Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
In a drab Kendall strip mall, right in front of Porky's Gym II, hides a jazz open-mike night that would make WLRN stalwart Len Pace proud. Every Thursday, a different South Florida jazz band jams until midnight on the stage in the backroom of this Cuban seafood joint. By 7 p.m., the nautically-themed room fills with goateed guys sporting berets and carrying harmonicas in their pockets. No reservations needed, and no cover at the door. Better yet, no signup for the open mike. Papa Joe, the avuncular musical director, rules the jazzy alcove like a benevolent overlord. When he sees a regular who can sing, or someone who's brought an instrument, he'll invite them up to jam. And the food is cheap too: The late-night menu includes 99-cent garlic bread, two-for-one $3 Buds, and $7.99 chicken wings. All of that would be enough to set the Fish House apart from every other open-mike in the county, but it actually hosts two other nights: Wednesday is reserved for rock, and Mondays for blues.
This local watering hole has a nocturnal name, but it does a fantastic job catering to early-morning boozers. Nite Cap opens at 7 a.m. six days a week. The first happy hour runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. So if you're in the mood for a beer or a Jameson on the rocks for breakfast, head to this 30-year-old wonder. There you will run into easygoing locals from North Dade and maybe even Southeast Broward who enjoy a low-key party vibe and low prices. The joint's walls, bar, and tables are decorated in ancient Miami Dolphins regalia, commemorating the team's glory years. Stop by and get to know bar wench Kelly, a peach of a lady who knows all the regulars. The place officially closes at 2 a.m. but — shhh, don't tell the Man — has been known to operate extended hours. On the Lord's Day, however, Nite Cap gives patrons a chance to go to church services and repent by opening at 12:30 p.m. During NFL season, the bar offers free hot dogs, kielbasa, and sliders all afternoon on game days.
Brickell Irish Pub gives Miami's scene stealers a fresh new place to get gritty. Opened last year, it's a place where cosmos and Cuba libre's are traded for Guinness and Jameson. The place is regularly slammed with a crowd that overflows onto the bar's outside terrace. Inside, it might take you a minute or two to reach the bar, but kilt-clad waiters and waitresses keep the $12 drinks coming. Live bands frequent the 6,000-square-foot warehouse-style bar at least six nights a week and play on a stage that resembles an antique library. The pub also keeps the clean and sober occupied and content with a pool table, darts, and 20 plasma TV screens. The crowd is mixed, and while the music selections vary, the tunes are those best sung by an entire bar full of drunks — i.e., anything by the Police, Sublime, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Nightly themes span the week, including Monday poker night, Wednesday rock night, and Sunday dedicated to all things sports. The bar is open Sunday through Wednesday noon to 2 a.m. and Thursday through Saturday noon to 3 a.m.
Miami has so much natural beauty that it's unfortunate most of our bars and clubs revel in synthetic aesthetics: the intricate design, the electronic beats blaring through speakers, the surgically altered bodies of the people let past the polyester velvet rope. Luckily, there are a few places that still put nature's beauty on display. One of them is Wetlab on the University of Miami campus on Virginia Key. The patio affords an unobstructed view of undeveloped Biscayne Bay in all its glory, while the bar offers a full selection of sanely priced drinks in all their different but equally breathtaking glory. Yes, Wetlab is on a college campus, but it's open to the public, and the grad students here form a far different crowd from those you'll find at the Rathskeller on UM's Coral Gables campus. The only real drawback is that Wetlab is open only Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and Friday from 4:30 to 11 p.m.
Chances are you've hummed the pop culture-heavy Champs tune "Tequila" before, maybe even done the Pee-wee dance while under the influence. Or you might have had a Sandlot-esque moment. Tequila is not for the faint of heart, and El Scorpion has boldly created a long, backlit bar that houses more than 120 blue agave spirits, including Patrón's golden child: Gran Patrón Burdeos. First it's aged in American and French oak for at least a year, and then it's racked in vintage Bordeaux barrels. A shot goes for $100. Don't come here expecting all of those frou-frou drinks you'll find at the chain bars. El Scorpion sticks to the basic goods. And the bar food includes five guacamoles and four salsas, so "Tequila" might be the theme for many nights to come.
A Miamian's dilemma: You want to enjoy all the great things about Lincoln Road — the unparalleled people-watching, the sidewalk-café ambiance under gently lit palms, the crackling South Beach energy. But you're a local. You're not about to fall for the ol' hot-Ukrainian-model-waving-a-menu-in-your-face ploy, and you're sure as hell not going to spend 200 bucks just to relax in the shade for a couple of hours. Who would have thought that a wine bar, of all the bourgeois haunts, would come to the rescue? Eno's Winebar Café is a slim and stylish storefront in the middle of Lincoln Road Mall, lit with an audacious red chandelier and stocked with hundreds of wines. Best of all, Eno's rotating cast of vinos is hooked to a high-tech sampling machine. You can "charge" a plastic card with as much cash as you'd like and then taste away with a splash of that Armand de Brignac or a full glass of the Leroy Bourgogne Rouge. Shady outdoor tables alongside a gently gurgling fountain are the perfect setting for finally enjoying Lincoln like a local.