Welcome to Ft. Lauderdale!
Spring Break Bars and Sophistication Fuel Fun in FL's Sun
Exit 66 satisfies everyone's need in a bar, nightclub and Spring Break spot.
Photo: Exit 66
Once the place "Where The Boys Are" – the title of the 60s Spring Break movie that sent thousands of college students scampering and screaming to this South Florida beach town – Ft. Lauderdale is now a city of high-rises, yachts and nightlife as simmering as the summer sun.
They are creating some elbow room in the legendary dive the Elbo Room.
While some of those Spring Breakers from over the years may have never returned home – they may have never left the Elbo Room, in fact – Lauderdale today is where the boys, girls, men, women, professionals, skippers, babes, bikers and good 'ol folks with a Southern heritage are found. Sometimes, they play together, but mostly their playgrounds are in separate places scattered throughout beach, intercostal waterway and downtown.
This is not South Beach– that's 45 minutes away in Miami (see below for PubClub's "South Beach 101") – for Lauderdale is more relaxed. There are definitely clubs but mainly it's a city of fun bars and restaurant/bars, sophisticated lounges and, in a holdout to its Spring Break heritage, beach bars full of tourists.
Ft. Lauderdale General Information: An Overview
The beach is the focal point of playtime in Ft. Lauderdale.
Ft. Lauderdale is the second largest of South Florida's many seaside cities. It is serviced by it's own airport, Fort Lauderdale International (FFL) which is often a better – and cheaper – fly-in option than Miami International. Its is a favored destination for cruise ship passengers.
Located in Broward County, it is actually closer to ProPlayer Park, home of the Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins, and of course Super Bowl XLI, than many parts of Miami. It is most easily accessed by the North/South I-95; exit Broward Blvd., and look for signs to Los Olas Blvd; this is the main thoroughfare through downtown and to reach the beach. A1A – yes THAT A1A which runs the length of the state's eastern coast – runs parallel to the beach (actually it's a one-way through the main stretch, headed north).
This is a beautiful city, full of seemingly endless waterways that provide a scenic look at the good life. Houses have boats "parked" out the back door as if they were cars in a driveway. Louisiana may bill itself as the Sportsman's Paradise, but Lauderdale is a boater's Garden of Eden. Mostly, it's a powerboat community, home to large sportfishermen, massive yachts and high-powered pleasure craft. Often, there's more trophies on deck than in the Dolphins' headquarters. Fishing is a prime passion (tarpon by day, compliments by night).
But the main attraction is still the beach, at least for tourists. Some years back, when city officials thought Spring Break was far too out of control – what, they didn't like the daily wet t-shirt contests at Penrods!? – a wall was built along A1A and the sand, which was designed to limit entry points to the beach. The theory was to provide places where police could keep an eye on people as they entered and exited the beach but the master plan was to chase away the students altogether. It worked, as Breakers worked their way north to Daytona and now hit places as far away as Jamaica and Mexico.
The sand is thick and clean, the beach is wide and the water is warm year-round, though at 80+ degrees in the summer, it's hardly refreshing. Warning: In summertime, the sand is HOT. So hot, in fact, it's impossible to walk on it in bare feet, unless one seems to particularly enjoy the sensation of instant blisters. Summers themselves are steamy; most people spend the days indoors chillin' by the air conditioning. And it will rain every day at 3 o'clock for precisely 30 minutes. By 4, the sun has dried up any evidence of participation and it will be impossible to tell it rained at all.
Despite many of its opulent surroundings, with a few notable exceptions we will point out later, Ft. Lauderdale is a shorts-and-sandals casual community. Closing time is 3 a.m., with "drink 'em if you've got 'em" at around 2:45. In addition to the bars, on the first Sunday of each month, people converge on Riverwalk Park for Jazz Brunch. Hundreds gather with lawn chairs, friends, dogs, coolers and cocktails – bloody marys and beer are sold in stands, along with festival food – to soak up the music and atmosphere. Adjacent restaurants offer brunch on their patios ($25). It goes from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Nightlife – Ft. Lauderdale's Locals' Bars And Fun Casual Pubs
Nights in Himmarshee are entertaining, and sometimes downright Dicey.
The party paradise for locals is a strip of bars and restaurant/bars along 2nd Street. Known locally as Himmarshee Village, this is casual and no-cover territory, where weaving in and out of the bars is part of the fun. Sometimes, just a stroll along the street is sufficient – beers are sold out of portable coolers.
Dicey Riley's is the most lively of them all. It bills itself as an Irish pub, but the decor suggests more 1800s saloon. Little matter, because a rockin' band blasts out the party tunes, much to the pleasure of the fun-lovin' crowd. It's high energy along the band and bar and a bit more relaxed at the tables by the street.
The girls are rounding the bend of fun at Tarpon Bend.
is THE weekday Happy Hour spot in Lauderdale.
