Does paying $20 to enter a South Beach club where you have the privilege of plunking down $9 per drink leave your bank account a bit barren? Don't worry -- if it's a low-dough night you're looking for, then stumble no further than Loco Thursday at Iguana Cantina. Be forewarned that scores of college drinkers and cheap alcohol go hand in hand, but when the cover charge is a hefty $1, and 50-cent margaritas and draft beers are available until 5:00 a.m., chances are eventually you won't care who you're drinking with.
Last year we ranted over the debasement of this most refined of cocktails. Haplessly clutched to the noxious bosom of mass culture, the martini recently had been drained of its noble heritage and left to molder as a pop icon. Uncomprehending amateurs ordered facsimiles of them by the millions from uninitiated bartenders -- with disastrous results. And no one seemed to care. No one! For chrissakes, a martini is not a beer! In our recommendation we grumpily retreated to that lonely bastion of tradition, the deluxe American steak house, where a martini is, without fail, straight up, very dry, and made only with fine gin. Now we're happy to announce the dark cloud is lifting, slowly but surely. Here are two quite different venues with one thing in common: a proper respect for our beloved elixir. Mark's South Beach should come as no surprise as it perfectly fulfills two of our criteria for ensuring martini success: It is a restaurant with a bar attached, and it is a top-quality restaurant. Located in the exquisitely refurbished Nash Hotel, Mark Militello's latest culinary temple includes a sleek and cozy bar separate from the dining rooms, so you can pop in for a splendid martini unannounced, whereas dinner reservations must be made well in advance. At the other end of the swankiness spectrum, as it were, we have the new incarnation of Big Fish, hard by the Miami River. The location and ambiance here are acknowledged elsewhere in this compendium of superlatives. But let it not go unnoticed that this version of Big Fish also includes a full bar -- and a bar staff fully conversant in the complex language of a deceptively simple drink: chilled gin, vermouth, garnish. The informality at Big Fish blends easily with the sublime pleasure of a perfectly prepared martini. One olive, please.
Delano South Beach
The bar in Chris Blackwell's hotel has been a consistent standout for nine years. It hasn't had to reinvent itself to grab attention, like a plastic-surgeried Palm Beach matron. Instead it has remained confident in its own cool. The lounge's brushed-steel interior provides a refined platform in which to sit and sip a drink. The bartenders are swift and attentive. But if you're with friends, you may prefer the more intimate setting down in the so-called opium den, a cozy little enclave decorated with Middle Eastern drapes, couches, and cushions. Most nights the den offers live music (a mix of salsa, jazz, and R&B). Beverage prices vary from four to nine dollars, and whether it's an old standby like a martini or a house specialty such as the blue marlin -- a blend of light rum, blue curaçao, lemon juice -- it's always served in a copious goblet.
Great ambiance can only make a cocktail taste better. Not that the Strand's bloody mary needs much help. The house recipe -- fashioned with hearty tomato juice and a masterful blend of vodka, horseradish, garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice, Worcestershire, and Tabasco sauce -- is a winning combination. Complement the eye-popping beverage with a clear view of the Atlantic from the Strand's outdoor deck and the fresh sea air, and you have a concoction that will not only help you shake any of the previous evening's evils, but also put an energetic first step in your day.
Fox's Sherron Inn
The dim lighting, the cramped, blood-red faux-leather booths, the dark wood paneling. Even though the place is clean, somehow when you're here, you feel ... dirty. Like, if you're not already having an affair or planning a bank robbery, you oughta be. Funny how the place also manages to feel welcoming, in a seedy sort of way. Must be that two-for-one happy hour (9:00 to 11:00 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays) on already-inexpensive drinks, or that deelicious menu. All the usual bar food suspects are here: burgers, chicken fingers, fries. And the French dip? It's the French dippiest. Slink on in for some clandestine fun. Use a fake name, and for God's sake, don't use your credit card. No one must know.

