A Nearly Religious Experience

From the outside, the Falcon House in Delray Beach is respectable, dignified even, with pink impatiens lining the walkway to the 1925 tan stucco building. Inside the Chicago-style bar, however, the walls, lights, and photographs glow like the red coals of hellfire. If décor was any indication, I was in for a swanky, sinful good time.

On a Thursday night, though, the place was fairly sedate. A few couples sat at the bar, and a bachelorette party quietly honored the bride-to-be, a potential Mrs. America in tiara and sash. The only apparent naughtiness was the bride-to-be's panties, which had become a party hat. Two tennis players who had come over from Bull Bar, Mike and Keith, took turns sporting the white Lycra undies on their heads.

I sat at the dark-wood bar (reportedly a former staircase) swilling some of the best "slightly smudged" (not truly dirty) martinis I'd ever had, compliments of my new friends Chris and Meghan, who were rewarding me for amusing them earlier with my novel approach to getting rid of an unwanted suitor.

When the wild-eyed fellow had approached, the needle of my wackometer buried itself in the red. Thinking quickly, I fell back on training from a previous life. I asked if he believed in Jesus.

Raised a pagan Jew (don't ask), I served time as a born-again Southern Baptist in high school before reverting to a nonspecific, heathenish turn of mind. But my stint as a holy roller came in handy. During my short exchange with Mr. Wack, I touted family values and the Iraq War and ended my performance with "God bless George Bush" — and all with a straight face. It was one of the toughest performances I've ever given. Worked like a charm, though. The fellow shoved off.

Because they'd had their own trouble ditching the guy when he'd pestered them earlier, Chris and Meghan were especially impressed by the creativity of my method. Now things were quiet, however, and there wasn't much to do but savor the perfect blend of olive and vodka.

Two nights later, I returned to find that, on Saturdays, the Falcon House scene picks up.

Passing through a parking lot full of Beemers, Caddies, and other luxury rides, I squeezed past the bar and popped into one of the Falcon's two womb-like rooms (as close to being once more born again as I'll ever get). Danceable tunes — 69 Boys' "Tootsie Roll," Warrant's "Sweet Cherry Pie," and Outkast's "The Way You Move" — cranked out of the state-of-the-art stereo behind the bar, but few of the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers were moved. Most either stood or sat, leaning close so they could hear each other talk.

The intimate and ambient space of the converted historic home begged to be filled with whispered secrets and breathy promises, but the booming music wouldn't allow it. Neither was the space ideal for dancing. I guess the concept was to make things easy for the conversationally challenged or to disguise complete inanity.

With some people, however, there's no hiding the obvious. Patrick, somewhere north of 50, introduced himself by spewing numerals as he approached, then hit me with what he no doubt figured was a terrific opening line to deliver to a woman with a pen in her hand.

"Got it? That's my number. Give me a call," he said, satisfied with himself.

"I'm a writer too," he prattled. "I'm writing a play about Hunter S. Thompson coming back from the grave. I wanted to be a journalist, but I'm too lazy. I definitely would have been a gonzo journalist."

Dear Lord, deliver me from idiocy.

"I've done all my research. I mean, might as well put all my addictions to good use," he continued, making me suspect he had been doing "research" that night.

I'm not sure whether it was divine intervention, but when I declined his drink invitation, he finally buggered off. I was left alone long enough to admire the design of the brushed-metal-and-glass rack overhead that ran the length of the bar.

While I was waiting for my drink, an Abercrombie & Fitch poster boy slid up to the bar and ordered an L.I.T.

"What's that?" I asked, thinking he meant a "lite."

"Long Island Iced Tea," he said counting off each word with a finger until he got to iced and realized the problem.

"Well, we call it an L-I-T," the boy genius harrumphed as he claimed his drink and departed.

The bartender who delivered the drink had made a festive clothing choice. Beneath her sheer white top, red hearts covered her nipples. Nice touch. If you work for tips.

"Are those stickers?" I asked, always impressed by curious approaches to fashion.

"Pasties," she corrected. I refrained from remarking that indulging in pasties ($8.99 from Hustler) rather than stickers ($1.99 from Hallmark) was a financial — if not mortal — sin. That I held my tongue should be proof enough that she who controls the hooch controls the world, or in this case, the snarky nightlife columnist.

Soon, Stacey, a 39-year old pharmaceutical rep, sat next to me and gave me her veteran opinion of the place: "I've been here like 20 times. I like the atmosphere. Casual but sexy. It's not a pickup place. I mean, people pick up all the time, but it's not a pick-up place, you know?"

Before I could work out the contradictions of that statement, she was joined by Brant, who casually wrapped an arm around her.

"She's being too cute for me to meet anyone. Everyone thinks we're together," Brant complained, his arm still around her. I might have suggested that draping himself on a pretty lady isn't the best way to meet another one, but perhaps that's because I wasn't privy to the secrets of picking up in a nonpickup place.

After midnight, when my friend Kim arrived, the two of us claimed a high top next to Reggie, 35, a computer support technician, and his 30-year-old buddy Justin, a mortgage broker from Tennessee. Through some half-yelled, half-understood conversation, I learned they had attended a high school basketball game.

"My cousin's really good," Reggie boasted. "He's gonna be pro." I nodded politely.

"No, really, he's gonna be a pro," Reggie repeated emphatically.

When he gestured to a group of black guys who had been loitering, empty-handed, outside and indicated they were with him, I figured they were the high school ballers, too young to come inside.

"Nope, not enough black people in the club," he corrected.

I bounced outside to meet the up-and-coming sports icon.

"So which one of you is the basketball star?" I asked.

But in a flash, Reggie was there reprimanding me: "Why you gotta stereotype? Why not ask which one is the future programming genius?"

Uh, my bad?

In the dance music's din, I'd misunderstood. None of these guys was his cousin; they were just his buddies.

Before Reggie and his crew rolled out, he performed a spoken-word piece he'd composed about "the almighty true and living King." Afterward, he proselytized some more: "You can only 'metamorph' if you know Jesus Christ. And I bet you thought I was just gonna hit on you."

Religious spiel in the nightclub? Hadn't I heard this somewhere before? Wait, he couldn't be blowing me off?

"I'm in hell," I concluded when I reported back to Kim, who offered another drink to dull the pain of my damnation.

As little flames danced in the votives on the tables, I noticed that Brant had finally met a woman who wasn't Stacey and that Stacey had met a man who wasn't Brant. At the end of the bar, a group of women lost their religion while following 2 Live Crew's instructions: "Just shake that ass, bitch, and let me see what you got."

I sipped my salvation as Dan, a 31-year-old vegetarian and Falcon House chef, gave his confession: "I don't eat meat, but I do have to taste it." He said it like he was rationalizing his sin in the manner of sexually active teenagers who consider themselves virgins because blowjobs and backdoor action, in their minds, don't count.

It was a blessing when the lights came up at 2 a.m. and the bar's signature closing song — Tenacious D's "Fuck Her Gently" — offered the bliss of original sin as a recessional.

I never heard an amen.

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Marya Summers