So last week, I embarked on my First Annual Obscure Bar Tour. Here's the official report:
About midnight on Monday, I pulled up to the Hut Lounge and Package Store, a neighborhood gin joint located on a dead end across the street from the Galleria Mall, right behind a CVS pharmacy in Fort Lauderdale. On the outside is just a set of double doors with a small sign stuck on the side of a generic South Florida strip mall, but the interior is a classic. There are inflatable beer signs hanging from the slightly vaulted ceiling, photo collages of feathered hair fillies, a back wall lined with dart competition trophies and paperback novels, and a jukebox loaded with classic rock. All in all: whimsical good times and cheap drinks.
The inhabitants, however, were testy.
Take Michael, for instance. The middle-aged man with sharp features seemed like a nice enough guy. He and his friend even offered me a shot. Woo hoo!
But when we were interrupted by Peter, a corpulent, big-cheeked, 38-year-old man with black-framed glasses, things turned ugly.
"Excuse me," Peter said to me. "I have someone on the phone I want you to talk to."
We moved down the bar. No one was on his phone. "What are you doing?" he condescended. "Do you really think that anyone in this bar is going to tell you anything different than you'd hear in any other dive bar? This isn't South Beach. Look at this," he held up a sheet of paper with a list of regulars' names. "This is the kind of bar where they laminate peoples' birthdays."
Michael, cutting on my reporting style, attacked me for, yipes, drinking on the job. "You have made a mockery of me and this bar... Try acting like a human being."
Wondering what wormhole of logic these insults crawled out of, I told Peter what happened.
"That's the way it is in these places," he responded. "You intruded on his family."
On my fourth visit, I finally touched down with Terry Hicks, a tall, clean-cut, gray-mustachioed fellow who has been Hut owner since 1979. After forcing me to justify my existence and career choice for 30 minutes, he delivered the Hut 411. Originally opened in 1956 by Frank Fontaine, who later entertained on the Jackie Gleason Show, it was at first a piano bar called Frank Fontaine's. The original wall, which was long ago covered by wood paneling, has elaborate paintings of dancers, he explained. In 1959, Joe Flanigan, who died earlier this year, bought the place, and it was one stop in his South Florida empire of casual culture.
One day, Hicks says, he plans to strip the wall back down to the original. He offers cheap drinks, won't allow confrontations to escalate into fights, and keeps his bar pure neighborhood.
Obscure Bar Tour grade: A-
Would you ever try to pick up a quarter from the track of a roller coaster? Probably not. Nor would you aim to do so on any of the roads around Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport and I-95. Crazy drivers. But I did a tour stop there at Flossie's Bar and Grill on Ravenswood Road. I found it with only a little help from a heavily tattooed Poor House bartender named Tommy Sheridan. Tommy has an easy, almost giddy laugh but talks tougher than nails, and he said this was a biker hangout, so I was happy to have him along.
Outside, a large wooden deck hosted a swarm of leather-jacketed folks enjoying the rock music coming from three bearded men standing on a stage that surrounds a big tree. Oh wait! Four men, the drummer was playing his set behind the tree. Inside, Flossie's was like an old-time diner. Tommy and I grabbed a coupla drinks and headed to the outside tiki bar, which has the area's best view of an airport runway, for sure. The place was full of big American dudes, some kinda hot, drinking domestic beer.
At the bar, I talked to this huge hunk of a boat mechanic who told me, while he and a friend worked their way through a bucket of beer, that he went to St. Thomas Aquinas High School. "All of my friends who went to public school are scared of me. They're all white collar, and when we went to the beach recently, I tried to get them to go down to the water's edge with me. None of them would. I said, 'Come on, I'm just a St. Thomas kid. '"