Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Is it over? Fuácata is definitely not over. The weekly Thursday-night party at Hoy Como Ayer, in the heart of Little Havana, had Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair crooning for it, calling it the bastion of Miami's new scene, a cocktail of the old and new Latin experience. The freshness is still in the air, though it is hard to pick up through the musky humidity of so many sweaty bods jam-packed inside. Getting there after midnight might mean no entry thanks to fire codes. The spirit of the night stems from the historical, authentically New World Latin neighborhood, and the nostalgic venue, scattered with autographed pictures of Latin music greats -- Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Celia Cruz to name a few. The soul, though, belongs to the band everyone comes to see, the Spam Allstars. The improvisational modern jazz ensemble mixes a unique Latin funk infusion with an urban bass backdrop courtesy of the group's face and maestro, DJ Le Spam, a.k.a. Andrew Yeomanson. The low roof and seamless sea of people conjure up images of other music sardine cans like Manhattan's old CBGB's. The differences are obviously musical: punk rock for New Age salsa'd funk, and young mohawked moshers for prepped-up Latin lovers of all ages. The big shots in music still come around too. Mick Jagger swung by and danced up a storm, and Ricky Martin partied with his entourage of five great-looking guys. Fuácata is the one circuit party in the city that's always sure to be alive and kicking.
A good neighborhood bar is just as appealing to folks from afar as it is to round-the-way regulars. Hooligan's is that kind of neighborhood bar. College kids from all over town converge on the sports bar on hump day, where the gals really do get wild, up onstage or up on chairs and sometimes just up on anything. Watching sporting events at this joint is second only to being at the game in person. Two theater-size screens broadcast main events, and more than fifteen smaller televisions line the walls of the entire bar/grill. There's a pool hall in the back and an arcade. Of course there are happy-hour specials, a beer stock full of imports, and the best conch fritters this side of Key West.
Readers Choice: Hooligans Pub & Oyster Bar
Some would argue that Flanigan's is more restaurant than bar, disqualifying it from the "Best Bar Food" category. Nonsense. Flanigan's is all bar, albeit a sort of pubby, collegial, take-the-family-for-a-meal bar (as opposed to a sloppy-drunk bar or a pickup bar). From the lacquered wood to the sports and fishing junk on the walls, Flanigan's has all the appropriate bar accoutrements. Most important, Flanigan's has great burgers -- undoubtedly the most important bar food. The chain, with six Miami-Dade locations, even excels at second-tier bar food, like ribs (wash down a plate of Flanigan's ribs with a pitcher of beer and try to claim you're not in a bar) and fish sandwiches.
The real models, the girls and guys down here during the season working German catalogues and Mexican commercials, aren't all that different from you and me. They enjoy a tony soiree every now and then, but the snootiness gets to them too. For regular relaxing they head to Automatic Slim's on Tuesday nights for the "Double Wide" party. It's become the locals' hangout -- at least for locals who don't have to work Wednesday morning. DJ Mark Leventhal spins rock and roll and old-school hip-hop. That's a big draw. Plus the raucous atmosphere, in which you're actually encouraged to dance on tables, is unselfconsciously fun. After a day of being paid to be incredibly self-conscious, that's liberating. "There are a lot of locals, models, photographers," says one booking agent. "It's a friendly, regular atmosphere. Plus the girls that work there are pretty hot." No cover. Domestic beers are four bucks. The most expensive drink they have is eight dollars. Don't show up before 11:00 p.m.
A good bartender takes care of her regulars, knows what they drink, keeps them company, and isn't afraid to tell them to shut up. Margot Love has all of these qualities and then some. The tall blonde with something to say about everything makes sure your glass is always full before putting a thumb on what's making your life half empty. Bartenders are great therapists, aren't they? At least this gal is. She tells it like it is and her tips come cheaper than a psychiatrist's bill. Spilling your guts is fine, just be prepared to be called a whiner. The older gentlemen who lunch every weekday in designated stools around the L-shaped bar at Fox's dimly lit, leather-boothed lounge are aptly named "Margot's babies," though they're all older than her by an undisclosed number of years (she says it is a lot). They say out loud that the food and drink has them sold on the 57-year-old lounge, but a couple admit with a twinkled eye that it's Margot who keeps them coming. They can't get enough of her laugh; it fills the otherwise drowsy room. But spunk, personality, and straight-shooting insight don't make a great bartender. It starts with how the drinks go down, and no one serves up a better Manhattan than Margot.
You're cruising south on U.S. 1, just past the new Home Depot in North Miami, when you see it: a pearl-white Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, glistening under the neon beer signs of a nondescript storefront. That would be The Uke. Inside, a group of aging easy riders are knocking back cold Buds and reminiscing about their track-and-field days at North Miami Senior High School. Their ladies play a game of eight-ball on a cherry-red pool table while Hank Williams, Jr., emanates from the jukebox. Out back, two guys wearing Latin Motorcycle Club jackets roar their hogs to life and disappear into the night.
BEST PARTY TO KEEP THE VIBE ALIVE: Fuácata!
Hoy Como Ayer