The Bars at Sunset Place

Malls, much like bars, are epicenters of style and social activity, places where people come to parade as much as they do to splurge. In the Shops at Sunset Place (5701 Sunset Dr., South Miami; 305-663-4222), alcohol is as much of an attraction as any retail store there, with a number of stylized bars in and near the mall appealing to specific tastes. On a recent Saturday night, I decided to have a drink at three different locations in the plaza and its South Miami environs.

The first stop was the outdoor bar at Dan Marino's, situated on the main walkway of the mall. Clusters of hormonal teens drifted by, their continuous flow perpetuated by loiter-Nazi security. Teenage girls in flowing tops ordered water from the bar as Barry White and David Bowie played in the background. The family-oriented fishbowl aesthetic dissipated as midnight approached and the lights on the terrace dimmed. Young goths, shrieking high school girls, and Wackenhut guards were replaced by guayaberas, cleavage, and cops, all heading to Martini Bar. It was time to move on.

Next I found myself in a comely cottage radiating slice-of-pie Americana. Bougainvillea's, on a side street near the mall, is the drinker's Hollister: conventional and comfortable, a safe bet. Inside, an average bar band, sheet music in front of them, played Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, and Ramones covers. Couples danced and twirled each other to no discernible rhythm. On the lush veranda, mundane conversation between a pair on a first date dragged on loudly. As they discussed tae kwon do, a stranger approached me. "Your eyes look like big black mirrors," he said. "I can see my reflection in them." Just what I needed — some cheese with my wine.

I was slightly disappointed to see the lack of scenesters that are usual fixtures in front of Fox's Lounge, slightly farther down, on South Dixie Highway. The Fifties-mob-hangout ambiance inside is still a novelty, for the bar and booths were packed, and if they weren't, it was too dark to tell. The dive never drops the ball with its cool lounge motif, from vodka gimlets in ice-packed beakers to the late-night package store window. Fox's is the final destination for the tragically hip, a stomping ground for Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic employees once the retailers close. Just before 2:00 a.m., patrons in fedoras and suspenders lingered outside, completing the retro, subterranean scene.

 
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