Strange how the beautiful people flock together. Even stranger is the number of places in which they choose to converge that close. Bar Room, for instance. The club converted an upstairs space into the Moon Bar, a watering hole especially for the modeling industry. The fabulati came in droves. Unfortunately for owner Chris Paciello, so did the feds. (We all know the story.) Recently sold, Bar Room is shuttered until the fall. On a lighter note was Monday's at Brandt's Break. The quarter beers and live music made it a must-stop for every set of high cheekbones on the Beach. Even though the place closed its doors, the party stayed alive and moved to Señor Frog's, but it's not quite the same. Enter the Living Room, a virtual magnet for every comely person who ever posed in front of a camera. Who knows if it's the Euro trash oozing cash, the distinctive bordello-chic décor, or the intimate back area dubbed the Joy Room that attracts the genetically (and cosmetically) blessed? Whatever the reason the beautiful people keep coming. Whether it's to attend the legendary Wednesday-evening party; the recently imported, hip Sunday-night soirée, Hercules; or one of many bashes hosted by magazines or modeling agencies, the bevy of beauties gliding through the door never seems to end.

Duffy's Tavern
What distinguishes a truly sophisticated sports bar from the run-of-the-mill? The intelligent details, coach. For instance clever television placement, such as a stack of two TVs on a cigarette machine. Large wooden tables that provide excellent acoustics by softening brash television sound waves. An extensive collection of old beer taps hanging upside down from some rafters to help you ponder the meaning of life during commercials. Bartenders with a knowing glint in their eyes offering a selection of twenty draft beers. Weekly two-dollar pint specials. A rack of Sports Illustrated magazines to keep you abreast of important cultural developments. And delicious smoked fish, of course.
Long a glittery weekend salsa pit, Club Millennium now offers a welcome respite to Latin rockers who complain they get no respect in Miami. The Doral-area disco caters to the South American kids of the city's western suburbs with a Thursday-night series of the best Latin rock acts from Tijuana to Buenos Aires. Heavy on the frenzied sounds of the Southern Cone, the new era of Rock en Español began in January 2000 with Argentine underground institution Los Pericos. In March fellow porteño Fito Paez drew the biggest crowd to date. The fanatic exuberance of Fito-starved fans pissed off the formerly radical rocker as he tried to play a toned-down set of his best-loved tunes on piano with nothing but a bass accompaniment. Flapping his arms like a Muppet, Paez implored the crowd to shut the doors, indulge in an orgy, then listen quietly to his music in the postclimactic calm. Somebody set off the sprinkler system by waving his lighter in the air instead. One way or the other, Club Millennium is letting Miami get its Spanish-language rock off like never before.

Since when do people dance at a karaoke night? Patrons usually are too busy cringing from the wails of the aspiring vocalist at the mike to consider boogying. But every Wednesday evening at Hooligan's, a neighborhood crew unabashedly jumps up and cuts the rug to the sounds of a seemingly endless stream of would-be starlets gracing the stage. Of course it's possible that people are dancing because they're soused from the cheap ladies' night drinks. Who knows and, frankly, who cares? The ladies' night and karaoke combo provokes more singing and dancing than if either theme night stood on its own. It's also more fun.
Alabama Jack's
Both pipes open up on a stretch of road as long and flat as the devil's driveway, and that damn tropical sun beats down on you like a mess o' troopers on road-kill day. Your machine's growling like a hungry lion, and your ol' lady starts whining that she'd like something to drink. Problem is, nothing around. You could backtrack to some fast-food joint in a mall near Florida City, or follow that endless black ribbon south to where the mangroves muscle out the sun and you get a little shade. Screw it. You keep your knees in the breeze until you hit Alabama Jack's, a biker-friendly white-trash tiki hut with pizzazz. The hogs are lined up by the split-rail fence like horses at a hitching post. The bar is perched over the water, so a cool wind always blows. Now your baby's changed her tune: She's cooing what a good idea this was. You kick up your boots, lean back, and rub your tattooed belly as the waitress plunks down a cold one. This'll do, this'll do. Jack's, now in its 52nd year, is open seven days a week, from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®