When Bobby suggested we go to La Bamba for its weekly gay night, I was skeptical. When he added that it was all locals and that Matthew Rush was frequently there, I warmed. When he warned of crowds and an arrival no later than 6:30PM to avoid a two-hour wait for a table, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
We arrived at 6:25PM and found all of the adjacent parking lots full. Bobby explained to me that the early bird aluminum walker set would soon be freeing up a few spots but that I should go inside and put my name on the list.
I entered a bifurcated space of heavily varnished wood dulled and scented with years of 409. (There are worse smells to encounter in a food place, no?) The bar half was already crowded with local men, some of whom I have never seen clothed. In the booth half, the hostess asked me for a name. (I always select from a roster of favorites: Agnes DeMille, Eleanor Roosevelt, Baby June, Jeff Stryker….)
The men packing the bar were each cradling stemmed bowls of the effluent-green signature Marguerita. This drink should be renamed the Bambuerita, and it should be infused with at least a drop of tequila, for God’s sake, because the only flavor I detected was that of tap water ice and insipid salt. I switched to Corona which came with a wedge of lime so large I had to take it out of the bottle and rip it apart in order to stuff it back in.
It took Bobby an unheard of fifteen minutes to find parking in a town of overly paved and endlessly interconnected strip malls. He had been circling the place until his cruise coincided with the departure of some shocked retirees from Boca who didn't get the memo about Mondays. We positioned ourselves at the advantageous annex of bar and booth rooms for a forty-five minute wait for a table. That is when I learned why guys go here. It’s incredibly sociable and cruisy. Forget judging the food and the drinks. And the longer you wait for a table the better. Everyone is there. If you are visiting Fort Lauderdale in the near future, this is a must-do. (Don’t wait. Now that I’ve busted it, within two months it will be so yesterday.)
Luckily, we were given the very front booth adjacent to where we had been standing, so our interaction with the crowd continued. Guys from the gym, from New York, from Ptown, from other shores and other decades, all spilled in. There was a lot of OMG, look at how old she’s gotten in the air, but none of us would say those words, knowing that they might also be playing in the nearby theaterheads of those inspecting us.
I ordered the La Bamba combination. It ought to be renamed the LaBambination and infused with some kind of flavor beyond FD&C yellow and red, but as I’ve established, this ain’t about the food, the portions of which are huge and mushy in a fun way. (The three dipping sauces were actually quite good.)
This, for the record, is how men should meet men and how cruising ought to happen: comfortably allied with a friend or three, in adequate light, waiting for a table, holding a bad drink, awash in happy chatter. Suddenly you see him across the crowded room, and he sees you, and a smile leads to a slow steering of your group and his until you are next to each other, and then a set of rude roidqueen shoulders knocks you into him or him into you, and your group and his are fused, and the rest is as it always is. You get assigned booths on opposite sides of the room but you meet accidentally in the men’s room where you are both too shy to exchange numbers, but, as fate would have it, your parties exit together, and this time…well you know the story. That is the kind of classic venue La Bamba becomes on a Monday night.
I highly recommend it. And don't be nasty to the cordial and exhausted staff if the service is delayed. It would be impossible for them to keep up with this crowd. The manager needs to double their number.