Snaking down the dirt roads to get to this ranch off the Florida Turnpike at Okeechobee is half the fun, especially after dark. Tires hug the earth as cars squeeze between oncoming traffic and the crops crowding the fields. Weekend party animals give way to four-footed friends during the week. Horses drink water out of troughs in the parking lot. For recent immigrants Rancho Gaspar brings memories of La Tropical, the huge open-air emporium on the outskirts of Havana that holds the world's record for the longest-lasting salsa party. The crowd looks much the same as you'd find at La Tropical, with a high spandex count and more than a few glints of gold teeth. Families abound, from babes in arms to abuelitas with walkers. Out in the barn, the four-to-eight-year-old crowd has a monopoly on the pool table. Teenagers smooch in the pasture. The fun begins at two on Sunday afternoons, with music and pony rides. One or two Sundays per month musical acts such as Cuba's Manolín and the Dominican Republic's Oro Solido play live. Saturday nights a DJ spins salsa hits from Victor Manuelle to Issac Delgado, with the latest in merengue and bachata thrown in. Who cares if owner Gaspar Olazabal is a bit gruff at the door? The bartenders and waitresses are friendly, the beer is cheap, and the food is plentiful.
So, your baby left you the same day you lost your job, and when you got home the landlord was waiting. Well, pull up a stool. Although the King Stable, a Miami mainstay for 31 years, isn't just for the blues, it's a fine place to start. Crammed into its jukebox is an assemblage of 99 songs sure to ease a worried mind. From Big Joe Turner to Sam Cooke, Ruth Brown to Patti LaBelle, the collection is a testament to men and women's cheatin' ways. The box is unsullied by Ricky Martin or Eminem. "I go for the Seventies and Sixties soul and blues," says Adolph King, the establishment's 48-year-old inheritor. "I speak to what I am. My culture. I don't go for no Spanish music. No hip-hop. No rock." Five speakers dispersed throughout the house carry the music with enough bass to fill you with joy, but not make your beer skitter across the bar.
This local honky-tonk has long been a drinking well for Ridge Rats and other South Miami-Dade folks. It used to be called Norm's Hideaway back in the Eighties, and many an illegal substance could be found there. Now renamed and expanded, it continues to quench the needs of locals, though not with quite the same wild abandon. Still, no matter the day of the week, chances are there is something to do at BB's. Tuesday is Ping-Pong night. Wednesday is in-line dancing with a country DJ. Thursday is reserved for tournaments on at least seventeen dart boards and two pool tables. Friday and Saturday nights feature rock or blues bands on a small stage in the corner (no cover), with room to dance underneath two disco balls. And sometimes on Sundays, regulars play volleyball out by the parking lot. BB's has come a long way in the past twenty years, but one look at the guy aggressively playing air guitar at the bar and you have to wonder.
Debuting this year amid more new nightspots than South Beach has ever seen, Level has the personnel, parties, and square footage to rise above all else in clubland. Led by nightlife impresario and fashion designer Gerry Kelly, this huge yet versatile space hosts everything: the grandest of bashes and the smallest soirees. From the intimate upstairs room dubbed Level 6 to the Boiler Room to the lobbies of the up- and downstairs to the expansive main room, all areas can be used on their own or combined with others. Kelly and crew put the adaptable interior to good use, hosting a variety of parties, such as the megaurban hit Little Leroy's Lyric Lounge on Monday; fashion showcases on Thursday, the Federation/1235 gay party on Friday, the usual packed dance night on Saturday, and a recently reintroduced reggae night, which occasionally features live performances, on Sunday. A busy schedule for sure, keeping this South Beach club always engaged and always engaging.
The pirates from Mixx 96 FM make merry every Friday night at the Mad House on Key Biscayne. A breeze wafts over the outdoor soca deck on the bay and boats pull right up to the dance floor. The Trini South Boys along with DJs House Arrest and Giselle "the Wassy One" make the crowd jump and wave to the latest sounds of the Caribbean. For those whose taste for island music runs closer to the ground, grinding is guaranteed with DJs Khalid, Fashion, and the marvelous Lady Terror spinning dancehall and hip-hop inside. From the moment doors open at midnight, the place is packed with people representing the Jamaican Crew, the Trinidadian Crew, the Bahamian Crew, the Virgin Islands Crew, and crews from every other Caribbean enclave. Expect even bigger crowds when big name guests like King Addis and Matterhorn fly in from New York and Kingston.
Proper preparation is the key to life. It not only applies to careers; it carries over to the social scene. One can hardly stroll sober into a South Beach nightclub and easily mingle with the depraved. Enter Blue. This intimate bar lies several paces away from the hippest spots on Washington Avenue. The cool blue tones that dominate the interior are barely discernible in the softly lit atmosphere. Techno music vibrates the walls and prepares the ears for the imminent onslaught of bass. Anyone, including VIPs, can lounge on the (what else?) blue leather couches or perch on the cone-shape stools that line the bar. Luckily this azure pit stop won't give rise to the blues by busting the budget. There is no cover charge and drinks are reasonably priced, for the Beach. Once that old tingly feeling arises, hit the strip and stride confidently up to that velvet rope. You are now ready for the revelry inside.
All gay. All the time. Believe it or not, in an area that some call the new gay mecca, surprisingly few bars or nightspots cater exclusively to the gay market. Recently renovated, this club now boasts three spacious spaces, including an outdoor patio, so there's plenty of room to move around. Bartenders and clientele that are among the nicest on South Beach and music that always pumps ensures you'll have a gay old time.
Añoranzas (which means "longing" in Spanish) is the perfect place to lose yourself in yearning for a loved one. The décor is ripe for nostalgia, done up with rough-hewn wooden tables and a thatched ceiling, just like a cantina in the Medellín, Colombia, countryside. An actual chiva -- a brightly painted country bus -- is built into one wall, its narrow seats converted into booths perfect for cuddling. The pungent national liquor, aguardiente, flows copiously, warming even the coolest hearts. Romantic oldies from Colombia's big bands of the Forties and Fifties alternate with heartbreaking tangos and mournful vallenatos. People say of the contemplative genre from the Colombian coast: "The vallenato is not for dancing." And they're right. It's for swaying on the dance floor in an embrace so close that the sound of your lover's breath seems like an accompaniment to the accordion.

