About a decade ago, Patrick Gleber -- who, along with fellow FIU grad Kevin Rusk, had taken over Tobacco Road in 1982 and transformed the dingy dive into Miami's best dining-drinking-entertainment complex -- was meeting with a local radio personality who wanted to launch a new live-music night in the club's upstairs cabaret. Gleber liked the idea, but he had one stipulation: "If we don't always draw a crowd, even if we have to lose money, I want the musicians to be paid fairly." It was a stunning moment, a businessman in this town's shark-infested nightlife scene setting aside cynicism for the greater good.
While folks like to note the fact that the Road has Miami's oldest liquor license, that mobster Al Capone used to hang out there, that a ghost supposedly haunts the joint, the real reason the place has soared even as dozens and dozens of other restaurants, bars, and clubs have fallen by the wayside is a dedication to giving a little extra, providing customers with more than they pay for. The Road crew's commitment to covering each corner of the going-out-for-pleasure triad is what has kept the hot spot at the top. Consider:
Food: Every weekday suits and scenesters pack the patio for lunches that include gourmet specialties along with standards such as fat and juicy sirloin burgers and a tangy, tasty chili. Happy- hour partiers enjoy scrumptious snacks. And the dinners leave guests as packed as Elvis's lunchbox through the long night ahead.
Drink: The top-shelf selections, including an especially impressive array of high-grade Scotches, are reasonably priced and served up by some of the area's most charming and efficient bartenders.
Music: Famed for having staged an encyclopedic list of legendary blues performers (Albert Collins, Albert King, Koko Taylor to name just a few), the club has also hosted an amazing number of touring acts from almost every genre. That's on top of the nightly performances by local stalwarts of equal diversity.
All three elements will be celebrated beginning at 8:00 p.m. this Friday at the club's 92nd anniversary party. T.R.'s unofficial house band, Iko-Iko, which, in its various incarnations, has established itself as a premier blues act and an equally sensational rock group, will keep things hopping upstairs. Eclectic and dynamic crowd pleasers the Baboons will have partiers dancing madly on the patio. And on the main stage Suenalo Sound System will open for former Lenny Kravitz saxman Karl Denson and his five cohorts, who comprise the Tiny Universe and play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and trumpet. Known for its funk and endurance, KDTU can also work a deep groove while referencing such disparate heroes as James Brown, Fela Kuti, and Curtis Mayfield. All that music costs a mere ten bucks, with extra food treats and plenty of libations to round things out.
As for that live music night Gleber green-lighted in the mid-Nineties? It goes on, now hosted by Danny Jessup and still presenting several cool local acts every week. That alone would be reason enough to celebrate this rightfully exalted establishment.