Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Café Nostalgia's return to Miami Beach this year brought Havana and Calle Ocho a bit closer to the land of sea and sand. The club turned a much-loved back-door Spanish tavern into a cozy cabaret with a Latin speakeasy flair. Decorated with old music photographs and a modern video screen, it's the only place on the Beach to effectively capture the essence of Cuba's past and present. That is also evident onstage, where audiences can find a healthy diet of traditional son and salsa during the early hours and a descarga creativa (literally a creative discharge) as Latin artists drop their tourist getups and jam to their own fusion beat later into the night.
A native of New Jersey, Terri Weisbert has spent the past seven years behind the bar (and sometimes helping out on the floor) at Flanigans Seafood Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove. In 2005 Terri, who sported a lifetimes worth of glossy coal-black hair that fell past her waist, had it chopped to a buzz and donated her long locks to make wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy. This year Terri organized and helped sponsor a 26-mile marathon for runners of differing abilities. One of those who completed the course was Terris twin sister, an able-bodied athlete.
What is your greatest triumph?
It's vain to call it a triumph, but I feel great when I forget about myself and get involved in causes for other people, even though it's them who help me. And of course every day I spend in Miami -- with our beautiful beaches, great weather, and wonderful assortment of people -- makes me a winner.
On a humid Saturday night, the svelte bodies corralled behind velvet ropes on Washington Avenue wait like sheep. For a few hours every weekend, the doorman assumes the position of a god, saving a few wretched souls from the hell of mediocrity by permitting them entrance into Miami's nightlife heaven. The rest of the would-be clubgoers are deemed unworthy for their lack of money, designer clothes, affluence, or fake boobs, and they disappear into the gloomy fog of rejected revelers. But there is salvation for those tired of chi-chi clubs with pompous door attitudes and hollow patrons. The Aquabooty party does not subscribe to any of the beliefs from the SoBe bible of upturned noses. Far from the megaclubs and megaegos that dominate a few miles south, Aquabooty has found a homey haven in Glass at the Forge. Although most parties fizzle out like flat soda within a year's time, Aquabooty has kept the spirit of house music alive for five years strong, which is like 50 in party years. House-heads have Joe "Budious" Gray and Tomas Ceddia to thank for the infectious beats and topnotch guest DJs. Beyond the realm of promoting, Gray and Ceddia have been drilled in the day-to-day management of running a nightclub. "We've owned our own clubs, we've signed all the checks, we understand what it really takes to run a business, and that's been able to equate to what we do," explains Budious. In addition to business smarts, the Aquabooty boys' success can also be traced to their preference of intimate, low-key parties and smooth house music over massive commercial blowouts. "[Aquabooty] was never a commercial venture," says Ceddia. "We're not going to let anyone consume us so that we lose sight of who we are and lose our autonomy." Right on. Patrons partying it up at Aquabooty don't have to worry about traffic, lines, parking, or discrimination at the door. "If you're a high roller, there's a $5 valet," jokes Budious. In addition to a stress-free ambiance, the bootylicious duo books some of the hottest DJs in the industry. The roster of guest DJs includes Osunlade, DJ Harvey, Danny Krivit, Neil Aline, and Miguel Migs. "We're reaching that reputation where DJs want to play our party," beams Budious. The pair has found that the keys to success are based not on profit and marketability but keeping it real with good music and a welcoming vibe. "We book stuff we really love; we only work with people who are cool and who we connect with on a personal level," says Ceddia, who sums up the driving force behind five years of fond memories: "The love of music."
Magnum's unadorned concrete exterior walls hug a corner on the 79th Street Causeway and leave the impression of nothing more than a local dive. But like all diamonds in the rough, Magnum's bland façade is a stark contrast to its lush, romantic interior. The décor is red like painted lips that leave a trace of their kiss on a crystal goblet. Further accentuating the lusty theme is the pervading darkness that shrouds strangers in mystery as they sip their cocktails under a curtain of shadows. The dim atmosphere and piano player make Magnum seem as if it has been untouched by the outside world since Rat Packers ruled the bar scene. But alas, that isn't Bogart in the corner booth, sipping a gin and tonic. Revelers nostalgic for that old-school plush intimacy not found in today's ever-popular sports bars can step into the past through the back-door entrance, where clandestine conversations and stiff cocktails make vintage souls feel at home. Cool cats on a budget can enjoy $3 margaritas every Sunday after 5:00 p.m.
The reggae-ska trio Kayak Man has been rocking steady this year, opening for the U2 tribute band UV, competing in the Latin Funk Festival's Battle of the Bands, and offering weekly shows at I/O. The band's sound is fresh yet nostalgic, with influences ranging from old-school Bob Marley to Manu Chau. The bandmates have also been known to stroll Ocean Drive, humming Beach Boys songs when they thought nobody was listening. Kayak Man's playful music is accompanied by light, wistful lyrics about love, lust, and the challenges poor dishwashers face in scoring hot, high-maintenance girls in South Beach. The band, which hails from South America, hopes to release its first album this summer, a perfect accompaniment for those lazy days of sunning in the sand.
It's Thursday night, and outside Scully's Tavern a bevy of bearded, leather-clad bikers can be seen smoking cigarettes and knocking back brewskies as they admire the line of motorcycles surrounding the entrance. Some of the hogs sport as much bling as a tricked-out Chevy Monte Carlo, but most of them keep with the classic Harley look. Inside, burly dudes wrap their arms around their beer-swilling sweeties while singles eye-out potential hookups. A few scattered punk rockers can be found enjoying the classic rock tracks among the bandanas and mullets. Someone requests a salsa song and the crowd gets more hyped than it was for "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." They may be bikers, but this is still Miami and there's no lack of representation for the Hispanic community. All of those pitchers of beer show their effect when the DJ drops 69 Boyz's "Let Me Ride That Donkey." The girls drop down like they're riding their bikes over a bumpy road while the guys hoot and holler. The shenanigans begin at 9:00 p.m. and there's never a cover, but always a good time.
