Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Up the escalator from the flashing lights and ringing soundtrack of the gaming center, just outside the all-you-can-eat buffet, is a watering hole filled with low tables, comfy purple chairs, and a sleek fake black-marble bar. The studiedly swank, friendly bartenders and promptly replenished bowls of peanuts are not the attraction, though. What lends the spot charm is the easy intimacy shared by strangers thrown together unexpectedly. The Martini Bar is not a destination, not the reason people visit this monolith on the edge of the Everglades. It's a means of escape. Husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, relatives, and folks from the more than 100 conventions that book this location annually drop in here. Some are waiting for a pal or partner to finish a heavy bingo run. Others are taking a break from a lecture and looking to unwind. Maybe knowing that the person on the next barstool knows nothing about them, or maybe looking to kill time, strangers strike up conversations. On a long-distance bus trip, people spill their life stories. Here there isn't time, so the conversation and emotion are kept to a minimum. Also missing: exhaust fumes and grimy rest stops. You can disembark anytime you're ready.
South Beach may be slipping as a club hot spot, but it's not Opium's fault. The Asian-theme restaurant south of Fifth Street transmogrifies late at night into the raunchy, ostentatious epicenter of superficial glitz. Opium has emerged as the very best place for middle-age men to display their topless table-dancing (and often teenage) trophy chicks. Ergo the waitstaff at street-level Café Tabac, located directly below the joint, is inured to the unusual. "On Halloween," one waitress told us, "there was a woman who came down here in a completely transparent garbage bag, wearing no underwear and no bra. She pointed to a tear in her plastic bag and asked if we had a stapler." Suitably sutured, the reveler scurried upstairs, back into the still-breathing soul of South Beach.
Lola, light of my night, fire of my martinis. My gin, my elbow. How your bar resembles the beautiful hull of a little wooden ship. How we sail, suspended from the gunwales through the mists that come from the hidden swirls of the DJ-magicians. There is water, water, everywhere, but everyone prefers alcoholic beverages. O Captain! My Captain! We need another round! Exult O pool table and rack O balls! Where lies the land to which yon ship must go? One with no cover charges or attitude from velvet-rope power-trippers. (And these are not the only martinis that we may share, my Lola.)
It's almost a disservice to call Norman's steaks, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers "bar food." The term implies food for an empty stomach and churning head (or is it the other way around?), and Lord knows anything that'll soak up that last drink or two you shouldn't have had usually qualifies as good eats in the wee hours of the morning. Norman's offerings, on the other hand, are just plain delicious: caesar and caprese salads, mahi-mahi fingers (lightly battered and fried), tenderloin sandwiches, black Angus burgers, and chicken Philly cheese sandwiches, in addition to the usual bar fare. Feel like having an honest-to-goodness sit-down dinner? Try the filet mignon, porterhouse chops, or grilled fresh fish. And don't worry, you've got all night to work up an appetite -- the kitchen stays open until 2:00 a.m.
When the delicate beauties of fall and winter descend on South Beach like migrating swans, a lot of people want their attention. It can all get a little overwhelming. To relax they need a low-key atmosphere. The Monday-night party called the Beehive inside Penrod's cavernous beachside structure is just the place. After all, most working stiffs don't go out on Mondays, so the pretty pixies can cavort in relative abandon. The sand-in-your-sandals vibe also helps take the mood down a notch. It's a good night to kick back, have a beer, and forget the world is watching. So if you go, remember: Don't stare.
Banyan tree, very pretty. And the mixed drinks are sweet. But the fruit of the banyan? You definitely do not want to eat that. You, however, have come to this tree not to eat but to quench your thirst, breathe fresh air, and marvel at our beautiful little toxic river. Were it not for the neon stripes of the elevated Metrorail line and the colorful Bank of America tower aglow in the distance, you might think you were in Baton Rouge. Enjoy this quiet postindustrial oasis on the fringes of downtown Miami while it lasts, because just across the water lies one of the preferred sites for a new baseball stadium. Which means that one day you might hear a crowd roar in the distance and a conversation at the bar much like this:
"Ouch! This here banyan tree's droppin' its fruit."
"That weren't no banyan fruit. That was a baseball!"