By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Miami in 1955 was a young town full of gin joints, aging mobsters, scruffy fishermen, Southern gentility, a swinging Harlem South in Overtown, and a little pre-Castro Cuban flavor. It was a good time for many. Land was cheap, dreams were big, and most zoning problems were fixed with a good cigar and a wink.
This is where Bill Ader, Jr., from Chicago landed in the early Fifties to build his own version of the Miami dream. And build it he did, all over Dade County: schools, apartments, bars. If you needed four walls and a roof, Bill Ader could provide. But his crowning achievement was a diminutive cave of a bar called the 1800 Club, which remained for decades the shadowy haven of the city's brackish pool of politicians, journalists, businessmen, and judges. And the cheating hearts among them all.
Squatting under Ader's apartment building at 1800 N. Bayshore Dr., the 1955 version of the club was just twelve stools and a bar. The barmaids, each one a vision of America's postwar bounty, wore tight white tops and gold lamé pants (later updated to spandex and other curve-hugging outfits). Ader soon had to add more stools. In the Seventies, as a nod to the zoning regulations of the day, the place was a private club, patrons paying a nominal fee for a membership card. Even when the club opened to the public in 1988, old-timers kept their cards as a fond remembrance of their youth -- and Miami's.
"It was a place everybody went -- and few brought their wives," recalls 82-year-old Marshall Ader, brother to Bill Ader, Jr., and a former county judge and county clerk. "After I was elected a judge, I stayed away from there." Well, at least after dark. Judge Ader, described by some as an Uncle Sam look-alike, was often spotted in the dim recesses of a wood-paneled booth with a friend or colleague during lunch, according to several bartenders and regulars.
Some found their wives there, including Bill Jr. and his sons Billy III and Bobby, who each met, married, and (except for Billy) divorced a former barmaid. Others lost their wives there, or at least forgot them for a time. "The original 1800 Club was definitely a cheating bar," admits Kay Ader, Bill Jr.'s third (and fourth) wife. "Sometimes wives would call looking for their husbands. We lived life to the fullest."
In roughly 46 years of operation, the 1800 attracted an eclectic group. Billy Ader, who largely ran the 1800 Club with his wife, JoAnne, through the Eighties and early Nineties, claims Sen. John F. Kennedy, Paul Newman, Frank Zappa, and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton all passed through the doors at one time or another. Singer Jimmy Buffett was a regular during the early years of the Miami Heat, along with former Heat coaches Ron Rothstein and Kevin Loughery and Miami Herald stalwarts such as Carl Hiaasen, Robert Steinback, and many others.
But by the late Nineties, the 1800 Club had become merely seedy in an appealing way, a shadow of its former self. It was run by a series of managers who ultimately failed either to reclaim the old days or attract a reliable new crowd. In May of last year, Bill Ader, Jr., died of cancer. A few months later the club was closed for the final time. His sons agreed to sell the bar and the surrounding apartments to developer Michael Baumann of Miami Circle notoriety. Baumann plans to knock down everything later this year and replace it with a residential tower, including shops and a restaurant. The tower will keep the 1800 Club name. This Saturday the Aders will open the 1800 Club for one last bash for the old regulars.
Kay Ader took a job at the 1800 Club in 1967, a pretty barmaid in her early twenties. She met the dynamic 41-year-old Bill and later married him (twice). They often lived in the penthouse above the bar. "It was a little kingdom, Aderville," she says. "He just kind of liked the idea that there was a party going on downstairs anytime he wanted." In 1971 Ader sold the 1800 Club, plus a string of about a dozen other bars (trysting places, he called them) he had built around the county, to Joe "Big Daddy" Flanigan. But retirement at age 45 didn't agree with Ader, so he bought back the 1800 in 1973.
Bill and Kay remodeled the place, knocking out some ground-floor efficiency apartments to form a much larger bar with several rooms, seating about 130 in all. Ader brought in a French chandelier, dark wood paneling, rock-faced walls, cushy booths, and stained-glass windows. Kay covered the corners and the walls in bromeliads, ferns, and orchids that were rotated to an outside porch daily so the plants always looked healthy. "The place just worked," she reminisces. "When the lights are low, everybody looks better. After a few drinks, everybody looks really good. It was a different world."
Such a noir environment invites intrigue of one kind or another. And there were plenty, everybody says. "I can tell you that in that Peacock room [so named for its Tiffany peacock window] everything went on -- and I mean everything," confides Allen Fader, a general contractor and 1800 Club customer since the late Sixties. "Many a deal was made there." He recollects bellying up to the bar in the Seventies and Eighties heyday with Miami notables such as "old man Bacardi" the rum magnate, then-Mayor Maurice Ferré, and hotshot criminal defense attorney Roy Black. But extracting the specifics is almost impossible.