South Beach may be slipping as a club hot spot, but it's not Opium's fault. The Asian-theme restaurant south of Fifth Street transmogrifies late at night into the raunchy, ostentatious epicenter of superficial glitz. Opium has emerged as the very best place for middle-age men to display their topless table-dancing (and often teenage) trophy chicks. Ergo the waitstaff at street-level Café Tabac, located directly below the joint, is inured to the unusual. "On Halloween," one waitress told us, "there was a woman who came down here in a completely transparent garbage bag, wearing no underwear and no bra. She pointed to a tear in her plastic bag and asked if we had a stapler." Suitably sutured, the reveler scurried upstairs, back into the still-breathing soul of South Beach.
Shantel Lounge
They call it "old-school" at Shantel's Lounge in Liberty City, where each week a group of African-American musicians, who have played jazz, blues, oldies, and soul around Miami, gathers to jam. Other music makers and singers are welcome to join the horns, keyboards, and drums that rock the room. During a spoken-word segment, about ten poets deliver short readings, ranging from brilliant rants on the African diaspora, to rap-a-logues, to embarrassingly bad Barry White-style schlocky bedroom whisperings. On the first Sunday of the month, Shantel's offers barbecue, collard greens, pigeon peas, rice, and other fixings for three dollars. The songs, the words, and the friendly conversation are free.

La Paloma
We can't help but be enchanted each time we stroll into La Paloma, its European kitsch reminiscent of every postwar Jewish grandma's apartment. Splendid displays of owner Maria Staub's antique Baccarat crystal, Limoges china, and objects such as dolls and clocks accent the decor. Live trios and orchestras often contribute to the sedate ambiance of the plush lounge and bar areas. When you're tempted to take a spin around the room, don't forget to place your Manhattan on the bar first. Spill something down your honey's back and the spell will be broken.
Hialeah Goth diva/performance artist Viva hosts a campy night of sex and song that would make Britney Spears jealous. Belt out tunes from the hefty book of cheesy pop and ballads. Pick from Viva's collection of feather boas, wigs, and strap-on dildos and fondle them as you croon. But try to behave: She and her Gothic devotees razz sprightly singers with their antics, punishing hecklers and gagging boys and girls with duct tape onstage. Catch the show Friday nights at Churchill's and Tuesday nights at Underland Privat -- if you dare.

If not for the lighted beer signs in the windows, it would be easy to miss this low-lying roadhouse on a commercial stretch of U.S. 1 just north of sleepy Miami Shores. To say that the Uke is little more than a bar isn't a putdown; it's an accurate description of the space. The interior is taken up almost completely by a long, wood, U-shape bar. With barely enough room left over for a pool table and jukebox, the Uke is the place to go when you feel like bending an elbow and rubbing shoulders with the masses. No microbrews here: Bud on tap, half-a-dozen other big-batch brands in the cooler. All of it cold and cheap. Save my seat.
Havana Cigar Emporium and Lounge
The cigar craze is over. So what's a cigar bar to do? Become part of the nightclub scene, of course. Havana Cigar Emporium and Lounge boasts disco dancing, hot salsa, DJ nights, and even live music. Just as an aside, a cigar store is stocked with 20,000 stogies. (None from Cuba though, as the establishment's name implies.) More fun can be had at blackjack and pool tables and at the two smoker-friendly full liquor bars. Actually the entire place is smoker-friendly, thanks in part to state-of-the-art air filter systems that keep patrons' heads clear of noxious clouds. "We are the new millennium in cigar bars," notes general manager Vito Viscito. As Jim Carrey's character in The Mask would say, the place is literally "smokin'!"

Time slows at the Pelican Nest. In this old oasis disguised as a warehouse, regulars tend to sit at the end of the bar where an upside-down skiff hovers above. Long ago they noticed that because the boat is upside down, all the gear, including two big burlap bags marked "Colombian," is in various stages of falling out. No need to duck, though. Its contents are defying gravity, thanks to the talented artist who put the darn thing together. You, too, will notice these things. At the moment, though, you might be distracted by other matters. The Budweiser and black and tan arrive quickly in front of you. The pool table, on an upstairs balcony overlooking the small dining area, beckons. Your stomach growls. ("The smoked fish dip gets a lot of compliments," notes bartender Sherry.) Your ears ring, courtesy of bands like Peach Black, whose CD includes "Loosing You" [sic], "Rosa Linda," and other rock originals taking Cutler Ridge by storm. After the music ends, some joker at the bar gets up, grabs the guitarist's Stratocaster, and sings his own rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" with impunity. When the hour has gotten late, and time speeds up again, there is a way outta there: west to the turnpike (exit 13) or east to South Dixie Highway.
This one's a joke, right? There are no lesbian bars here. Sure a few girls' nights occur around town, but no permanent place exists for all the Sapphic sisters to gather over drinks. (Apparently the gals don't bring in as much money as the gaggles of shirtless boys, or maybe we're all just spending too much time at home -- nesting.) Girls in search of girls should support the Women's National Basketball Association. Buy season tickets to the Miami Sol home games and start cruising the Chivas Regal or the two Budweiser bars at the arena. Face it, you'll find more lesbians at the Sol games than in all of Miami's gay bars combined on any given night. Now, now, heterosexual sports fans, relax; you have nothing to fear. We are neither recruiting nor converting. Everyone really is at the arena to enjoy the game. Catching up with your friends at half-time or making some new ones? That's just a bonus.
Tobacco Road
They say Calle Ocho is coming back. If they spent a Saturday night at La Reina, they'd see Calle Ocho has stayed pretty much where it's been for the past 40 years, right here in funky Little Havana, the first stop on many immigrants' road to the American dream. They drift in as the night progresses: the Honduran brothers looking to down a few beers (signs all over warn in Spanish: NO BEER SERVED WITHOUT FOOD, an accommodation to a past police crackdown on bars masquerading as cafeterias -- sort of like this one), dance with a waitress, and maybe find a chica to make them forget the ones they left behind in San Pedro Sula. The ancient Cuban man in a jacket and fedora who'll spend the night guaracheando like he's back in Pinar del Río, Latin classics blaring from the jukebox. The mysterious white-haired man, who sips beer and coffee while musing to himself in a Slavic language, as though attempting to maintain proficiency in the midst of so many Latin tongues. A young couple with babies, two or three women with young children. Nothing so far to get the Honduran brothers' hopes up. But the night is young. Long past midnight everyone's dancing under the fluorescent lights. Even though the customers will straggle out when 2:00 a.m. rolls around, many will be back first thing in the morning, lounging around a sidewalk table and watching the American dream unfold before them in all its mixed-up, faded glory.
Fox's Sherron Inn
This sleek little steel-and-chrome number with flashing lights offers the most eclectic selection of tunes in town. There are contemporary Top 40 hits by the likes of Marc Anthony, Lauryn Hill, and, yes, Christina Aguilera; some gems from Motown's golden era; a smattering of country (Patsy Cline, George Strait); and a surprise or two (Elvis Presley's "Rock-A-Hula Baby"). The real reason to sidle up to this machine, though, may be its assortment of big band, swing, and Tin Pan Alley classics: Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Bennett are all well represented. The best part? This juke hasn't swallowed a quarter in years. The music is on the house.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®