Something to Chew On

If bars were high school kids, South Shores Tavern would be that unkempt and quiet redneck who went virtually ignored until he suddenly cleaned up, cultivated his Southern charm, and became the new "it" guy.

Ever since the Lake Worth bar and grill redecorated and started booking original music, the place has registered on the nightlife radar, so I've been showing up just irregularly enough not to be labeled a barfly.

On a Monday night, I met a girlfriend for a late steak-and-potato dinner (it serves until nearly midnight), which turned into a three-Margarita binge followed by bartender Aimee's specialty shot — Sex with an Alligator, served in a martini glass rather than the traditional shot glass.

With Aimee and our server, Liz, joining us, we all shared the sweet, layered libation in the tavern's dark interior as a few mounted fish looked on. The place was serenely devoid of clientele, except a pool-playing, tousled 20-something with mutton-chop sideburns that made him look good enough to eat. Unfortunately, my girlfriend and I were talking through her relationshit troubles, and our friendship trumped my appetite.

I returned that Wednesday expecting to catch the weekly comedy open mic. If I didn't meet an eligible guy with a good sense of humor (I mean, what are the chances?), then at least I could mock those with bad ones. Either way, it was sure to be a mood booster.

I entered through the back gate to make sure I didn't miss anything on the evening's boy buffet. As usual, it was a full house out back, and many heads pivoted toward me as I entered. I stopped inside the gate for a moment to take it all in — dense tropical foliage bathed in colorful light, twinkle lights dangling from the awning, and tables of not-so-youngish patrons awash in the tunes of human jukebox Tommy Winch.

I claimed a barstool and greeted the blond to my left. Debbie — a 48-year old dishwasher at the Palm Beach Zoo's café — sipped through a straw from a beach bucket of Voodoo Juice. With her sweet Southern drawl delivered through a smile that included a missing lower tooth, she introduced me to her husband, Johnny, whose beard was as dense and wild as Florida scrub.

Clearly in the first blush of new love, the couple launched into the story of their Jerry Springer-worthy romance. The two finished each other's sentences telling me about their Internet courtship, her move from North Carolina, and their marriage just three days after Wilma churned through town. Then they proudly displayed their wedding bands: in place of rings, two of those ubiquitous armbands that normally champion charitable causes. Theirs, however, were multicolored symbols of their union, stamped with smiley faces and the command "SMILE!"

My friends arrived and studied menus as Winch cranked through an extensive repertoire, including songs from Goo Goo Dolls, R.E.M., Billy Joel, and CSN. I ordered my own Voodoo Juice, which proved to be a delicious and intoxicating bucket of booze.

As I sipped, Debbie regaled me with family stories that included paternity tests, prison sentences, and a scrape they'd had at another local haunt, the Lizard's Den, where they were approached by swingers who went too far: "The guy said, 'Mind if I show your husband something?' and then lifted up his wife's skirt," Debbie reported matter-of-factly before squealing the punch line, "She wasn't wearing no panties!"

Since then, the newlyweds prefer South Shores, where the craziest thing that ever happened was Johnny's face being slapped by a woman who was offended by his motorcycle's rumble.

About this time, Hemp — the comedy host and tavern dishwasher — arrived fresh from a competition at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Vague about his success, the hippie jokester — whose stage name he'd taken from another of his pastimes — assured me that he'd done well. Soon, he was sucking down a mind eraser and explaining that the competition at the Hard Rock had siphoned all the local talent for the past few weeks. Consequently, no open mic.

No worries. Next to me, my girlfriends Eliza and Satu were swilling martinis and Crown & gingers as they delivered a play-by-play of a couple who were testing the limits of public decency.

"He's all over her," Eliza reported.

Satu grimaced: "Ooh, he's kissing her dirty feet."

I was distracted by the arrival of other characters who began making cameos: Hemp's wife, Heidi, introduced herself and left satisfied that I wasn't a man-snatching beeyotch (I may hunt; I don't steal). A man a few seats down came up behind Hemp and pretended to friction-dance on him.

And then, strangest of all, a woman who had been sitting nearby all night introduced herself, saying "Hi, I'm Anna — the cutest lesbian in town."

Well, not really. But I was still nearly charmed as she began narrating the moment she first laid eyes on me: "You weren't five feet in that gate when I said to myself, 'She's got great tits, and she looks kind of lonely. '"

"I've got great tits?" I asked, ignoring the lonely bit.

"They're healthy," Eliza's boyfriend nodded approvingly.

"Oh, my God, you've got to see this!" Eliza exploded as she jerked me around to face the hot-and-heavy couple behind me. "His hand is up her skirt!"

Hemp was more clinical. "He's got his hand up her vagina!"

The comedian found this an opportunity to segue into part of his routine: "Every time I tell people I'm a comedian, people ask me to tell them a joke; imagine if I was a gynecologist."

Satu and I exchanged the "You gotta be kidding" look and coughed out a little half-laugh to be polite, shaking our heads like Etch-a-Sketches to erase the awful image.

I was halfway through my pail of rum when a bathroom trip proved I was lit: I performed my own comedy routine just trying to paper the toilet seat, one piece sliding to the floor as I got the one on the other side to balance. And so on. Thank God the cops don't use this as their sobriety test.

When I returned to the bar, folks proved that character really is nothing but habitual action: Hemp was still telling jokes, Debbie and Johnny were still flirting with each other, and I was still on the hunt for fresh man meat. The late hours brought in some tasty selections, but every slab was already being gnawed on.

"This is pathetic. If I don't meet someone soon, you're gonna have to make out with me," I complained to Satu, whom I'd harassed this way before.

"Well, there's always Anna," my friend winked. "After all, she is the cutest lesbian in town."

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Marya Summers