Laid-back 20s-30s locals seem to prefer Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle. A restaurant/bar with a bit of a sports theme, it's THE place to be for weekday afternoon Happy Hours. The nearby office towers empty out and the small patio and open-air bar area become the post-work water cooler. When the sun goes down, it has dancing.
We like the music – and high-energy vibe – of Latino Fire, a lively bar with a live band. In keeping with the South-of-the-border theme, San Loco is a small bar that some say has the best Mexican food in Lauderdale. That may well be the case, but a veteran of Southern California – where excellent Mexican food is as abundant as sunshine – who now lives in the area scoffs at the thought.
Himmarshee Bar & Grille is a sit-down restaurants (a bit pricey but well-regarded) with a small side bar that's well worth a peek.
A bit more upscale – no tees or sandals – is Capone's. It's a hot spot after midnight and the DJ keeps the mood vibrant.
A short walk away, on Los Olas, is a Lauderdale drinking tradition, This, of course, means it's an Irish bar, in this case O'Hara's Pub. Always good for a pint or two with the lads and lasses in your group! It's an early place and is usually empty by 11.
O' Hara's is no the only place to pound the pints with like-minded lads and lasses. Attracting the thirsty Riverfront patrons is Murphy's Law. This two-story bar is a great place to meet people and expand one's drinking horizons. Complete with stained glass bar, load music, and overflowing dance floors this is one establishment that is hard to miss. The upstairs bar is one's best bet to getting a fast drink and having more room to mingle and dance.
Primarily a local's secret, Maguire's Hill 16 has a non-commercialized quaintness the downtown area counterparts have yet to capture. The live bands cater to the happy hour crowd and carriers on into the late evening entertaining the weekend reveler. Complete with pool and dart room, dining room with fireplace and wrap around bar, this pub can accommodate the largest of crowds.
Waxy O'Connor's is the place to catch your favorite Euro team with satellite broadcasts of soccer and rugby. Popular for the live music and home life atmosphere this 17th Street Causeway pub and eatery caters to a diverse crowd. Located conveniently next to top hotels, many boaters, visitors and locals find enjoyment with the smoked Irish salmon, Guinness and beef stew and extensive domestic and imported beer selection. Concluding the weekend is easy at Waxy O' Connor's with live music featured every Sunday starting at 7 p.m.
Automatic Slims is a bit wild and crazy – the women bartenders often dance on the bar. The DJ plays party tunes from an Airstream trailer. Be in place early on weekends (before 11).
Ft. Lauderdale's Beach Bars
After a day out the crowded beach, people just need some Elbo Room.
The day is ending, you could use a beer but want a place that's both local and lively. Welcome, then, to the Elbo Room. A Lauderdale institution, the Elbo Room has the rare distinction of being a two-level dive. With a patio and balcony, too! The crowd is everything from bikers to bankers, white trash to "wow!" Can it get rowdy? You bet. There's even a cop stationed on the streetcorner, though it appears he hasn't smiled since before the "Boys" movie.
It's Vegas in Lauderdale at Exit 66.
And this isn't even the pool party!
For dancing, clubbing and more, Exit 66 is the place. Photos: Exit 66.
Behind the legendary Elbo Room is one of Lauderdale's most incredible bars Exit 66. It holds true to Lauderdale's Spring Break tradition by having a swimming pool, but the real splash is the rest of the bar.
First of all, it's huge – multi rooms and multi levels. It's a bar, a Spring Break bar, a sports bar and a dance bar. There's a VIP burlesque "territory" and American food a the cleverly-named Woody's Pleasure Liner Diner. Exit 66 has massive parties for Halloween, New Year's Eve and, well, "ordinary" Friday and Saturday nights. Or just about any other time. It's Lauderdale's one-stop party stop.
On Sunday afternoons there are pool parties that will make you think you're back at Spring Break, including bikini contest. Exit 66 IS a never-ending Spring Break party in Lauderdale.
You can also get that Spring Break atmosphere at LuLu's Bait Shop. It serves drinks out of large fish bowls ($15), which should begin to explain the place. The decor is Louisiana swamp at the South Florida beach. The second-story patio is a real draw among tourists. Local bands play during the fall season.
Locals who hang at Himmarshee rarely venture to this part of Lauderdale because they feel it's too touristy (not to mention too young and unsophisticated for their tastes). As examples, they point to LuLu's and Fat Tuesday, the national chain that's seemingly in all big party places (prime example: New Orleans). Home of the slushy drinks, it's an open-air bar on the second floor of Beach Place. And that spells trouble to us!
It;s adjacent to the indoor/outdoor Cafe Iguana, a large bar with partying young patrons.
At Sally O'Brien's pub and eatery, the food is hot and so is the band. "Fire In The Kitchen" performs to a packed crowd throughout the week. Located within feet from the ocean, the décor was manufactured in Ireland and features heavy wooden furnishings, authentic artifacts and specialty paintings, which gives patrons a true Celtic feel (minus the wind and the cold rain).
