Best Neighborhood Bar/Miami Beach 2000 | Norman's Tavern | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
With all due respect to Club Deuce, Zeke's, and the Abbey Pub, sometimes even those establishments aren't powerful enough to shield you from attitude-heavy South Beach. When such ennui strikes, try Norman's. It's just far enough away to be unfashionable, which for the rest of us means relaxed, not subject to the supercilious gaze of the fashionista. "This is very much a locals' bar," explains owner Xavier Cervera. "People who grew up around here, versus South Beach, which is very transient." All of which makes it a very friendly hangout. Three professional-size pool tables and a selection of 35 beers add to the ambiance. Norman's is open seven days a week from 11:00 until 5:00 a.m.
From the jukebox at the 1800 Club on the Miami side of the bay, Mick Jagger laments, "You can't always get what you want...." At the dimly lit bar, surrounded by a square copper countertop, 44-year-old Debra Douglas doles out Budweisers the way a saint manufactures minor miracles. A kiss on the cheek for the regulars, full regard for the passing stranger. Douglas, all caramel skin, dark wavy hair, wide mahogany eyes, and full, chocolate-color lips, surprisingly was born on Long Island to parents who hail from Trinidad. She is part Chinese, Scottish, and Cherokee Indian, a wild mixture that has resulted in a serene exotic beauty. During 23 years in the hospitality industry, she just might have heard it all. "You have to have a sense of humor in this kind of work," she allows in her smoky alto voice. Like the statue of the African fertility goddess that sits near her cash register, there is something resolute and eternal about Douglas on the job. Despite the quiet storm of emotional activity that surrounds her, she emanates a steady, generous warmth. Watching her serve a stable of locals, one is reminded how much giving there is in listening. She leans far out from behind her fortress to be embraced by the outstretched arms of a patron, a routine ritual of greeting and farewell. Absorbing and deflecting excesses of affection with an easy charm, she moves on to take in the daily snippet of life's long tale from yet another customer. In the background that Stone's ode to acceptance plays on: "But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need."

So-called progress dislodged Eddie's from the corner of SW Eighth Street and 126th Avenue in the early Nineties to make way for a god-dang restaurant, parking lot, and minor strip mall. So this cocktail lounge with an Anglo-Alabaman aura was chased into in a narrow mall storefront only 50 feet away from its original location. Damn straight it was. As a result of this little modern-day Reconstruction (whupped up, no doubt, by some pissant latter-day carpetbaggers), this dim room is now stuck between a pharmacy and a dry cleaner. Cheap beer and mixed drinks, a decent pool table, two well-lit dart boards, and plenty of Billy Rays and Billy Joes on the jukebox keep a small community of regulars happy. Don't let the big Confederate flag on the plywood wall scare you, because right next to it hangs the Star-Spangled Banner. And almost everybody here knows what in hell the Stars and Stripes stand for: Your freedom to kick someone else's ass ends where his liberty to boot your butt begins. The doors are open until 3:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m. on weekends, unless business is slow and the bartender decides to kick everyone's asses out.

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.
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.
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.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®