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It's no secret that Miami is all about illusion. From fake butts and boobs to artificial beaches, the Magic City has always relied on a little sleight of hand. But bogus booze?
So far this year, state agents have caught five bars around the county serving bottom-shelf liquor from top-shelf bottles. They range from a strip club to a swanky café. But Miami waiters say the practice is much more widespread than the numbers show. And even when bars are caught, state agents are toothless to keep them from repeating the trick.
Prime Time Café on Ocean Drive, for instance, received a warning in August for refilling classy bottles with crap. When Riptide visited last week, it was hard to tell whether things had changed. When we asked about the prices of various liquors, the bartender replied: "Don't worry about it, bro. If you're paying cash, I can hook you up."
Outside at a sidewalk table, nighttime manager Oscar Ferrari said there was "a zero percent chance" that Prime Time refilled its bottles with cheap booze. When shown the citation, he argued it was signed by the daytime manager, not him. "It didn't happen on my watch," he said.
Even Bacardi spokesman Joe Gerbino says it's tough to tell when a bar serves cheap stuff out of a fancy bottle. "You'd be hard-pressed to tell just from tasting the spirit," he says, adding that cocktails make it damn near impossible.
So instead of tasting the wares, Florida Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (ABT) agents look for sticky, worn, or overfilled bottles as well as funnels used to refill them. But in the past two years, records show ABT agents haven't handed out a single fine for refilling in Miami. They only issue warnings. Compare that to New York City, where one club paid out $100,000 in similar fees in 2009.
That leaves Miami at the mercy of its bars. Other places that have received warnings: Seven Seas on SW 57th Avenue, the Booby Trap on South Dixie Highway, Spinnaker's in North Miami Beach, and Gilias Restaurant on Miami Beach.
But there are probably more. One waitress says she's seen several employers pass off bottom-rung booze as Grey Goose, Bacardi, or Patron. When working at Casanova restaurant on South Beach, she spotted a bartender refilling bottles with a spout. "They charged people $15 for a glass when that's more than the price of the whole bottle," she says. Only once did a customer complain, and the bartender denied it. "Most people can't tell, even when it's just shit in a glass," the waitress adds.