In a town that's infamous for restaurants and bars that last as long as a sun shower, restaurateur Mark Soyka has managed to create eateries that have the staying power of a sizzling Miami summer.
His latest creation, Soyka, near Morningside, is booming. His bustling News Café which he co-owns with Jeffrey Davis, became a cornerstone of Ocean Drive and gave rise to a sister restaurant in Coconut Grove. And after just five years, his Van Dyke Café (also co-owned with Davis) is one of the busiest restaurants on Lincoln Road. According to Frank Crupi, general manager of the Van Dyke, an average of 2500 people per day pass through its doors. So it's no wonder the folks there are in the mood to party. Enter the Van Dyke Café Fifth Anniversary Champagne Celebration.
Back in '91, when Soyka bought the Van Dyke, Lincoln Road was more of a home to winos sloshed on Thunderbird than to revelers juiced at champagne celebrations. After he spent four million dollars over nearly four years to renovate the building, not even Soyka envisioned the café's or the Road's salability. "We all wanted Lincoln Road to remain a unique, quaint street," Soyka says matter-of-factly. "But obviously it's a very busy road today. I'm not complaining. From a business perspective it exceeds our expectations, and we love it very dearly. But would we have liked to see the street take another direction and stay more boutique? Probably so, but that's the way the world is."
When the party gets under way this Wednesday, the universe around the Van Dyke will be a very festive one. Soyka brought his love for jazz music (a genre he says is an "avant-garde, all-American tradition not too many people endorse") to the building, specifically gearing the second floor to feature live shows nightly. The package of a café and music room has flourished. Today Soyka says he spends $200,000 per year bringing in prominent performers to the upstairs space. Musical director Don Wilner allocates that budget well, importing national talent such as drummer/vocalist Grady Tate, pianist Johnny O'Neal, and pianists/vocalists Freddy Cole and Mose Allison. Music at the Van Dyke has become so pervasive in the community that chanteuse Wendy Pedersen says the intimate music room is "pretty much the lifeline for jazz in Miami."
The huge anniversary bash promises to be an especially spirited occasion. Part of Jefferson Avenue will be closed, and the seventeen-piece All-Star Van Dyke Big Band (featuring vocalists Pedersen and Raul Midon) will supply the tunes. The orchestra will swing and the bubbly will flow (courtesy of the house) until about 11:00 p.m. when the party moves inside for an out-of-the-ordinary concert by the in-house Hard Bop Special ensemble. More than just an anniversary, the fete honors what Soyka calls "the Van Dyke state of mind. It's not just the café and the music," he notes, "but the aura of the entire building." Yes, four million dollars gives off quite a lot of light.