The bloody mary comes in a variety of manifestations, from tepid tomato juice to lava with a celery stick. Any decent bloody mary must meet two criteria: It must be large, and it must be spicy. Archie's excellent concoction ($7.50) comes in a pint glass (garnished with an eight-inch celery stick, of course) and contains enough pepper to bite though not enough to scald. Archie's austere version of this classic drink is simple and delicious. And it gets you drunk. If you're planning on consuming two or more of them, you should probably accompany the liquor with some of Archie's excellent food (try the grilled chicken and couscous).
Yes, yes, Sasha and John Digweed killed at Winter Music Conference, Tisto's parties are great fun if you can get in, and Desyn Masiello and the guys in Deep Dish are hot. These turntablists and many, many others make Miami a DJ mecca. Yet even though these elite are in Miami frequently, they are not from Miami and are just as likely to be in Amsterdam, Los Angeles, or Buenos Aires as they are at Space. You're not going to run into them in the produce aisle at Publix; they're not going to buy you a drink after you fight with your boyfriend at Glass. This cannot be said of Deejay Smeejay, who is in the house and in full effect every day and every night right here in our city (and who will get you that vodka tonic before the first tear smears your Manic Panic mascara). Smeejay has what you might call "residencies" at the Marlin and at Automatic Slim's, and he plays lots and lots of private parties for everyone from jewelry emporium Teno to Ocean Drive magazine. His playlist varies depending on the venue, his clients' instructions, and his mood (he sometimes reads the New York Post during particularly introverted sets). But Smeejay is the real deal, a guy who came up through the days of mixing twelve-inch vinyl of the Barkays and Danse Society with each disc's beats per minute marked in red ink on the label. He has easily segued to digital with nary a second of nostalgia, keeping him a viable player. And Smeejay is happy to share; he regularly dances his ass off at clubs all around town, giving love and appreciation to today's superstar DJs as well as lending a hand to the up-and-comers. Oh, yeah, and he donates his talents each year to the White Party and other charities benefitting those less fortunate. Rock on, Deejay Smeejay.
Although the Bang! Festival this past November didn't blow up like organizers had hoped, those who did show up, and stuck it out until the end, got their money's worth. Looking like Cirque du Soleil on acid, New York-based electro-pop group Fischerspooner was the antithesis of the stand-and-spin DJs who had been working the turntables all day. The band and back-up singers appeared first in kaleidoscopic unitards. Then lead singer Casey Spooner was wrapped in white, gauzy bandages, which dancers then unraveled. Costume changes, stage antics that included climbing scaffolding, and general flamboyance -- Spooner and his entourage never let the energy level dip below 500 bpm.
Punk/indie-rock show promoter extraordinaire New Art School began this series early last year in the hope of giving local bands and local artists alike some face time. While each show boasted a different theme -- a Guided by Voices tribute, for example -- one factor remains constant: These events are always packed. There have been five to date, and be on the lookout for more. Someone who takes the initiative to celebrate music and art -- in the same place, at the same time -- certainly deserves a high-five.
La Covacha is Spanish for "The Shack," which is fitting, because this Latin dance club in Doral is, well, a big-ass shack. The only difference between this oversize tiki hut and your typical shanty is that this one tends to draw hordes that are willing to stand behind a velvet rope and wait in a line to get in. Waiting to get into a shack? Velvet rope? Once you're in on a Friday night, between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., it'll all make sense. The shack is actually a huge club space, where the whole crowd dances, hot and sweaty, to the sounds of live superstars like Andrea Echeverri, local Latin rock bands, or one of the many regular DJs who spin anything Latin and danceable. Even if you move like a complete idiot, the crowd is so large and the environment so friendly you'll feel totally unselfconscious (a couple of the happy-hour drinks will help too). If you get hungry from all the booty-shaking, La Covacha's full kitchen offers traditional Cuban cuisine. The cover is $10, and you must be 21 or older.
Even those blessed with an ironclad constitution will find themselves hacking from the stench of spilled booze and cigarette smoke ripening this dimly lighted joint. And that's while standing on the sidewalk before venturing inside. This seedy storefront establishment may not be much to look at, and those tarantulas and hedgehogs displayed in the pet-shop window next door do pass for kissing kin to regulars at the watering hole, but then you ask yourself: Why is it always packed? Hungry? Forget about it. Feel like dancing? Stay away. Lost the job and want to drown your sorrows with that last ten spot before hitting the skids? Cheer up -- the hooch fairy always smiles on the piss broke at this throwback paradise for the down and out. Best of all, this dive is open 21 hours a day. Day in and day out the Rock serves up three well drinks or domestic beers for five bucks a batch until 8:00 p.m. and at a cheaper-than-fuel $2.50 each after that. The place draws a mixed crowd -- from your pickled zombies, to your natty business dudes stretching the budget to make alimony payments, to the rare fading beauty scoping you out with her twitchy come-hither gaze. A half-dozen TV sets and sports fans ready to scrap over stats at the blow of a whistle keep the din deafening. An occasional raid or a panhandler cozying up for a free beer adds to the decidedly skeevy charm. It's difficult to think of anywhere else in town where you can be a good sport and buy a stranger a round with your last dime, and maybe for all the down-at-the-heels patina, that's why the Rock keeps reeling them in.