian, a surfer type sporting a sun-shaped tattoo on his deltoid and carrying a backpack, declared himself a bar transient. He was more hippie than pirate, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd slit my throat to take my beer.
"I — we — have a beautiful life," he said, looking deeply at a group of partiers behind me. "We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world."
Just a few feet from us, a guy wearing black shorts and a ball cap had (obviously quite thoughtfully) decided that playing catch with a football in the jam-packed area just outside the doors of the bar was a good idea. He first sent a pretty blond to "go long," but he was so sloshed that his first throw bounced off the ceiling. The second attempt hit the blond in her kneecap. She signaled for their friend, a one-eyed Venezuelan man (no, I'm not kidding), to replace her.
By now, a dude in a red Hurley sweatshirt with his eyes half-closed had approached me. He repeated the word shenanigans so many times, I began to develop a tic.
"There are more shenanigans in Europe than here," he was saying. "I travel a lot — I used to be a pro volleyball player. I've seen girls fighting cops."
I rolled my eyes. The one-eyed Venezuelan launched the football into the air; it whooshed behind Hurley and hit a large blond man square in the back. The man turned around and screamed, "I HATE THOSE GUYS!"
Hurley continued, unfazed. "Now I'm a multinational chef."
"So get to the kitchen and make me a grilled cheese sandwich," I snapped.
Behind Hurley, one of the guys tossing the football briefly paused to open a Corona with his mouth. Then he threw the football and shattered one of the ceiling lights. This, despite what one might expect, did not stop the game.
"Seriously, the East Coast needs to smoke more weed," Hurley continued, his eyes now all the way closed. "Work it, baby."
Dirty Blondes: By now, it was 2 a.m. and the party was heating up. On my walk to Blondes, I witnessed the following: a dude hosing off a bloody sidewalk (there'd been a little skirmish, he told us); a passed-out chick being carried around the way a monkey might carry its young; and ten people dancing conga-line style to a flat-out annoying Black Eyed Peas song. Tonight's gonna be a good night... Eventually the dancers began to all jump in sync, screaming out the lyrics. It was the most fantastically lame thing I've seen in a while, but hey, as long as they're having a good, good night.
Blondes is a relatively large nightspot; an arcade game area sits sandwiched between two large bars, and there are enough spots to accommodate an entire high school. (Not that I'm advocating underaged drinking, but I know a few people who claim to have been hanging out at Blondes since high school. And, y'know, still are.) Colored lights, dartboards, an alcohol breath-tester machine, many TVs, shuffleboards, and neon signs make up the interior. I passed an old man in a black-brimmed hat and cape loudly talking about Jesus.
A good question is, who hasn't been drunk in Blondes before? The booze is quick, cheap, and spills easily (if you don't drink it fast enough).
I approached a group of kiddos congregated around a Playboy Pinball machine.
"Who's the pinball wizard?" I asked.
"We all are," said Eric, handsome, with large blue eyes and facial stubble.
"We're ALF." He pointed to the screen; "ALF" was the high score.
"He's a liar," said his friend, a tall, striking man in a beige coat.
"Do you like this bar?" I asked him.
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"Yes, but I prefer quieter places," he said. "I was raised in an old-man-dive bar, so I tend to like those."
"Me too!" I shouted, jumping. "I mean, I wasn't raised in one, but I tend to like them more because — "
Just then, their little blond friend, who was sporting the kind of eye makeup that made her resemble a startled deer, knocked her entire beer off the pinball machine. By chance, its contents were deposited directly into my high-heeled shoe — to the point where I had to pause to remove my pump and dump the cheap beer out of it. "They're more mellow," I awkwardly finished my sentence.
I don't know a better way to spend a Saturday night partying hearty, but I do know that when you've been drinking so long that your feet smell like beer, it's time to stumble toward home. And I planned to — right after a round of Playboy Pinball.