For over a century, Tobacco Road has made its home at 626 S. Miami Avenue, surviving 13 years of prohibition, Miami's lawless Cocaine Cowboys days, even the destruction of Hurricane Andrew.
But Miami's oldest speakeasy turned gambling hall turned nudie bar turned drinking den will soon be sold. And it will be moving down the street. For now, though, the Road is bringing the past to life with The Cocktail Collection.
Photo by Alex Markow
The 101-year-old bar's co-owner Patrick Gleber recently partnered with mixologist Leo Holtzman to recreate the days when Tobacco Road's second floor was a hidden speakeasy, where some of the Magic City's most notorious gangsters and criminals, including Al Capone, used to drink, gamble, and hide from the cops.
Gleber and Holtzman have taken the Road back to its roots by adding a cocktail bar with ten specialty concoctions and retrofitting the upstairs space to give it an "upscale cocktail lounge meets modern-day speakeasy feel."
"It's a hidden room," Holtzman says. "You can go to Tobacco Road and not even know it's there. It's like the secret party spot."
But the "loungey, more homey and welcoming" energy of the Cocktail Collection is nothing like the rest of the Road.
"The vibe is totally different," admits booking manager Eric Garcia. "Downstairs, it's the same 'ol Tobacco Road. But when you walk upstairs, you don't know where the hell you're at," he laughs. "It's clean and the drinks are delicious."
In contrast to the blues and rock usually heard on the patio, the music at the Cocktail Collection will be, as Holtzman insists, "as eclectic as possible."
"We've had tap dancers, jazz singers, guitar players," the mixologist says. "You should never really expect anything, just to have a great time and experience something new."
Of course, though, with the fate of the Road still to be determined, it seems odd to invest time and money into renovating something that may be demolished in a few years.
"I think the owner, Patrick, accepted it because he wanted everything to evolve a little before the Road closes," Garcia suggests.
"People are like, 'Why are you changing up and putting all this money into it?' It's completely remodeled. I think Patrick wanted it to be relevant before it closed down and moved."
While Garcia and Holtzman aren't certain about the renovation project's exact cost, the bartender, whose brother designed the Cocktail Collection, says, "It was nothing crazy."
"We really did touch it up. We cleaned up the edges, and gave it a bit of a paint job. We didn't spend millions on it, even though it looks like we did."
The property on which Tobacco Road stands was purchased for $12.5 million in 2012 with the guarantee to remain there until May 2015. Last month, Gleber announced that plans were being made to sell the bar to the Road's employees and relocate it.
"He understands that times start to evolve," Garcia insists. "The Road is gonna close, but it's gonna move and you have to keep on evolving the branding."
"You can't just not do something because it's not gonna be there forever," Holtzman points out. "So we thought, 'Why not do it?' The time is right, and we think this is what Brickell needs, to build a cocktail culture."
But is the Cocktail Collection's upscale vibe an allusion to what's next for the Road?
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"Tobacco Road is always gonna keep it real," Garcia assures. "It's never gonna be something it's not."
The Cocktail Collection at Tobacco Road. 626 S. Miami Ave., Miami. The lounge opens from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Tonight is tHERSday with Carly Jo Jackson at 9:30 p.m.Ladies drink 2-for-1 cocktails all night. Call 305-374-1198 or visit tobacco-road.com/upstairs.