By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Terrence McCoy
By Jeff Weinberger
By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
7305 Bird Road
On Bird Road, bars seem to come and go in pairs. The Double Play's competition for the sports bar trade, the Time Out, is less than a mile away. Formerly a popular gay bar known as the Leprechaun, the Time Out has evolved into a place that fills up with well-groomed, fresh-faced Dolphin and Hurricane fans in pressed jeans and loafers who take full advantage of one-dollar drafts during games. There is no pool table, nor is there room for one. Dominoes, however, are spoken here.
In the absence of a major sporting event on the wall-mounted, 35-inch color TV set, the Time Out crowd makes its own entertainment -- arm wrestling on the black-lacquered bar, or singing along boisterously to songs that were written right around the time they were born (e.g. "Brown Eyed Girl," "Maggie May"). It doesn't take much effort to approximate the sound of a full choir in this red, white, and black establishment, where noise reverberates off the sparsely decorated walls and the checkered tile floor. Incredibly, the kids know all the words.
6835 Bird Road
Formerly the Keg North and, before that, the Champion, Helene's Rendezvous is the newer (and smaller) of two gay bars on Bird Road. Helene bought the place in March, then opened it as a gay bar in June, which might come as a mild shock to former patrons like blues promoter Mark Weiser. "The Champ was the classic Miami redneck bar," Weiser says. "Back then, that was practically on the frontier. No Cubans. No Negroes. Just rednecks."
The Champion/Keg North had a lot in common with the Concord Lounge -- cheap drinks, rowdy blue-collar trade with a sprinkling of bikers, and a tradition of winking at petty drug dealing. But Helene Miller, who has worked in or around bars her entire adult life and was a Champ patron herself, has had her fill of rednecks. "Rednecks only know three words," the proprietor opines, "and two of 'em are shit and fuck, which they use as an adjective. I tell 'em to go home and try using it as a verb. Gay men are more intelligent, artistic, educated, and interesting."
Decorwise, Helene's has changed very little since its days as a beer-drinkin', pool-shootin', fist-fightin' juke joint that could have been patterned after a movie starring Clint Eastwood and an intellectually superior orangutan. The two pool tables are still there, and the bar looks basically the same. Chances are the Champ and Keg South didn't carry copies of David (or, for that matter, New Times), nor did the tiny stage and adjacent dance floor see the likes of male strippers on Friday and Saturday nights. But in keeping with the Champ/Keg North spirit, Helene's offers happy hour every day -- all the beer you can drink for five bucks! -- from opening until 8:00 p.m.
Helene isn't nearly as worried about barroom brawls as she is about the adult book and video store next door. Nights, she says, habitues from the store hang out in the alley and the parking lot the two establishments share, in spite of a sign on the bookstore that warns, "PARKING LOT MONITORED BY VIDEO."
"I've been around the block. Used to get ten cents a drink as a B-girl in Albany, New York, during World War II," Helene says. "I know what goes on in those booths, in those cars. When a female meets a guy, at least he takes her to a hotel. That's one reason why I'm keeping the pool tables. More games so customers can play with each other, have a conversation, start a relationship. Otherwise it's very dangerous."
6701 Bird Road
Talk about longevity: Sid's piano bar has been a fixture on Bird Road for sixteen years. It was originally built in 1926, which by our calculations makes it the oldest Bird Road bar still standing.
Everything about Sid Gilmour's establishment is refreshingly eccentric or stubbornly anachronistic, from the prints of vintage fighter planes and miscellaneous kitsch that adorn the walls to the owner's trademark handlebar moustache to his skewed outlook on life ("I hope the Clinton administration brings back Prohibition. It'll start everybody drinking again"). At Sid's, the jukebox still plays records, not CDs. "I don't pay that much attention to it, but I know it's got records because every once in a while someone kicks it and it skips," the owner explains.
"Sid was a horn player," recalls Lynne Noble, renowned blues chanteuse and vocalist for Good Rockin' Johnny and the Wiseguys who once hostessed at the nearby Yorkshire Inn. "He's a character, a truly rank individual. He took up piano one night when they needed someone on keyboards more than they needed someone on trumpet. Pretty soon we were going in at 1:00 a.m., and we'd have sing-alongs till three. We'd play Stump the Band, sing old show tunes, whatever."
Concurs Lancelot O'Blarney, bassist and connoisseur of the Bird Road bar scene, "Sid's is great if you like show tunes. Any tune you can possibly name, he can probably play."
Well, maybe not any tune. "I'm an old geezer -- 66 -- and most of my repertoire is from the Dark Ages, World War II, says the piano man. "When kids ask me for a new song by Janet Jopple, John Elton, Fleckwood Meat, or whatever, I have to steer them in the right direction. Most everybody's seen Casablanca, so they usually ask me for that famous song from the movie, 'You Must Remember This.' Sometimes, though, on a weekend we'll get some UM drama or music students and they'll know some great old songs, do amazing versions of Sinatra, and the time goes by so fast."