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Wish Granted

You've got a penny, so chuck it down the well and make a wish. What do you wish for? A million bucks? A pet pony? A pet porn star? One despondent drinker at the Wishing Well, a spacious Irish bar in Boca Raton, wished for a job. A dart-playing, midlife-crisis-aged businessman wished for the chance to go back in time 20 years. No bullshit wishes for me, though. All I really want in life is good booze and a nice buzz (though a pet porn star wouldn't be too bad either). But the Wishing Well bartender and his rough, nearly lethal shots taught me a little lesson: Be careful what you wish for.

Ambiance: The glass windows on this Boca hot spot are so big that you can judge all the patrons inside before you even go in. Or, as the case may be, they can judge you: Upon walking up to the place, I had to wander around the building for a few minutes before I was able to locate the front door, and everyone got a pretty good view of my stupidity.

The Wishing Well, near Mizner Park, boasts dark-wood tables, fake foliage, green- and carmine-colored walls, and a covered outdoor smoking area. Neon beer signs, flat-screen TVs showing international soccer, and friendly framed sayings — such as "There Are No Strangers Here, Only Friends You've Yet to Meet" — decorate the walls. To the left of the bar is a flight of green-carpeted stairs that lead to a tiny loft area. This loft, despite its pool table and available seating, is actually best-suited for voyeuristic activity, like peering down the shirts of people gathered below.

In the center of the room is a replica of an old-fashioned well, complete with bucket and roof. The hole that would, in realistic circumstances, lead to water has been boarded over and functions as a table for copies of neatly stacked New Times. It looked as if our circulation director had his wish answered.

I paused near the well and made a silent wish: I hope the drinks are cheap. I grabbed a spot at the small but tidy bar. Liquor bottles, some facing out from cubbies and others evenly spaced bottle-to-bottle across the back of the bar, are meticulously arranged and glow enticingly in the well-lit room. Time for boozin'.

Drinks: I ordered a beer from Sean, the lean, gruff bartender, and made myself at home. Sean barely gave me a shrug when I informed him I was writing about the bar, but he kept the beer sliding my way all night. Tasty, cheap, and endless? Sounds like I got my wish and then some.

Just then, a big guy in a shirt with the words "Where My Peeps At?" and a picture of the marshmallow Easter candy came in and hopped up on the stool next to me. The bartender groaned comically.

"Can I get a Yuengling?" the guy, James, asked.

"No," the bartender snapped.

"Can I get a Yuengling?" he repeated.

"No, all out," Sean said.

"There's no plastic cup over it," the guy insisted, pointing to the spigot. "OK, third time's the charm: Can I get a Yuengling?"

The words were barely out of his mouth before Sean finally caved and served one up.

"I'm in between classes," James informed me. "I go to FAU, and I usually come here throughout the day."

Throughout the day? That sounds like a recipe for good grades to me.

"What are you majoring in?" I asked.

"Small-business management," he told me. "After college, I've got an automatic job at my parents' bar in Lake City." I avoided making some smart remark about drinking on the job and asked him about Wishing Well.

"They play the same CD over and over," he complained. "I know the play­list by heart. It starts with Johnny Cash, then we get a little BB King — "

"You don't like it, there's the jukebox," snapped the bartender. "Put money in."

I turned to James. "He's kind of a dick, isn't he?"

"Not the first time I've heard that today," Sean said over his shoulder. "Not even the second."

Patrons: I left James and went a few feet away to talk to white-haired Jim and slight, bespectacled Harry. They explained that they have their own table at the Wishing Well.

"Jim came with the bar," Sean informed me on his way to deliver some drinks to smokers outside.

"The place is halfway between work and home," Jim shrugged.

Just then, Jim's wife, Sue, walked in.

"Why do you like this bar?" I asked her.

"It's halfway between work and home," she said.

"We hang out here in the early evening, but we leave before all the college kids come in and things get crazy." Sue nodded at Jim. "His bedtime is 9 p.m. anyway."

Jim pointed over to James and said they recently went up to Lake City to visit his parents' bar. "It was a great place," Jim recalled, "and meeting his mom was interesting."

"How so?"

"Well, when she found out we were friends of James' from the Wishing Well, she finally understood why there were so many 'Wishing Well' charges on her credit card every month."

Shots: I walked back over to James and picked at his French fries while he picked on the bartender.

"I like that fake well," I said, pointing at the well with the New Times on top of it.

"It's real, you know," James said.

"We had to board it up because kids kept falling in," said Sean.

"You're liars," I told them. Sean walked off for a second and came back with a pair of shots — yeah, these are the practically lethal ones. He clearly hoped they would shut us up for awhile. He slid one at me and one in front of James. We clinked glasses and swigged to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." And let's just say this: Those shots burned, burned, burned.

"Oh God, Sean is trying to kill us," I whined after I'd drained the glass and tossed it back on the bar. "What was that?"

I expected his response to be "acid" or "poison."

"Jameson," James said. "He only gave that to us to punish us." A few feet away, our abusive bartender smirked.

"James, if you could have one wish from the wishing well, what would it be?" I asked, resisting the urge to blot at my watery eyes with a napkin.

"Free beer, of course," James said. "And no more shots. Ever." With that, he swigged the rest of his beer.

"OK, I'm going to class," he said, slamming down the glass. "And the teacher's a bitch, so wish me luck."

And just when I thought I couldn't take another ounce of alcohol, Sean slid another Bud my way. Obviously, wishes do come true — even if they burn like hell.

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Tara Nieuwesteeg