I was watching one of those BBC history documentaries on PBS – you know, the kind where some Cambridge professor is standing on a windswept field explaining how on this spot in 1018, King Edmund the Oversharer was defeated at the Battle of Corpulent Bottom.
In this particular one, a historian was explaining how they knew the exact year something had happened. It was because they’d been able to run some tests on the wood something about the event was inscribed on, and it could tell them the exact year the tree had been felled.
We have some old trees here in Fort Lauderdale. But our modern history is sometimes told in different ways. Our journey from a place where the boys are to one where the families, LGBTQ guests and tourists with discretionary income are, can be told through some of our local businesses. And perhaps none better than the one today known as Shooters Waterfront.
There are other restaurants and bars that have been in our community for much longer than Shooters, but they’ve held on by remaining consistent to their roots. Of course places like the Elbo Room, Tropical Acres, Kim’s Alley, the Floridian or the (hopefully soon to reopen) Mai-Kai adapt. But they maintain much of their charm by existing in a state that would be recognizable if a regular from 50 years ago walked in today. Shooters is different. Shooters has evolved. With the possible exception of the Flanigans empire, which started with Big Daddy’s lounges and package stores before moving into the family-friendly, quintessentially Floridian space we see today, I can’t think of any other place that has changed and evolved like Shooters has.
Which is not to say nothing’s remained consistent. I wrote about Shooters for this month’s main feature. For the story, I interviewed Greg Jackson, who started working at Shooters not long after it opened and will still pour you a drink there today. He told fun stories of the wild old days. And he told genuinely heartfelt stories of a community that’s built up around the place, and that helped him when he needed it most.
He talks about how back in the day, Shooters was an interesting third thing – not fine dining, not an old salty bar either. And yeah, he’s got some tales of the days of cigarette boats and bikinis. Fort Lauderdale in the ‘80s was quite a ride.
Of course today Shooters is a place you can take the family to without having to worry about explaining to the kids what a “hot bod” is. That’s the evolution. That’s the connection between Fort Lauderdale’s Party Town, USA past and its diversified tourism present. Its history as a place where college students climb up streetlight poles and its present where grandmothers can tell grandkids about how they met your grandfather when he was dangling off a streetlight pole on that corner right there.
It can be easy to forget, in our modern city, how much colorful history can be found. We don’t typically find it by sending historic wood off to a lab somewhere. But we can find it over a leisurely drink at a Happy Hour by the Intracoastal.