Each step of construction at 13|Even was a labor of love. It began with a raw, empty white room. Then, as photos show, the weathered chocolate-brown wood bar was framed. Later, test stripes of different colors were painted onto a wall so owners could decide which hue to choose (ultimately, a rich orange-red). Then, proprietors Nancy Goldwin and Carol Moran, who also own the landmark lesbian bar New Moon about a half-mile north on Wilton Drive, built tables themselves and went on an Etsy binge, using the crafting website to scoop up recycled chairs and barstools and handmade light fixtures. The restaurant's only other decorations are black-and-white photos of destroyed gardens that Goldwin, who's also a freelance photographer, shot.
When you sit at one of the glass-topped tables -- made of recycled construction pallets with help from carpenter/artist Steve Sticht (locally famous for running the free annual Art Scavenger Hunt and for painting bikes blue and depositing them around Fort Lauderdale) -- you're handed a stack of wrinkled copy paper secured with a staple, though fancier menus are in production.
(Given the emphasis on décor, it was a little weird that both times I visited, the carefully crafted ambiance was shattered by a flat-screen TV set tuned to Guy Fieri's offensively spiked, frosted hair and pit-stained bowling shirt. Thankfully, the show was muted. Goldwin says the "innocuous" Food Network is often kept on, but football and basketball games will air when in season.)
A long list of moderately priced wines and popular craft beers leads the menu. Pairings are suggested. Interested in the oysters? "Suck 'em down with an Orange Blossom Pale Ale or Wild Rock Sauvignon Blanc," the menu recommends.
But when I tried them, the half-dozen Gulf oysters ($9) were an eater's version of Russian roulette. Some hit the spot, a touch briney and creamy, while others tasted terrifying -- powerfully salty with a metallic tang. The pretense of a globally inspired small-plates menu is played out by now, and the sole Spanish tapas dish is patatas bravas ($5), which brought cubed, underseasoned, home-fries-like potatoes topped with bland tomato sauce and an overcooked quail egg.
But any disappointments with the food can largely be forgiven, because the motto here is "good juju" (karma), and the space feels as much like a cozy hangout as it does a restaurant.
New Moon is a busy, longstanding, and welcoming bar that does double duty as a lesbian pick-up joint and neighborhood meeting spot. Goldwin says Moran grew up in a family that operated a few Miami-area Red Lobsters and, after running New Moon for so long, wanted to open a restaurant. Moran largely designed the menu, and chef Paige Stump executes it. Goldwin and Moran quietly debuted the 45-seat 13|Even on May 1 and named it using the stereotypically unlucky 13 because the number has actually been good to them -- it symbolizes the dates they met (a Friday, of course), closed on their house, and signed the restaurant lease together. The two have brought New Moon's business acumen and come-as-you-are mentality to their latest project.
Proof of that mindset streams through the door nightly. Around 6 o'clock on a weeknight, two close-talking, moony-eyed couples sit at the bar while sipping beer from glass chalices. A noisy party of six, sitting on blocky dark-wood chairs before half-empty drinks, chitchats over a few half-eaten plates. But 9 p.m. on a Friday is more rollicking: The bar is two or three deep, and glasses of Cigar City's Florida Cracker Ale and Southern Tier's Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout are passed through the hands of customers to the thirsty people standing beyond the bartender's reach. A man with a high-pitched voice playfully yells to his beer: "Get your ass back here!"
This is a stylish, smart place to tie one on before shamelessly heading home with that guy from Grindr, or just a funky spot to begin or end the night with friends. Between the closet-sized kitchen and an alcove where an Elvis doll strikes a pose, a sign welcomes all "shapes, sizes, colors, sexes, languages, cultures, beliefs, ages, preferences, statuses, and faiths." And indeed, the crowd shows that 13|Even isn't strictly a "gay bar" -- a not-at-all-scientific survey suggests it's about half gay couples or groups, half random straights.
"I had a couple come in the other day, and it was a guy and his mom," Goldwin says.
If you need something to eat after a few too many strong beers, stick with a panini ($6) -- a few slices of salty prosciutto, nutty Havarti, and sweet pears pressed until the bread is crisp and the fillings warm -- or flatbreads ($8). The cracker-crisp flatbread comes with a familiar mix of sweet barbecued chicken, smoky Gouda cheese, slivered red onion, and flecks of cilantro. Pluck off the thick, nuclear-spicy slice of jalapeño.
Another solid choice is the Go Mediterranean platter ($8), comprising creamy house-made hummus, plump grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice, and salty-sweet skewers that combine tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, and burgundy-brown kalamata olives into a single bite.
Those should hold you over until you make it home. Luckily, the small plates' prices match their size. Even with all of the fancy beer, it's hard to run a tab for two above $50, including food, drinks, and tip.
That's good. You might want money for a pizza if you're heading home to snuggle with (or be tied up by) that special someone.
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For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.