The Long and Winding Bar

Most locals living in Miami know that the party is always on at Mac's Club Deuce -- even when slow nights in Miami Beach leave its streets eerily barren. At the pink, nearly 40-year-old landmark between Washington and Collins, there is no VIP and the liquor is so cheap, Clubbed can afford the four slams of Dewar's it takes to figure out that Mac's Club Deuce is named after its address, 222 14th St., and its owners, Mac and Mary Klein. Who woulda thunk it? Mac purchased the bar back in 1963 from the widow of the previous owner, known as "Mr. Harold," and the rest, as they say, is history. The Deuce is still his baby and Mac can often be found here, drifting among the patrons.

Tonight it is close to 4:00 a.m. Greeting people at the door is a surprisingly pleasant man named George who has been guarding the gates to the Deuce for the past four years. Before George, there was Jerry, an aging Beach staple with arms tattooed like a Hell's Angel, who still comes around once in a while. Like Jerry, George wears the standard black T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves and keeps his head close-shaven like an ex-soldier. But unlike his predecessor, George is a New York transplant who moved to Miami ten years ago to escape the cold weather. Surprisingly, though he is in his forties, George does not look a day over 27. Perhaps the late nights he spends guarding the gate are better on him than his former job as a construction laborer. He seems to be constantly smiling, a sign that he's not taking his work too seriously. On nights when George isn't present you'll find Trinidad, the dreadlocked giant, keeping a watchful eye over the perimeter. Trinidad is a hulking figure who manages with his presence without giving off an intimidating air. Perhaps it's because he seems like the guy on your high school football team who you knew could kick the life out of you, and your knowing that was all he needed to stop you from challenging him.

Celebrities like Matt Dillon, Eddie Vedder, and Cameron Diaz have been known to frequent the Deuce, but on this crawl there are only Miami regulars. No celebrity sightings tonight. The barflies huddled near the front door look up occasionally to see who is entering their sanctuary. They snarl, growl, and laugh like Vikings pillaging a village. Some are pot-bellied middle-age men with wrinkled T-shirts. Others are seasoned butches, too far removed from male contact to be concerned with the games South Beach's many "lipstick lesbians" play. A small group of them plays pool. One of the toothless pool sharks stumbles over to Clubbed to announce that he has just returned from Tennessee today. He looks like an Anglo version of Rerun, the character played by Fred Berry in the popular late-Seventies sitcom What's Happening! It appears that he is seeking a Raj to tell his nefarious tall tale to. "I was down at the Bommkherklmreasfdsa Festival," he says (at least that's what it sounds like he is saying through his drunken slur). Then he has a sudden moment of clarity. "Trey from Phish was there!" he exclaims. The conversation quickly ends since Clubbed has a thing about hearing the word Phish repeated over and over again, to say nothing of having spit suffused in rum sprayed on his shirt and face.

Two female Goths deep in conversation sit belly-up against the bar. One of them has closely cropped hair, a hairdo second in popularity here in Club Deuce only to the mullet style. Her counterpart, pale and pasty, wears a black ski cap over flowing black hair and a long trench coat, which looks especially odd considering the present temperature is no lower than a humid Miami mid-eighties. Clear, six-inch fuck-me pumps complete her too-chic-for-words look.

Tonight, the bar is being manned by Jeanne and Marion. You won't find them dancing on the bar like Zoe and Violet from Coyote Ugly, but you can definitely count on a stiff drink when they are at the helm. Marion is a short, blond-haired older woman. Jeanne is a perky, wavy-haired brunette, the talkative one of the team. They frantically work the Deuce bar in a way that suggests they enjoy the company of strangers. Jeanne gestures to the patrons near her station, inquiring if they need another round. Another episode of SportsCenter plays on the television just above her head, keeping the bar's sports enthusiasts up-to-date on the world of overpaid athletes. Oasis's "Wonderwall" plays on the jukebox. Someone asks, "Is that the only damned song they know how to play?"

People stumble in and out of the lavatory to do the business that people stumbling in and out of lavatories do in a place like this. Winking knowingly above them, on one of the walls, is the pink neon silhouette of a woman wearing pearls. This piece of art, if you will, is a leftover relic from the not-so-glorious days of the Eighties television show Miami Vice. When the show filmed an episode here the producer decided it would be great to add the neon woman to the décor. Ironically there is now an air about her that says she, just like the Deuce itself, will outlive most of the stiffs who come here to drink after a hard day's labor or to look for love.

There is a brief moment of silence while our Viking friends playing pool pick out new selections on the jukebox. Drag queens begin to wander in from their adventures. These surgically sculpted silicone giants lumber up to the bar, then make a show of shuffling through their handbags as they wait for a not-too-sober gentleman to offer a lady a drink. Two-foot-long hair extensions and eye-popping breast implants complete the look needed to lure in potential dates. "Are you with someone?" one of the women asks an interested man.

The smoke is now so thick that Clubbed must leave or stop breathing. George, alert and pleasant as ever, offers a handshake and a goodbye for the road. Meanwhile his partner-in-crime Jerry has stopped in and is happily going from one person to the next, spinning yarns about anything and everything under the sun. "The Beach isn't what it used to be," Jerry says. But you can sense that, even in his disappointment regarding Miami Beach's current social climate, he is still happy to be alive. The drunk from Tennessee has trapped someone else in the corner and is showering him with enthusiasm: "It was great to be there, man, I miss it already." As 5:00 a.m. approaches, Oasis can be heard intoning, "And all the roads that led to you were winding." So it seems, Club Deuce, so it seems.

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Lee Williams