Bad Boyz n the Hood

I didn't need the faux-hawked guy with the well-muscled arms to explain the concept of Ladies' Night to me. If he'd stopped his self-conscious posturing and hungry-eyed consumption of the babe buffet (which looked like it had already been picked over several times), he might have told me what I wanted to know: Why this ladies' night was so damned popular.

"But why here?" I tried again for some insight on why Neighborhood Sports Grill was such a hot spot on Wednesdays.

"Tonight's the night!" he exclaimed, turning away dismissively.

I didn't like him much, but he spoke truly. I'd even seen a competing bar hype its hump-day party with the suggestive pitch Why hang out in the same old Neighborhood on Wednesdays?, so this joint must be doing something right.

Exactly as you'd expect in a sports bar, there were plenty of TVs and pool tables. And just as you'd expect from a grill, there was a lot of no-fuss seating: no problem. But in an effort to give it a club feel, the management had cranked up the hip-hop through tiny speakers that made the beats become bleats. None of this seemed to affect the horny, self-involved clientele who appeared bent on celebrating hump day literally despite the lack of ambience, but, well, it was all a little too vulgar for my tastes.

Perhaps it called itself a "neighborhood" bar since many seemed to be the sort who'd been around the block. There was nothing subtle about the way the men visually undressed the women nor how the women invited it. It was clearly a pick-up, rather than hang-out, joint.

I sought out the company of another single chick who had separated from the pack to smoke a cigarette. Unlike me, Sarah was enjoying her experience.

"There are a lot of cute guys. I've been to Saki Lounge on Wednesdays [also its ladies' night]. It wasn't that good," the 28-year-old informed me. "It was all girls."

(OK, guys: That's your heads-up.)

Between puffs, the Boca "medical manager" filled me in on what I'd missed so far: "Tonight's been a pretty mellow night. Oh, except a girl passed out on the bar and had to be carried out."

(Note: Girls are not officially on the grill's takeout menu.)

Also outside providing me with secondhand smoke and an opinion was Mike, a round-bellied roofing contractor.

"Isn't this place phenomenal? Awesome food, awesome ladies...," the 40-something gushed. "The best seat in the whole place is the front door — watching all the fancy sports cars and good-looking girls that come out of them."

The people-watching was quite good. In fact, I was enjoying observing two girls — a slumpy-faced brunet and her perky blond friend — make the rounds through the crowd like they were actually going somewhere rather than just trolling for action.

Mike thought it would be a good idea if I met his work buddies. Since I didn't have any of my own friends in the joint, I followed him. As we arrived at our destination, he made yet another observation: "At a bare minimum, there's half a million dollars in fake breasts in here."

"Only half a million?" Mike's associate Adam retorted. "We have to check it out..."

The guys began introducing me to their other colleagues, most of them middle-aged. I had my eye on Paul, the only 20-something in the bunch.

"He's our six-million-dollar man!" Mike exclaimed without explanation.

My interest was piqued. A bionic body — better and stronger — did have its appeal. But faster? That all depended.

Adam filled in what was missing. The kid had parlayed his charm into 6 mil in roofing sales following the hurricanes.

"So you're an opportunist!" I concluded.

Adam set me straight, explaining that his company persuaded insurance companies to pay for repairs that homeowners couldn't get by themselves: "We're just here to help people."

I struggled not to spray beer through my nose.

"Really!" Mike insisted.

"She's laughing!" Adam exclaimed incredulously as I choked on his rationalizations and tried to down my mouthful of suds. "We're serious!"

Though this bar was clearly in a hood far from Mr. Rogers' idyllic one, it did have its own land of make-believe. Not everyone, however, was riding the trolley or singing the happy anthem "It's a Good Feeling."

"I hate it here. I was forced to come!" an indie-rocker girl who looked completely out of her element griped. "I find it miserable. I hate the music. I hate the ugly boys. I hate the slutty bartenders. Yeah, like, despise."

Introducing herself as Vanessa, the 21-year-old Lynn student sat with one arm around her knee, her Chanel shoe defiantly planted on the seat of her chair as she smoked.

"And the bathroom smells like vomit!" she added.

Her schoolmate Louisa, 22, shared her opinion: "I'm here for the free drinks. Otherwise, I would not have come."

I let her know that at this ladies' night, the drinks didn't seem to be free.

"The cute boy that brought us here bought them for us," she said as a guy joined us.

"I dragged them by their ponytails," he said, though neither of the girls wore their hair in that fashion. "I know one of the bartenders, and she put roofies in their drinks."

The girls ignored the remark (probably because they wanted the dude to keep buying their drinks). Instead, Vanessa segued into another venomous attack: "The bartenders attract all the guys because they've got their boobs hanging out. They're whores."

I acknowledged it was a bit of a sausage fest. And for sure, the "gigantit" lure had something to do with it. I asked the girls if there was anything at all redeeming about their experience.

"Oh, there was one cool thing — one guy freestyled his advances," Vanessa observed. "I actually liked that."

I was about to remark that I too appreciate a creative approach when the beginnings of a fight pushed out onto the porch by our table and Vanessa and Louisa made their retreat.

"Me? Pussy?" a guy with a full gold grill antagonized caveman-style to his adversary. "You know I ain't a pussy!"

I stepped out of the line of fire and back into the bar.

There, I met David, a 40-something who was down from Connecticut for a few days of vacation. He tried to find common ground by comparing the Night Rider to Hunter S. Thompson.

"He used to come to my bar the Howlin' Wolf," said the LCD salesman, who claimed to once have been a partial owner of the Aspen drinking hole. "And he was a drunk!"

It would have been flattering to be compared (even indirectly) to the father of gonzo journalism, except that I suspected the guy was insinuating that I too was a lush (I'd had only a few beers!). It was a sort of tenuous common ground on which we stood while I listened to David's take on the South Florida scene: "It's more promiscuous here. They all have agendas. They want to meet someone and have a one-night stand. Their eyes are lonely."

Mr. Morality almost had me believing his shtick. That is, until he asked about my nightlife information-gathering. "So, do you ever get laid when you go out for one of these things?"

Yup, despite his Connecticut address, he was still straight from Planet Sleazoid. I was trying to shake the slimy, creepy feeling he'd given me when I met a pool-playing Deadhead whose laid-back attitude made him feel like I could trust him with my feelings about my sleazy asshole encounter.

"I'm a nonsleazy asshole," the guy reassured with a sweet smile and laughed as I jotted it down. "If you print that, I'll come give you the biggest hug ever."

It was the right thing to say. A hug is like anti-sleaze. I spent the remainder of my evening with him and his buddy as he abandoned his pool game so that we could play 10 questions (the abbreviated version of 20 questions). Again: a nice tactic as he showed an interest in our actually getting to know each other. The questions were all mine — but they sparked two-sided conversations on subjects that ranged from his rant about Donald Rumsfeld to my confession that I longed for a place I felt I belonged.

"Favorite cartoon?" I asked, lightening things up.

"Good one," he nodded appreciatively. "Drawn Together."

It was appropriate, really. Even in a place like this one, where I felt completely alien, I'd found someone to connect with. And though we didn't so much as exchange phone numbers, let alone swap spit, it was a far more meaningful hookup. A one-night stand of a different kind, it reassured that we all belong to some community — even if it's a vagabond one.

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Marya Summers