Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mauhaffers and one crazy 4th of July.

Mauhaffers is a bar in Florida on the intercostal islands of Tampa's west edge. Indian Shores is the mailing address, at least for my parents condo down there, and Mauhaffers was a 5 minuet walk from there. The place is wild. How do I even begin to explain? For one, when you walk in, you cannot see the other end due to all the things... things hanging from the ceiling, things sprouting from poles, a 'bra tree', bows of boats made into tables. The main bar is shaped like the bow of a boat, and has strange lights and buoys hanging down. People have stapled their business cards in all kinds of places. The juke box has the dirtiest songs ever written. They have people come in to play music that is often funny or raunchy to the right of the main bar, and beyond that is an outdoor area with an entire sail boat that you can sit in to drink. I once made out with a school teacher from Virginia in that boat, lol. Strange things are everywhere, like the front end of a Cadillac from the grill to the back of the front seats, complete with the steering wheel. When you walk into the front entrance, it's hard to believe it's really a bar, and not just someone's, well, I hate to say junk yard, but you walk past a toilet just sitting there and on the other side is a motorcycle that's story is a guy rode it there years ago, got drunk, and never came back for it. The other end of the bar has a hidden door to get into at times... if the weather is nice, it's open, if not, it's fun to watch people try to find their way to the bathrooms back there! Just inside of that first room is a bar on your right that has still more odd objects and things like fans that are kinda dangerous to fingers, beer can artwork, it's kind of overwhelming in a way. The juke box is on your left... further on you see a open type fireplace that you can sit around. Across the other side from this is a TV that is always on that has a HUGE pair of panties hooked on like a skirt on the bottom of it. Moving on (I don't think there is any place on the walls that doesn't have something) you step up to the pool table room... the walls have thousands of photos. Heck, there are cardboard panels hanging that have photos on both sides. Up in the netting that is everywhere is a part of an Air force drone that crashed near by. Heh... the netting. If you have a sunburned head, duck... allot.
Another thing that makes Mauhaffers so unusual is the animals. About 5 to 7 cats come and go and a dog is always around. John Mauhaffer lives in the center of the bar and these are his pets. I get a sense of joy when a cat jumps up onto the bar, walks along, getting petting from everyone, and heads to the end bar where a bowl of dry cat food sits. I still can't help but laugh at the time I was talking to someone on my left, when I slowly turned my head to take in things, and saw the guy on my right reaching to the cat food bowl and grab a hand full, bringing it up to his mouth about to eat it, when I told him, Dude, that’s cat food! He stopped, crossed his eyes to look down at his hand, opened his hand up as he held it up to some of the spare light and then he said, wow, and I thought they where just stale peanuts! I once found a cat sleeping in a ball up in the netting, like his own hammock. I couldn't help but reach up and scratch him a bit and then see him stretch out and look at me, then roll over as to have met pet his belly... silly cat, there is a fishing net in my way, heh. If you go to the bar often enough, the cats get to know you and seek you out for petting, which always made my soul happy. Unfortunately, I was never down there for more than two weeks in a row, as where most of the patrons. It never seemed crowed in the bar, much, but then again, I liked to go down when it was hot, the summer months. I always said, who goes to ski slopes in the off season and there is no snow? Sure, it's nice to get away from the snow in the winter, but being in Florida when it was in the 50' just seemed silly. I wanted to be able to walk out in just a bathing suit, maybe a ragged Hawaiian shirt on, and feel the golden sun at it's strongest. I recall one night of not seeing anyone but the bartender, a cute perky blonde that ever looked you in the eye much, but always seemed to have a happy feeling about her, sometimes dancing to a song and a sprightly step to her. I'll remember her name one of these days. So, I'm sitting there after my 4th beer alone in my thoughts, when I decided to just head back to the condo, nothing is happening here. The it occurred to me, I came down to Florida to get away from it all, and this bar, this dirty, confusing, mind numbingly cluttered, wonderfully real place, was about as far as you can get from everything. So, with a grin, I stayed for another few hours, drinking beers and doing the occasional shot of Jack Daniels ( back before they lowered the proof from 90 to 80... wimps). Mauhaffers is more than a bar... it's a place you read about in books. It is an experience. John, the owner, is yet another part of the experience. Grey haired and beard, a bit of a pot belly, always looking around and you could tell he was always thinking. He was rough and gruff, he never suffered fools, kicking people out at times for various reasons, fearlessly, no matter the size of the person or group. He had been married