Gotta love the name: Beach Bums. On the heart of the Ft. Lauderdale Strip, it looks suspiciously like the old Penrod's. The large concrete bar area in front leading to a pool in the back is the reason. Bikinis and dancing are the delights here.
The Parrot Lounge (Sunrise and A1A) is well named because it's for Parrotheads. If you are not familiar with Parrotheads, well they are the people your parents warned you about. When Parrotheads are not phlocking here there's a good 'ol redneck quality about the place. Friday Happy Hours are good. Next door is the fun-named Blue Bikini, which has a rooftop bar.
Ft. Lauderdale Upscale Bars and Nightclubs
The cool atmosphere of the Blue Martini brings in a hot crowd.
The Blue Martini is one hip lounge. Located in the upscale Galleria shopping center, its most striking feature – other than the patrons, some of whom look as if they walked straight from the runway to here – is an elevated stage behind the main bar. A live band is illuminated by a blue background. Very cool! It is crowded and loud in this area, but escape is in either direction: To the right for a very comfortable indoor bar or, as we prefer, to the left is the patio bar, which we believe offers the best mingling opportunities. The crowd changes as the night wears on – from 8-10 its mid and late 30s and people creeping into their 40s. By 11, the mid-20s and mid-30s have taken control.
Atlantis is a huge dance club with a pub mentality. Perhaps that's because it's THE place to be during the days to listen to Calypso music and have drinks by the tiki bar. By night, it becomes a nightclub for hip hop and house music. There is a cover but the crowd is casual and there's an outdoor patio for those who want to hang.
Speaking of easy-on-the-eyes crowds, Voodoo Lounge in the Himmarshee area is a classy, large lounge with a hip dance floor. Sundays it's a gay and lesbian club.
Star Bar/Venue is a combination bar/club. Star Bar is outdoors with a stage for bands with tiki torches and bamboo furniture. Indoors is Venue is an upscale venue for the mid-20s crowd; dress codes applies, with hip-hop, funk, even reggae.
South Beach 101 Nightlife
The nightclubs and crowds in them are legendary in South Beach.
While we're in the neighborhood, we're taking a quick trip down to South Beach. This is by no means a complete guide to this national hot-spot – we're saving that for later – but rather a quick overview of some cool places to hit for a night or two on the town. We call it South Beach 101.
One doesn't have to wait in line, pay $20 covers (as we did on a Monday night) and dress like Paris Hilton – or indeed BE Paris Hilton – to enjoy South Beach. Much pleasure can be had by strolling down Ocean Drive and stopping at a cool-looking restaurant or bar when the mood hits. There's an endless row of cafes, art deco hotels, bars and clubs. Sitting at a cafe, having a beer or glass of wine to go with fine dining is a perfect pastime for people-watchers. The weather invites comfortable clothes and a similar attitude.
We like to refer to South Beach as Vegas East. There's plenty of places to party, you can get drinks to go, last call is pretty much when you – not the city – decides and there are pubs to enjoy as well as mega-clubs. It's got everything but the gaming tables.
If it's off the beach, we like to start at The Clevelander (particularly if it's a Sunday). This mostly outdoor bar has a huge deck separated by a pool. There's dancing in the back but mainly it's for hanging and checking out the scene. A lot of times, there's no cover and the dress code is as relaxed as the patrons desire. Bathing suits, in fact, rule when the sun it out. The crowd isn't necessarily that chic South Beach stereotype but who cares? The Clevelander is always crowded and is the first – and often only – stop of many South Beach visitors.
Finnegan's is a friendly Irish bar that's ideal to cruise up to the bar and watch a sporting event on any of the TVs. We're stopping short of calling it a pub because it has more space than a typical pub and, because it's in South Beach, it has a cool aura. The food is so-so, but nobody really goes to an Irish bar to eat anyway.
Wet Willies is kind of like a cousin to Fat Tuesdays in that it has the slushy drinks. It's upstairs with a patio and inside bar. By far it's not the most happening place in town, but sometimes it's a must-stop if that cocktail is running low while walking down Ocean Dr.
For hot Latin music – and girls dressed like Vegas showgirls – Mango at the south end of South Beach is the place. The music and atmosphere just says "come on in" and it's high energy make it a fun place. Though casual, it does have that hefty South Beach cover. But the patio is free (the rum rummers are too sweet, though).
As for where to stay, we recommend The Caliver. What are the three most important elements in real estate? Location. Location. Location. The Cavalier has it, located nearly smack in the center of the South Beach strip. The rooms are clever and clean,, the small bar has mojito specials and the hotel is conveniently locate next door to Finnegan's. The manager, Ralph, is as a friend of PubClub and has passes to many of South Bay clubs for guests.