Beer & Loathing

Journey into the last, real neighborhood bar on the Beach. It's nothing like Cheers.

The cirrhosis-treatment guys have a routine. They enlist as guinea pigs whenever there's a research program needing subjects with liver problems. In exchange for drying out for several days, taking experimental drugs, and allowing doctors to test them, they're paid a couple of thousand dollars. Jaco says a man named Joey, who participates in the regimen, gets a haircut and a manicure and then triumphantly marches into the Cove with a couple of grand. Between the Cove and Dania Jai-Alai, it won't last him three days, according to Jaco.

Joey walks in, buys everybody in the bar a round, and tells the bartender to keep pouring until the tab hits $100. "My family owned three bars in New Jersey and I pissed them all away," discloses Joey, the high roller. "My mother gave me a bottle of vodka when I was six."

When these men return to the Cove relatively sober after their medical stints, Jaco faces a dilemma. "Sometimes you wonder," he muses, "are you hurting these people or are you helping them when you give them the booze?" He rationalizes that he's helping them. That's one reason he breaks the law and stays open around the clock.(The City of Miami Beach forbids establishments to sell liquor from 5:00 to 8:00 a.m.) "I keep them in so they don't do something stupid," he explains. "First of all, they'll find the booze somewhere else. Secondly, if they don't find it they'll do something stupid to get it -- like break a window."

Fights are less frequent than you might expect. The last one was midsummer, when a normally subdued man stood up to the neighborhood bully. "This guy always talked about how many guys he beat up, and how he calls his wife a bitch," says Jaco, setting up the bout. "And John is this small, quiet guy. His wife can beat him up. Well, the big construction guy threw John to the ground, and John bounced up like a ball and started swinging. He beat the shit out of him. Put cuts on his face and everything. Now I call him Mister John."

Jaco says it's these regulars, like John, who stay in the bar drinking and gambling after-hours. Their presence in the bar, he believes, protects him from robbery. "I throw out about 80 percent of the people and keep a few people in for security. It's better if you can keep the people you can trust. If I throw them out, they'll come back before eight o'clock, banging on the door, coming in the back door, climbing all over the place."

Near the front of the bar a couple leans into each other, making out. They're new in town, from Long Island. "If you're not living in New York, you're camping out," jokes Libby, and this pair looks like they've been camping out -- on the street. The woman's stringy gray hair is tangled and matted, her face grimy. The lovers look 60 to 70 years old. They smoke cigarettes and drink Scotch on the rocks.

Libby: "Scotch and soda, jigger of gin."
Other daytime regulars include Kentucky Bob, who sits in the back and drinks Miller High-Life. His passions are betting the horses and hating the Yankees. Mike is a golf caddy who loves gambling, any kind of gambling. George, a cheerful middle-age guy, buys drinks for everybody and drinks vodka and grapefruit himself -- three or four or more, before he passes out at the bar. And big brown Max, a mixed-breed dog, drinks Bud draft beside his owner. Then there's Harry, an octogenarian who comes in briefly in the afternoon and takes bets on his behind-the-back ice toss into a rocks glass. "I don't know where the road is any more," he cracks, "but I always have one for the road."

The Cove turns up a notch at night and on the weekend. Two young men standing at the far end of the bar fidget and talk incessantly, like they're jacked-up, draft beer and mixed drinks by their elbows. They stare through the front window to the street, check their beepers every few minutes, and make roundtrips to the pay phone. Within an hour five different young men enter the Cove, walk directly to the men's bathroom, and after a brief meeting with somebody casually walk out of the bar.

Getting high and high-fivin', a pack of men who can be found in the back of the bar most nights appear to be in their element. They're a close-knit group from the low-rent neighborhood; men who, once inside the Cove, start living large, getting their party cranked bigtime. Carlos, Rafael, Rick, John, and Frankie. "We're from UD," wisecracks Rafael, "The University of Descaro [Rude]." The camaraderie, drinks, and music on the juke pump them up: Marvin Gaye, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra; Madonna, Bob Marley, and Jim Morrison. Even Billie Holiday's sweetly depressing songs fit with this crowd.

At age 56, Carlos is the oldest of the group, and a big spender. "One of the older Cubans with class," Jaco pronounces. Carlos is very generous, buys drinks for everyone, and takes the women out.

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