A. L. Gators may not actually be located in a southern swamp, but at least this Florida-themed bar has a low elevation address near the Chesapeake Bay.
And even though it is not all that long a drive from Baltimore to Riviera Beach, the trip through the landfill-and-marina terrain of northern Anne Arundel County seems to take you far from the city.
Not that the destination is entirely unfamiliar. A. L. Gators, which holds 1,000 people, occupies the site of what was once the rock club Network. You'll run into some of the same hard rockers here, but the music and the crowd have become more diverse. After all, everybody likes going to the beach.
Gators' deliberately rough-around-the-edges appearance doesn't mean you've caught them midway through renovations. Just as high-tech dance clubs often set themselves up in decidedly no-tech warehouses, beach clubs sometimes opt for scruffy beachcomber garb. As co-owner Vinny Valentine dubs it, "This is the half-finished look. What with Christmas lights by the bar, it is certainly not art deco."
This strategy translates to a flotsam and jetsam of dried palm fronds, hemp-wrapped posts, surfboards, a lifeguard chair, scrawled graffiti, some retro black lights, and -- as the piece de resistance -- a battered Volkswagen bus that was rescued from a junkyard and now rests in a sand pit all its own. In short, this is more Club Mess than Club Med.
Negotiating their way through this stuff the other night, a big and boisterous crowd found out just how long it can take to get from the live entertainment offered nightly in one huge room to the dancing in another huge room to a second floor that offers both a sand-filled court for volleyball games and a good cut-away view of the first-floor dance action.
Despite the crowded conditions, it was never hard to order a drink, what with the six service bars. Although there are 35 imported beers and a raw bar at A. L. Gators, most of the beach crowd only seemed interested in ordering basic brew.
The nightly lures include a Thursday ladies night, where ladies pay $6 at the door and then can drink all they like, while men get in free to take advantage of the 99-cent draft beer. A Friday happy hour features half-price drinks and free "gator grub."
A. L. Gators also hosts hula hoops contests, cash-grab competitions and other games, as well as drawings for trips that take lucky winners to the real Florida.
A. L. Gators
Where: 8501 Ft. Smallwood Road, Riviera Beach.
Hours: 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Cover charge Friday after 9:30 p.m. and Saturday after 8:30 p.m. varies from $2 to $3.
Menu: raw bar, pizza, nachos.
Credit cards: AE.