Pub Med

It was an unusual come-on for a place named after the Greek god of lust and fornication: free food. I guess to some, nothing says "loving" like a full belly, garlic breath, and a little chunk of something lodged between the teeth. While I wondered how such a promotion would play out among the affluent, pretty people of Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue, I have to admit, Taverna Eros had me at "free."

So my friend Christine and I headed out on a Thursday night to check out this unusual "unescorted ladies eat free from a special menu" deal.

"Order whatever you want under $20," the big guy at the host's stand told us when I announced our freeloading intentions, handing us the regular menu with the explanation that the special menu hadn't been printed yet. Then he fulfilled my request to sit at the bar by shooing away another couple who sat there, like we were celebrities or something instead of just cheapskate opportunists.

"Don't worry — they're with me," he reassured.

Our 8 p.m. arrival coincided with a small-scale exodus, and by the time we ordered some vodka and tonics, the bar scene was almost nil — and that included the population doubled by the billboard-sized mirror hung on the wall opposite the bar.

"Does it pick up later?" I asked the bartenders, wondering if maybe the place was a popular bar that was trying to lure a dinner crowd.

The pair behind the bar were enough alike — solidly built, handsome, with sandy brown hair — that it created a sort of visual echo appropriate to their nicknames, Hans and Frans. Neither of them answered my question, so I tried again.

"What? You want to get picked up?" Hans teased.

I gave a polite laugh and waited.

"So does it?" I insisted, eyeing Frans, whose biceps were so big, I was pretty sure he could pop my head off with a well-placed squeeze.

"Settle down. If all else fails, one of us will take you home," the comparatively lean Hans quipped.

I exhaled an exasperated sigh.

"You gotta pay for the drinks, but the comedy is free," Hans said, showing off by pouring vodka over his shoulder and catching it in the silver shaker behind his back.

"...and once you hear the comedy, you'll know why," rejoined the straight man in the comedic routine, Frans, whose real name is Frank.

Hans introduced himself as Kurt. "Begins with a K, ends with a T, and you're in the middle," he said.

"He's cute!" Christine said under her breath, giggling as she nudged me.

The place had a seductive ambiance — simple yet stunning or, if you will, "dramatically Spartan." The stark, textured white walls and their blue shutters invoked the sunbleached stucco and cerulean blue of the Mediterranean. Images of that cradle of Western culture were projected on the back wall and on the flat-screen TVs behind the bar. They served both as virtual tour and as an ambient light source that drenched the place in color. The faux tree that shaded the bar was still there from the former tenant, Mano a Mano. However, now, on the shelves between its plaster branches, besides the liquor bottles, were statues of Eros.

"So is this the sort of place we can throw plates and go 'Opa!'?" I asked as Kurt set down our plates of roasted lamb and chicken kebabs.

"Here in the lawsuit capital of America?" he asked.

As Christine and I munched and guzzled, an image of the bar's namesake on the flat screen raised an objection.

"It's never good to look at penises while you're eating," I remarked of the painting of Eros and Psyche.

"Especially on little children," Christine added, refining this rule of etiquette that Emily Post neglected to address.

"Everyone comments on that one," chimed in the pretty brunet who'd been exiled when we were seated.

She and her friend were back now that seats had been vacated at the bar. Calling herself a "Floridiot," her term for a native, she introduced herself as one of the owners.

"Susan Martin," she said, extending her hand and quickly adding an "opolis" before I finished my "That's not very Greek" observation. And the "SD" necklace? It was a present from her fiancé, she said, both her life and business partner, our obsequious host and former owner of Taverna Opa, Steven Dapuzzo, who'd given the jewelry as an engagement gift at Christmas.Though the scene now was rather tame, Susan assured me that on the weekends it was wild, including table-top dancing. Right now, only a woman in a silver spangled headdress, bra top, and red, poofy pants was dancing to the snake charmeresque music.

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Marya Summers