Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
From the jukebox at the 1800 Club on the Miami side of the bay, Mick Jagger laments, "You can't always get what you want...." At the dimly lit bar, surrounded by a square copper countertop, 44-year-old Debra Douglas doles out Budweisers the way a saint manufactures minor miracles. A kiss on the cheek for the regulars, full regard for the passing stranger. Douglas, all caramel skin, dark wavy hair, wide mahogany eyes, and full, chocolate-color lips, surprisingly was born on Long Island to parents who hail from Trinidad. She is part Chinese, Scottish, and Cherokee Indian, a wild mixture that has resulted in a serene exotic beauty. During 23 years in the hospitality industry, she just might have heard it all. "You have to have a sense of humor in this kind of work," she allows in her smoky alto voice. Like the statue of the African fertility goddess that sits near her cash register, there is something resolute and eternal about Douglas on the job. Despite the quiet storm of emotional activity that surrounds her, she emanates a steady, generous warmth. Watching her serve a stable of locals, one is reminded how much giving there is in listening. She leans far out from behind her fortress to be embraced by the outstretched arms of a patron, a routine ritual of greeting and farewell. Absorbing and deflecting excesses of affection with an easy charm, she moves on to take in the daily snippet of life's long tale from yet another customer. In the background that Stone's ode to acceptance plays on: "But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need."
This darkly hued downtown oasis is ideal for checking your investments while you quaff some refreshments. Sure it's a national chain with a gimmick: a news ticker. But at least it's an informative gimmick. Sit in air-conditioned elegance while the headlines and stock market updates whiz by on the wall. Somehow it's more exciting than watching television over the massive wooden bar. Steeped in sophistication the Capital Grille bar is cigar-friendly and aurally agreeable: A piano player jams nearby from Tuesday through Saturday. There is no happy hour to attract the boisterous riffraff, though you may get to observe how your neighbor at the bar reacts when he loses his shorts on those technology stocks.
Macabi's began as a retail store with one of the best tobacco selections around, as well as some of the best prices. But last June, after the nationwide cigar boom began to wane, owners Henry Vilar and Arturo Sosa transformed their showroom into a smoke room, complete with high-end liquors and cordials. Now, after picking out a hefty Arturo Fuente Hemingway (at seven dollars, not a bad price) in the walk-in humidor, you can settle into a plush chair, sip a Fonseca port, and depending on the night, enjoy music (Friday is latin jazz, Saturday is often blues) or games (Tuesday night the old-school fumadores gather to play dominoes).
Tucked into the extreme south end of downtown Coral Gables, this unassuming ranch-style edifice next to the Knights of Columbus hall has been called the Crown and Garter as well as the English Crown before its current owners gave it a more prosaic moniker a couple of years back. In its latest incarnation as the Gables Pub, it attracts a youngish crowd (more platform shoes, midriffs, and chain wallets than you'd find at your usual Gables gathering place) with its low-key atmosphere, tasty food, and Bass and Guinness on tap. (It skews a little younger on Wednesday's ladies' night and a little smellier on Thursday, when the rugby players show up.) Two narrow inside rooms and the outdoor concrete courtyard filled with tables make it more of a place to hang out than to pick up or throw down -- unless someone's throwing down her last ficha in one of the pitched domino battles that have been known to break out. One oddity: Despite the fact that the gringo quotient is no higher here than anywhere else in the Gables, the jukebox features a veritable rogues' gallery of the worst and the whitest. (Styx, anyone?) Yet the pub is so otherwise inviting, the patrons don't run screaming for the exits.
There's a saying that given enough time, even the town whore becomes respectable. That adage certainly applies to Tobacco Road, rapidly closing in on a century as one of Miami's most cherished watering holes. Once a notorious den of iniquity, the Road now has a family friendly vibe, or at least the atmosphere of an all-American frat party. Sure you'll still find plenty of cops swarming the premises, but unlike the Prohibition Era, these days they're there as (hopefully off-duty) customers. In fact wander out back to the open-air patio to catch a breeze off the river, and you're likely to come across several city prosecutors settling into a beer and a burger. Of course what draws the consistently packed crowds isn't just the locale, the brew, or the pub chow (solid as it may be); it's the music, which remains both very live and thankfully little more than spit-polished. Gaze upon the walls here and you'll spy framed posters immortalizing past Road gigs by protorocker legends such as John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, and Junior Wells, even outer-space soul-jazz visionary Sun Ra, all asserting that the "disco sucks" debate is far from over, at least in this joint. Veteran barflies may grouse that the booking policy is a bit less impressive on the talent front these days, but as last November's George Clinton date here proved, heavy hitters still occasionally grace the stage. Moreover Tobacco Road ensures a steady diet of roots-oriented outfits -- local and national, up-and-coming and unknown -- and continues to be a welcome home within which to wail away, providing a solid bet for an unpretentious, relaxed night out. In a city whose nightlife milieu increasingly is given over to tense stargazing, that says something.
Even if the Haitian music scene is dominated by men, Miami's best venue for live shows is powered by women. "The girls are in charge!" declares McArthur's social director Kathy Giddarie. Since March 1999 general manager Vivian Lazarre's female bartending crew has kept crowds of up to 800 compas fans happy. Out-of-town thrillers such as System, Sweet Mickey, and King Posse alternate with local favorites Zenglen and D-Zine on Friday and Sunday nights. Oldies night on Saturdays brings back the bands of yesteryear, from Haitian memory-makers to influential black acts such as the Temptations. Weekly dance contests put the fans in the spotlight. Since all that compas can work up an appetite, the kitchen is stocked with party foods, including conch fritters and the fried pork known as griot. Vive la femme!