Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
They say Calle Ocho is coming back. If they spent a Saturday night at La Reina, they'd see Calle Ocho has stayed pretty much where it's been for the past 40 years, right here in funky Little Havana, the first stop on many immigrants' road to the American dream. They drift in as the night progresses: the Honduran brothers looking to down a few beers (signs all over warn in Spanish: NO BEER SERVED WITHOUT FOOD, an accommodation to a past police crackdown on bars masquerading as cafeterias -- sort of like this one), dance with a waitress, and maybe find a chica to make them forget the ones they left behind in San Pedro Sula. The ancient Cuban man in a jacket and fedora who'll spend the night guaracheando like he's back in Pinar del Río, Latin classics blaring from the jukebox. The mysterious white-haired man, who sips beer and coffee while musing to himself in a Slavic language, as though attempting to maintain proficiency in the midst of so many Latin tongues. A young couple with babies, two or three women with young children. Nothing so far to get the Honduran brothers' hopes up. But the night is young. Long past midnight everyone's dancing under the fluorescent lights. Even though the customers will straggle out when 2:00 a.m. rolls around, many will be back first thing in the morning, lounging around a sidewalk table and watching the American dream unfold before them in all its mixed-up, faded glory.
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!"