Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
For the past 13 years, Theatre de Underground has been a weekly creative free-for-all where Miami's aspiring singer-songwriters, punk rockers, and noise freaks have gathered to strum, scream, and literally crap their pants in hopes of booking a paying gig at the legendary Churchill's Pub. Of course, the talent has never been exclusively musical. As the self-described "most open-minded (and longest-running) open-mike night in town," Theatre de Underground has steadfastly preserved its backyard patio stage's reputation as a lawless, judgment-free zone upon which any humanoid with a performative talent can endeavor to earn fame, fortune, or unshakable shame. Over the past decade and counting, there have been, the evening's overseers say, thousands and thousands of "poets, storytellers, musicians, bands, comedians, magicians, jugglers, and a few things that cannot be categorized." This is the quintessential Miami open-mike night. And it isn't always good. But it's always what the average Churchill's drunk would describe as "fucking entertaining."
Sidebar is packed with contradictions. One of its owners used to work at Opium Group, the bottle-service-king of South Beach that manages clubs like Mansion and SET. Another used to be the manager at Bar, a dearly departed downtown hipster hole in the wall. Their former employers, in other words, represented diametrically different dimensions of Dade nightlife. At Sidebar, the cavernous inside — with black walls, a stage, and a large dance floor — is the perfect place to be drowned in sound and to dance the night away. The ample outdoor area, in contrast, provides a place to catch a break and some conversation. On Wednesday, Sidebar features live jazz, Fridays is for hip-hop, and Saturdays are open format. It's ladies' night on Thursday, when there are the standard free drinks at the beginning of the night for women — but also free ice cream for all. Sidebar can't even be easily geographically categorized. It sits at the juncture of Brickell and Little Havana. And yet all these elements come together perfectly. Sidebar isn't trying too hard to be one thing, but it's not trying too hard to please everyone either. It's just great.
Readers' choice: Ball & Chain
Coyo Taco is a bright, fast-casual taco joint in Wynwood — with a dark secret. To find it, walk past the bathrooms and down the hall. There, you'll find a small, square room, softly lit by novena candles. A DJ plays a mix of soft house music, and people lounge on comfortable sofas. You've found Coyo Taco's hush-hush bar. The small space is home to 50 tequilas and mezcals, all of which can be mixed into the bar's inventive cocktails created by Coyo partner Anna Robbins. There's a banana margarita, called the Anna Bannana (the extra "N" refers to Robbins' childhood nickname), made with a rare Brazilian banana liqueur, and rimmed with sal de gusano, a Mexican salt made with ground gusano worms (the same ones getting drunk at the bottom of your Mezcal bottle). For health nuts falling off the wagon, there's a chia margarita. But with 100-degree heat fast approaching, go for the bar's PaletaRitas ($14). A locally made paleta is cut in half. One part is used in the margarita; the other half serves as both garnish and refreshingly icy swizzle stick. In flavors like cocopassion and chili cucumber, these PaletaRitas are the most refreshing and boozy treat in Miami. The fact that they're served in a secret bar filled with lit effigies of saints pushes the coolness factor off the charts.
You say you want your cheap drinks with a side of ribs? Come on down to Billy's Pub Too, friend. An average bar might have a two-hour window of discounts known as "Happy Hour," but Billy's has its time frame stretched to a full workday. That's correct; it runs an eight-hour Happy Hour from 4 p.m. until midnight with drink specials. It also ups the ante on Thursdays, when you can get 99-cent beer with a valid college ID. If you are looking for more than cheap booze, Billy's boasts four pool tables, a back patio with a tiki bar, and foosball to keep you busy. And don't forget those ribs. Mr. Cobb's kitchen menu has wings, burgers, and Southern sides, but it's the ribs that are completely memorable, sticking Billy's firmly in your mind, teeth, and fingers. You can get a full meal of a quarter rack of ribs and fries for just $8.75. South Beach can keep its $18 cocktails — you'll have a better time up north, where the meat falls off the bone and the drink specials never expire.
Readers' choice: Duffy's Sports Grill
Ball & Chain likes to tout its history — for good reason. The joint opened in 1935, after all, near the tail end of the Great Depression. For two decades, it reigned as one of Miami's most celebrated nightclubs, where greats like Billie Holiday and Chet Baker belted it out nightly. However, it closed in 1957 just as the Cuban immigrants who gave Little Havana its name began arriving in big numbers. It wasn't until last fall that partners Bill Fuller, Zack Bush, and Ben Bush decided to the revive the lounge. Except for the exposed ceiling and rafters, almost everything that was original to Ball & Chain was long gone. From that starting point, the owners painstakingly re-created the 1935 bar. The result isn't just a stunning reconnection to the city's past — it's a happening nightlife spot that's reintroducing the city at large to a neighborhood most people frequent only for the ethnic eats and cigars. Do yourself a favor and grab a spot at the bar to enjoy a mojito ($12) — one of the most authentic versions you'll find in Dade — or a Calle Ocho old-fashioned ($12) that uses tobacco bitters and actual tobacco leaves. Hungry? The Cuban spring roll ($8) takes the Cuban sandwich and wraps it inside a paper-thin dough. And though it's too late to see Holiday perform in person, Ball & Chain keeps the musical spirit alive with DJs, live bands, and singers all week.
Readers' choice: Ball & Chain
This strip-mall space in Hialeah used to be called Our Place — until that dive bar got busted by the feds May 2, 2014, for drug dealing and illegal gambling. Now under new ownership, the bar has gone legit. Architect Landy Lamas and builder Mo Lacayo have given these formerly sleazy digs a major face-lift, a fresh booze list, and a new name, opening as the Bend Liquor Lounge in February 2015. "This was our local watering hole, our favorite dive, until it started going downhill," Lamas told New Times just after the fixed-up boozing spot began slinging drinks. "The bar was opened in the '70s but had been muddled up by shabby remodels. After stripping it down to its bones, we could appreciate its original spirit and decided to build on it. The '70s was a key time for the development of the area, and we thought of nothing more fitting for a quote-unquote local bar." As for the brand of intoxicants being peddled at the Bend, there's $2.50 beer (Miller High Life, Rolling Rock, Coors Banquet, Pabst Blue Ribbon), $6 local pints (Biscayne Bay Brewing, Wynwood Brewing, M.I.A. Brewing), and $8 classic cocktails too. But no more cocaine, weed, or molly. Sorry, old-timers.
Readers' choice: Finka Table & Tap