By Michael E. Miller
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Just a few short hours after Miami's late-night watering holes dry up, another kind of cantina ushers in the day. From Cutler Ridge to Bal Harbour, knowledgeable boozers have been drinking free for years at Dade's upscale jewelry stores.
"The best jewelry stores all serve drinks," explains a veteran downtown diamond merchant. "They range from diet sodas to the hardest liquor known to man. It's a way of luring the customers into the store and keeping them there until they buy. You loosen them up. We have Scotch, rum, gin, red and white wine, champagne -- everything. Pretty much a full bar. We serve anybody and everybody."
At Mayor's, where good-quality jewelry meets high-volume sales, the all-day happy hour reaches its apogee. According to Mayor's sales personnel at the Omni, Dadeland, and The Falls shopping centers, all eight of the stores' locations serve Chivas Regal Scotch, Bacardi rum, Courvoisier cognac, Kahlua coffee liqueur, Cristal aguardiente, Beefeaters gin, Crown Royal and Jack Daniels whiskey, Absolut vodka, Amstel light beer, red and white wine, and champagne. Like their counterparts at other jewelry stores, Mayor's representatives explain that their stores do not require liquor licenses, since there is no charge for drinks. (Florida Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco officials confirm this reassuring fact.)
"The champagne is J. Roguet. It's cheap stuff but it tastes great," says Lori Glein, who guesses she's served thousands of cubas-libres, martinis, and screwdrivers in her eight years as a Mayor's saleswoman at The Falls. "We also have sodas and some kind of mineral water, I can't remember the brand. We dropped Perrier after the scare a couple of years ago because we didn't want to kill anyone. I think the whole idea is a nice gesture," Glein adds. "I bought a car last week and they didn't offer me even a glass of water."
South Dade resident Todd Hartman says he's pretty sure his memories of his most recent Mayor's shopping trip are pleasant. He drank an entire bottle of champagne and spent several thousand dollars on an engagement ring. "It was one of the best buzzes I ever got," Hartman recalls. "It's much like, from a less sleazy level, what they do in Las Vegas: feed you drinks so you spend more money. Did it affect my judgment? Absolutely."
The drinks-and-jewelry combination worked so well for Raju Khiatani, owner of Barclay's Jewelers, that it nearly ruined his business. All day long his tiny downtown shop in the Seybold Building on Flagler Street was clogged with whiskey-swilling clients. "They would stay and stay!" exclaims Khiatani. "Finally I had to stop offering the drinks." But he still keeps a little wine, rum, and whiskey around -- for special customers.
Glein, the Mayor's saleswoman, says she's also had problems with the success of the system. Occasionally drinkers will depart from happy hour at a nearby bar and stop in at her store for a free nightcap. "They come in here drunk," she observes, "and if they're obviously drunk, we just start pushing merchandise so hard they want to leave. Even with sober customers, the whole idea is to give 'em one drink and that's the end of the story."
Not all Dade's best jewelers serve spirits, and those that do may require priming. Carroll's, in many ways the most hospitable jeweler on Coral Gables' Miracle Mile, serves absolutely nothing. Balogh, a pillar of the glitter industry, offers liquor (and killer hors d'oeuvre) only at private gem parties for high-rolling customers. But to make up for this exclusivity the store brews excellent espresso for its walk-in customers. "This is not a bar," sniffs Nancy Gabay, manager of world-famous Cartier at the Bal Harbour Shops. "We seve Perrier, Evian, Coke, and diet Coke. No Scotch. No martinis. You cannot even get a twist of lime in your mineral water. But you will get it served in the finest crystal and china, I can assure you of that."
In a recent survey, an undercover New Times research team chose Jessie Erazo, a saleswoman at the Omni Mayor's, queen of the sparkletown happy hour. Erazo served a reporter a double Scotch and soda within one minute and 40 seconds of his entering the store. And offered to sell him $19,000 worth of diamond rings and sapphire bracelets.
A few jewelry store happy hour tips:
1. Dress fancy. Ask to see items "under $14,000."
2. Ask to use the salesman's loupe (the litle spyglass gemologists use to inspect jewels). They'll think you're a serious customer.
3. Sit down and don't be in a hurry to leave.
4. Wear dark glasses. Experienced jewel merchants say they sometimes can tell by your pupil dilation (or lack thereof) whether you are interested in their wares. Dark glasses also hide bloodshot eyes.
5. If a salesman doesn't offer a drink quickly, affect a coughing fit or clear your throat loudly and repeatedly. Alternative strategy: Plop down on the stool, look haggard, and say, "Whew!" The salesman will invariably ask you, "Hard day?" Proceed from there.
6. If all else fails, say with a laugh, "Gee, I'm starting to think this store isn't very friendly. All the others offered me Long Island ice tea.