many times (at least 8 that I now of), and fired many bartenders. Everyone wanted to talk with him, he was the places celebrity. As I've said, it's a tourist area (not that he made the place touristy, it was an organic growth of years of being there), so being that most people that came in, only come in maybe once a year for a week or two. Once he'd listen to you for a while, in his mind, he would decide if you fit, or where just a goof. Once accepted though, he was great, especially to pretty women... ok, any women. He would have them sit on his lap for a picture, hugging them. I once was sitting at the bar, my normal spot on the starboard side of the bow, when a guy and some friends came in. After a while, John walked out and the guy yelled his name and waved him over. The started talking, the guy introduced him to his friends, and you could see the gears turning in his head, looking through the thousands of people that had been trough the bar in the last year since he saw this guy, and then called him by name. You wouldn't think at first glance that a man that had such a maze of a place would have such a good memory.
Then there was the night when the girl that was to be tending the bar quit with no notice, so John started tending the bar for the first time in what he said was 20 years. There where only 4 other people at the time, so it was easy and relaxed, talking with us like we where a buddies house (which in truth, we where). A group of young, drunken, rowdies came in, and you could tell John didn't like them by the slight scowl on his face. One particularly sexy, sloppy drunk blonde began to demand that she wanted a mixed drink of some sort, slurring her words and barely staying up on her feet by holding her boyfriends shoulder. John, without missing a beat, said back, what you want, and what you'll get, might not be the same thing." lol. That night, no one else came in after that, and the ones remaining, trickled out one by one, till I was the only one left. We talked in a casual way about life. When I started to get up to leave, he put another beer on the bar, no charge, so we kept talking. I at last had enough after several hours, and it was late, so I helped him close the place down. I feel a great gift was given to me that night.
Many of the people in my parents condo building didn't really like him, or the place... bunch of stuffed shirts! My parents on the other hand, where good friends with him. My sister Tracey went to the bar one day to ask him to make a dinner for them as it was their anniversary. He surprised Tracey by not only making the dinner, but delivering it himself! He stayed for a few hours just to chat. He was that kind of guy. A character, an institution.
I sent them an e-mail once a few weeks before I was going down on vacation, saying that they had so many kinds of booze, but no Knob Creek. When I got down there, he admonished me in a friendly way that he bought a case of it, and no one was drinking it! I drank much of the first bottle of the case in my two weeks I tell ya! If you ever make it to Mauhaffers, now you know who's name was on that case of Knob Creek, lol.
HMMMM... I just realized I had started this with the idea of that insane 4th of July in mind. It was a Saturday night, which always the best night to have it on, so I wandered on down to Mauhaffers an hour before sunset. being the west coast of Florida, you got some of the greatest sunsets! I sat at the bar and drank about 4 Long Island ice teas. How can a drink with so many different boozes taste like it doesn't have any at all, yet hit you so hard? So about an hour after the sun had gone down and it was dark enough, I grabbed another long island to go, and stumbled across the two lane road, hooked a left at the sidewalk, and went the 70 feet to the beach access. I could see fireworks going up already, but it wasn't till I got to the beach proper that I got the full extent of what was going on. Think about it... all these families coming for vacation, driving through states that sold fireworks, and they hadn't spent much of the vacation money yet, so why not stop and get a pile of stuff? On the beach, separated by an average 10 feet, stood men and boys with bags of fireworks, in two rows deep... for miles! You couldn't see the end of them either way you looked! I wonder if the entire coast of Florida was like that? These guys and kids where randomly firing off bottle rockets, Roman candles, screamers, shreeckers, buzz bombs, big rockets, cone sparkler fountains, multi tube flare shooting things, you name it, they where being fired off towards the Gulf like we where fighting off some kind of invasion force! Look to your right, it was a steady arcing of bright colors, look to your left and you'd see a similar site till you couldn't see the end. At any one time, there must have been 700 hundred streaks spreading out over the water! And it didn't stop. I wandered on down the beach, taking it all in with amazement, thinking out loud, 'someone’s gonna get hurt!' The clouds of smoke rose skyward, glowing in every color, lit up by the barrage. It was one of the most astounding sites I have ever seen. It was hard to comprehend the enormity of it. At 2 in the morning, there where still some groups shooting things off.

If you want to see pictures of Mauhaffers, I've posted some at my Facebook page,

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