It will be a startling sight on Saturday, as one of Fort Lauderdale’s most historic and important shrines, the city’s cathedral of the cocktail, its basilica of Bud, the beloved Elbo Room, is overwhelmed by thousands of New York football zealots.
They will plant their flag, hoist their banners, and stake their claim to the iconic beachfront corner of Las Olas Boulevard and A1A, turning it into an unpartable blue sea. Somewhere, Saint Connie of Francis may shed a tear.
But, wait, these aren’t hordes of showboating Jets fans stuffed into s-medium Mark Gastineau T-shirts — they’re Buffalo Bills fans, and it turns out they’re … nice.
“My bartenders like them,” Elbo Room owner Michele Penrod says. “They say they’re good tippers, well-behaved. There’s never a problem. They’ve been great.”
Well, that’s no way to start a rivalry.
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Beginning at noon on Saturday, Buffalo’s local fan organization, Bills Backers Miami, plan to have its annual Elbo Room takeover to welcome the team to town for their 1 p.m. Sunday game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Both teams are undefeated.
The welcome likely will be literal — last year, the Bills’ team buses did a police-escorted slow roll past a cheering crowd in front of the Elbo Room on the way to their hotel up the beach. The scene was shared on Instagram by Buffalo Bills team photographer Bill Wippert from inside one of the buses.
Bills Backers Miami was created by Coconut Creek resident Jonathan Holler, formerly of Buffalo, who has booked the top floor of the Elbo Room for Saturday’s fan gathering, which is likely to quickly overflow both floors and spill onto the sidewalk.
Bills fans are a tight-knit tribe, says Holler, a 39-year-old naval architect, who has bumped into old high school classmates from Buffalo at Bills Backers Miami watch parties at Booze Garden in Fort Lauderdale and Catch Wynwood in Miami. Brendan’s Sports Pub in Pompano Beach is another Bills bar, he says.
Bills Backers Miami has more than 8,500 followers on social media accounts Holler has maintained for the past eight years of running the group, with most of his organizing happening on the @billsbackersmiami Instagram.
Along with local fans and an army of out-of-towners who fly in for the game, the typical Bills’ Elbo Room crowd includes former players, and wives and girlfriends of current players. One girlfriend at last year’s event was FaceTiming with a player en route from the airport and tipped Holler about when the buses would be heading up A1A to the Elbo Room.
Holler declines to get specific about attendance — “I can’t say for the second floor, because of capacity issues,” he says, laughing — but estimates a couple thousand people rotate in and out of the bar throughout the day.
“It’s just flowing through the day. I hang out until 9 or 10 o’clock, but I know people are there till close, 2 or 3 in the morning,” Holler says.
On Sunday morning, the group will have to bounce back for a massive tailgate in the Hard Rock Stadium parking lot, with food including dishes from La Traila Barbecue, co-owned by Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, former star at American Heritage School in Plantation.
Holler wants fans to “feel like they’re in Buffalo” (where it may be in the 40s early Saturday morning, just saying). So there will be Bills paraphernalia for sale, giveaways and live music from Buffalo native Tom Sartori, a singer who has performed the national anthem before Bills games more than a dozen times.
A raffle will raise money for Buffalo’s 716 Foundation. In August, Bills Backers Miami also wrote a check to the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative after the death of FIU football player Luke Knox, brother of Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox.
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This is the fourth year Holler’s group has taken over the Elbo Room the day before a Dolphins game, and it has grown every year. It started, in 2019, with maybe 100 people, Penrod says.
And that’s the thing, back then, Buffalo was mediocre, and the Dolphins were worse. Nobody cared then that Bills fans were laying siege to Fort Lauderdale’s most famous building.
Now the Bills are really good and should be for a while, thanks to star quarterback Josh Allen. The Dolphins also may have flipped a switch thanks to the Tua and Tyreek Show. One team will leave undefeated on Sunday.
So can we fire up this rivalry with some smack talk at the Elbo Room on Saturday?
“Ninety-nine percent are Bills fans and the other 1 percent, they’re pretty cool with hanging out with us. We’re friendly. We buy drinks. We have fun,” he says, with a laugh.
That’s no way to start a rivalry.
Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Instagram @BenCrandell and Twitter @BenCrandell.