Tom's has two British-made dart boards, located in a carpeted corner, a comfortable distance from pool tables, TVs, and those tipsy folks over by the bar. That distance is important, because darting mishaps can ruin an otherwise fabulous outing and prompt an awkward conversation.

Tipsy man to another tipsy man: "Hey, good buddy, you've got the biggest weirdest mosquito sucking on the side of your head."

Dart player with British accent, removing the projectile: "Sorry, mate."

You know Tom's takes darting seriously, because two little green chalkboards for scorekeeping hang on the wall. They are sometimes used by local heavies of the dart world, members of the Miami-Dade Darting Association. If you're not a dart shark yourself, ask for a set at the bar. While there you'll also find an array of draft beer and wines, along with mixed drinks. The menu pierces expectations of humdrum bar-and-grill fare with items such as smoked tomato soup ($3.50), barbecue chicken pizza ($7.95), sesame seared tuna ($7.95), fresh fish-of-the-day sandwiches ($7.95), and a portobello mushroom burger ($6.95).

If the creators of the TV series Cheers had lived in Miami Springs instead of Boston, the dimly lit bar at Holleman's might have been immortalized by now. This 25-year-old establishment is so down-home its proprietors print a monthly newsletter listing customers' birthdays and wedding anniversaries. It's the kind of place where an old bearded codger sitting on one side of the bar teases a middle-age guy in a shirt and tie sitting on the other side.

"Hey, I used to baby-sit you."

"Yeah, I've been meaning to talk to you about that."

Younger citizens also feel at home here as well (as long as they respect their elders). Not only is the Holleman clientele multigenerational, it's also somewhat multicultural, as the Springs sheds its Anglo-enclave identity. On weekend nights the crowd often is multitudinous (that means packed, good buddy). The microbrew insurrection has yet to touch Holleman's. Here the seasoned bartenders serve draft beers for $1.75 per glass, mixed drinks for $2.75.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®