"So where are you from?" asks the one drinking a Bud Light. Trying to look casual, he leans against the register.

"Florida," she says, making change for the Jäger shots party.

"That's cool. . . . Where in Florida?"

"Gainesville."

Bud Light nods, lingers and then vanishes onto the patio.


1:01 a.m.
Photo by Jeanne Rice

From his perch, Rupert watches people down on the dance floor. With the tables pushed to the sides, a half-dozen couples are dancing to "Johnny B. Goode."

He has already been to a couple of bars tonight. He'll stop at a few more after the Beet.

"For this time of the year, business is good," he says, smiling. Rupert is always smiling.

Business is good. He watches Aucencio snaking through the crowd, balancing a massive white bucket of ice on his shoulder. He's careful but fast.

Aucencio negotiates the stairs with the bucket. He moves past the security guy at the foot of the stairs and, without pausing, wades into the crowd of people standing at the bar. The crowd towers over him; only the bucket is visible, slowly bobbing on a sea of studs and hotties.

From across the room, Aucencio looks almost boyish, but he's 51 and has six children. He's short, not particularly big, with thick dark hair. But up close, you can see the deep lines on his face—his skin is like tooled leather—and his tremendous hands.

When he reaches the bar, Aucencio pours some of the ice into the sink at the end of the bar near the kitchen, some into a sink at the middle of the bar and the rest into the sink at the far end of the bar. When he's done, he returns the bucket to the upstairs liquor room.

Roger heads down from the top deck. He passes Chris, now standing at the bottom of the stairwell talking to Betty, who also happens to be his girlfriend. Chris and Betty met at the Beet, exactly as they are now—leaning against the wall together, though it's somewhat out of character for Betty to stand still. A Beet waitress for the past few months, Betty is effervescent, even hyper. She dances to and from the kitchen, dances when she's keying in drink orders at the register, dances while waiting for drinks at the end of the bar, and dances while picking up her food order at the kitchen.

"I almost became an Orlando Magic Girl," she said one day in the bar after mimicking the televised cheers of the Laker Girls. "I made the first two cuts, but then they rejected me. Said I was too tall. It would have been nice if they'd told me that when I first tried out."

The lights in the place are really low now.

"This is when everybody looks at the time and realizes they need to draft someone," Brent says, watching a guy sitting close to a brunette with what look like sizable breast implants. The pair whisper to each other, laugh a bit, even kiss. Then the girl suddenly bolts onto the dance floor. The guy sits there a moment, stunned, as though someone had just knocked him over the head with a bottle. Then he follows.

At the bar, Brent and Aucencio are busy changing a beer keg. Each holding one side, they walk crab-like down the bar, maneuvering the big silver keg into its well beneath the beer taps. When he's done, Aucencio starts collecting empty glasses from the bar.

Roger and his friends are now sitting at a table just off the bar but close to the dance floor. They've hooked up with four gorgeous girls, all wearing either strapless minidresses or spaghetti-strap tops and tight pants.

Sitting next to a girl with long brown hair and a pink drink, Roger shoots questions at her for a few minutes and then gets up for another drink.

"The blonde seemed cool with going out, but that brunette wasn't," he says. "She said she's a special-ed teacher, so I thought I had an in. My sister's special-ed, so I tried talking to her about that. But she wasn't going for it."

Taking another swig from his drink, Roger heads back to the brunette. This time, she's standing, and Roger gets into a conversation. Before long, she's resting her hand on his back, talking to him intently.

But a few minutes later, she's seated again, her back to Roger, talking to some guy who looks to be in his late 30s.

"I can't believe she'd rather talk to that receding-hairline guy," says Roger. "All right, guys, let's go someplace else."

As Roger and his buddies leave, three new guys slip into the seats near the girls.

By 1:30 a.m., it's over.

"See you later, alligator!" says the band's lead singer as they wrap their last song.

"And now the ugly lights come on," says Brent, and the Beet's interior becomes as unforgiving as any corporate office. With no music playing and the band packing up their instruments, the only sound is the low buzz of overlapping conversations. Chris and the rest of security start clearing people out: three guys, shoulder to shoulder, steadily moving the crowd toward the door. Moments before, groups of guys and girls were intermingling, caressing one another's backs, wrapping their arms around one another's waists. Now they're mostly leaving separately, with the same people with whom they arrived.

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