Landmarks? We know what they look like. A sturdy brick Northeastern hall, or maybe a European church, that lends itself to quiet explanations from volunteer docents. Serious. Old. Somewhere far away from Fort Lauderdale.
Well, I mean, fine if you like that sort of thing. I suppose if you twisted my arm I could tell you about a few interesting European churches I’ve been in. Honestly though? You never find a good bar in one. And space to dock your boat? Ever tried doing that on, say, the Thames outside St. Paul’s? Honestly, the looks you’ll get.
I say, give us historical landmarks that know how to knock together a decent margarita while you stare at the pretty boats. Give us fun. Give us Pier Sixty-Six and Bahia Mar.
The pair of local waterfront icons feature in this month’s issue, which is only right since this is the month we look at boating and, in particular, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. So let’s take a moment to consider these two decidedly un-cathedral-ish landmarks.
Pier Sixty-Six dates to that period in mid-century America when architecture was fun, modern and often just a little bit kitschy – a time when new buildings tended to look like places George Jetson might pass on his way to work.
Fort Lauderdale already had tourism; for decades before other big, fancy hotels started turning up in Fort Lauderdale, Pier Sixty-Six added glamour. In the 1980s when Port Everglades restaurant Burt & Jack’s opened, co-owner Burt Reynolds and some of the celeb friends he’d brought in for the occasion stayed at Pier Sixty-Six. Why wouldn’t you?
The intervening years haven’t always been kind, although a new owner has plans, which our story outlines.
Bahia Mar makes an appearance in our Old Lauderdale section. Like any good Fort Lauderdale institution, it’s reinvented itself a few times and courted controversy more than once. The short version: The land that’s now Bahia Mar was first a house of refuge for wayward shipwreck survivors. Later it became a Coast Guard base used largely to combat rumrunners. Then, in the middle of the 20th century and not without some controversy, it became the marina we know.
Unlike Pier Sixty-Six, Bahia Mar doesn’t have a distinctive look. It’s more famous for what it is, for what it’s meant to the city. It was, of course, the home of Travis McGee, the detective protagonist of John MacDonald’s fantastic novels, a character who lived on a boat and arguably launched the genre we now know as Florida Noir.
These are undeniable parts of our history, which makes them landmarks. And they’re landmarks that you can arrive at in flip-flops before ordering a frozen beverage, which makes them ours.