Pour and Tour

You can get embalmed where you used to get bombed. You can buy something to shoot where you used to buy shots. A booze cruise along Bird Road.

Most of them have moved on by now, to places like Key West, Naples, Orlando. At the very least they've gotten real jobs (or tried to), gotten married (or tried to), and hunkered down in Kendall (despite trying not to). Maybe, if they somehow stashed enough dough, they bought a Saab and moved to Boca. But few of them still venture out at night to that ribbon of highway that is called an avenue east of U.S. 1 and a road west of U.S. 1, but that is, in fact, neither a road nor an avenue, but a street (Southwest 40th Street, to be exact).

But they used to go to Bird Road. It was an era that seems more distant than it really was, a period when there was a Big Daddy's on every corner, drunk drivers were let off with a scolding, and having sex could only kill you if you got caught with someone else's spouse. Bird Road was a dynamic strip back then, a diverse stretch of bars and nightclubs that overflowed with drinkers and brawlers, strippers and pool sharks. Bar-stool philosophers and street-corner poets, the kind of people Springsteen used to sing about. Hell, the kind of people Springsteen used to be.

Tougher drunk-driving laws, the Latinization of Miami, and the explosion of nightlife on the Beach and in the Grove have all conspired to sap Bird Road of much of its vitality. Live bands were, to a large extent, supplanted by satellite-dish TVs, CD jukeboxes, and video games. In a business that's tough to begin with, barkeeping is even tougher along Bird Road. But while several establishments that seemed healthy and thriving barely a decade ago have gone under, some have survived.

Which leads us to this excursion along the strip. Geographically the tour runs from west to east, but historically it weaves in and out, from what is now to what was then to what isn't there any more.

HUFF'S LOUNGE
11423 Bird Road
Roomy and carpeted, its walls adorned with geometric mirror arrangements, Huff's (formerly the Lucky Lady) is a clean, well-lighted place, albeit one with a color scheme that leans heavily toward earthtones. The oblong, octagonal bar is immense, with an equally enormous brass grid suspended from the ceiling above it. The band plays on weekends; during the week the chief attraction (besides cheap beer) is a pair of dartboards. The hulking projection TV set at the opposite end of the bar used to be a drawing card as well, but it doesn't work any more.

Huff's Lounge on a Friday night is about as far removed from the glitz and glamour of South Beach as a bar can be. No leggy fashion models, no wee-hours celebrity visits. Like the majority of the bar's clientele, the members of the band, Magic Touch, are thickening in the middle and thinning on top. Couples don't so much dance on the parquet floor in the corner as they shuffle, to "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile" and "Long Train Runnin'."

And when a gaunt man in a western-style shirt staggers out the front door, steadying himself against the building as he squints into the vast shopping-center parking lot (which is nearly as well-lit as he is), and staggers his way to his battered black Bronco, those "Pray for Me -- I Drive Bird Road" bumper stickers don't seem all that funny. But when he turns on his radio, hangs his Tony Lamas out the window, and begins to snore deeply, the future suddenly looks a tiny bit less ominous.

THE CONCORD LOUNGE (CLOSED)
Concord Shopping Center
Many of Huff's patrons are refugees from this watering hole, a cramped, dark hole-in-the-wall full of seedy characters who managed to locate it despite the absence of so much as an identifying name plate on the door.

Ram centsn Corugedo, drummer for Money and Cigarettes, performed at the Concord Lounge, and at Huff's when it was the Lucky Lady. "I've probably played in all those places -- if it's a dive, I've played there," says Corugedo. "The Lucky Lady used to be a geriatric bar. The Concord was more wild. I was there one night when a bunch of undercover cops came in and shut the place down, and that led to four or five months down the road when they closed down the bar for good because the bartender was dealing coke. You'd see people come in and say, 'I'll have an Amstel Light and a G,' and the bartender would pass them a beer and an envelope and go, 'That'll be $52.25, please.'"

Guitarist Jack Allen, who used to work at Carroll Music in the Concord shopping center, has some of his own vivid memories of the Concord Lounge. "After work once, a couple of us went there, and there was a guy outside throwing up on the sidewalk, wiping his mouth with his hands," Allen recalls. "We went inside. In came the guy. He was the bartender."

While neither Allen nor Corugedo witnessed any actual gunplay at the Concord Lounge, its proximity to the Tamiami Gun Shop and indoor shooting range compelled the lounge's owner to hang a "No Loaded Guns" sign just inside the door, a sign that was roundly ignored by patrons who stopped by after target practice, their sidearms holstered in plain view. Ironically, when Home Depot decided to open an outlet where Tamiami Gun stood, the weapons store relocated next door to the Concord's old digs.

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