Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
If it's Friday, it's Cotton Club night at this dive. The joint starts jumping around midnight. A little while later, depending on the number of shouts and stomps, the cozy club is leaping and rolling with the sounds of some of Miami's most accomplished jazz players. Jesse Jones, Jr. -- Liberty City's maestro of bop -- and his combo are the usual anchors, with occasional sets from featured singers. On the barstools old men dance funk to the heated jam sessions. At the tables local musicians and artists swing to the rhythms. If you are aching to taste what jazz might have been like during the Harlem Renaissance, this funky little speakeasy will cook it up. The club is testament to aficionados that bebop and blues are not confined to chrome interiors where the well-heeled listen motionless to the sermon of jazz. The Cotton Club serves its music with homey grit, friendly faces, and a free buffet.
Sometimes the magic is simply in the place. No matter what you call it. No matter how lively Thursday nights get with all those boisterous kids. Fridays and Saturdays after midnight at this little place on the corner of Calle Ocho and SW 22nd Avenue -- with the lights down low and Luis Bofill at the microphone channeling Beny Moré -- today is just like yesterday. All the love you've every felt, all the arms that have ever held you, every kiss still worth remembering comes back to you. Go ahead, slide your hand down his back. Brush your lips across the nape of her neck. Nobody's watching. And if they are, they're smiling.
Your generic Cheers-type bar -- a neighborhood hangout that could be located in Anywhereville, USA -- feels fine most of the time. But when you want a brew at a bar that screams, "Hey, this here's Florida!" there's only one place in Miami: Jimbo's. Which isn't actually a bar. Officially it's a bait shop, tucked away at Shrimpers' Lagoon on Virginia Key. Unofficially it's an authentic time warp, a ramshackle compound of boats and trailers and derelict cars crowded around an assortment of brightly colored shacks (backdrops for fashion shoots), outdoor tables, and as mixed a crowd as you'll find anywhere. It's been there nearly 50 years, which makes it a venerable institution in a place like South Florida. And it's all presided over by the ageless Jim Luznar, easily identified by baseball cap and perpetual stogie. For sale: live bait, smoked fish, and lots of cold beer. For free: a delightfully pleasant menagerie of fisherfolk, models, suit-and-tie businessmen on extremely extended lunch breaks, weekend bikers, and a full range of locals looking to sit by the water, maybe fish a little, watch the wandering chickens, play some bocce on Jimbo's two open-air courts, bask in the warm weather with a brew, chat about this and that with complete strangers, and just be there.
Miami is a late-night kind of place, so it makes more sense for happy hours to begin late. At Fox's little den of iniquity, it's two-for-one on whatever you're drinking (barring the top shelf and imported beer), from 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Saturday nights. "It's standing-room-only, honey -- a lot of fun," assures the bartender in her smoke-deepened cackle. Fox's is a timeless, crimson-hued twilight zone, the darkened Fifties lounge of beat poets and deadbeats, of those looking for their future ex-wives, of slumming college students and aging hipsters. Slip down low into the deep booths. Enjoy the sounds of the free house jukebox, which admirably covers every era since the place was founded in 1946. Have a drink. Have two. (Fox's also hosts a conventional happy hour from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. every day.) Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday; 5:00 p.m. to midnight Sunday. Hungry? Fox's prime-rib special is way cool.
Not everyone is destined for fame and glory, but at this quintessential karaoke club, one can sure as heck pretend. Here the extremely vocally challenged rub shoulders with the karaoke fanatics, and anyone with the nerve to get up on the raised stage in front of the tipsy and boisterous crowd on the dance floor is guaranteed to be rewarded -- with at least a few minutes of fame and a great adrenaline rush. The club boasts over 18,000 songs in several languages (although a manual count has not officially been conducted), which are displayed in a well-lit and less chaotic corner of the bar for serious browsing. And for the musically talented who prefer to keep their mouths shut, the owner/host -- who dresses like Elvis but otherwise keeps a low profile, making his presence known from a dark corner of the bar only via brief spoken interludes -- extends an open invitation to come up and jam on the drums, guitar, or any number of instruments onstage. Everyone may not be created equal, but at least at Studio, everyone is given a shot. Hours of operation are from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Karaoke is available seven days a week. No cover charge.
Meander up and down Washington Avenue on a Saturday night and there's no shortage of clubbing options -- from small and loungy to sprawling and manic. There's even a host of nightspots across the Bay attempting to give South Beach a run for its late-night money. But if you're looking to dance -- period -- crobar remains a sure bet for a sweaty night out. The door policy, while hardly anything-goes, is still relatively relaxed (by Beach standards, at least). Guys, bring a girl, leave the Guido look at home, and you should have little problem clearing the doorstaff. And once you've hurdled the velvet rope, you'll find marquee-name DJs utilizing crobar's top-notch PA to keep the gyrating crowd working it out on the dance floor 'til dawn. Just slide into the middle of it all, tip your head back, and let yourself go. After all, that's why you hit South Beach in the first place, right?
BEST JAZZ NIGHT: Three Fingers Lounge