Best Low-Rent Bar 2001 | Two Last Shoes Bar | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Bolivian transplant Mario Irusta had a look in mind when he bought a rundown bar in the rundown neighborhood known as Wynwood. He wanted to improve the place but not so much that you'd notice. Clean but not antiseptic. His plan worked. Except for the worn terrazzo dance floor, everything in the place is relatively new, yet looks as if it has been there forever. The interior décor consists of dark woods, including the water-stained paneling and the bar itself, illuminated from underneath at night. Red barstools are upholstered in vintage Sixties vinyl. The cash register appears old and battered as do some of the crusty customers. The jukebox features an odd mix of genres: Honduran dance music, country and western, Mexican rural, and standard rock and roll. Irusta says the joint's name has something to do with a romance and a dream. His dream perhaps: that customers will come in for a drink and fall in love with his comfortable little locale.

At six ounces it's not the most generous pour in town. And at eleven dollars a pop, it's certainly no bargain. But about a year ago Nemo, a first-rate restaurant with a highly creative kitchen and a lovely ambiance, changed its martini presentation in a way that deserves recognition. After complaints from customers that their martinis were losing their chill before the last drop (a common predicament in the subtropics, especially if you dine on Nemo's open-air patio), staffers sought a solution. The result: A chilled-cone glass embellished with the garnish of your choice and accompanied by a miniature ice bucket holding a small carafe. Inside the carafe is your hypothermic gin (or vodka for heathens) and hint of vermouth. Voilà! Pour at your own pace and with assurance that the gin (or vodka for heathens) can be returned to ice for prolonged cooling without dilution. A truly elegant method of preserving the delicate essence of this most sophisticated of cocktails.

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.
Neighborhood bars are supposed to be friendly, and nothing's friendlier than the price of a bottle of beer at Zeke's: two dollars. Not just any beer, either. Zeke's selection includes more than 100 brews, everything from Samuel Adams Summer Wheat to Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, from Dos Equis to Cerveza India. You name the country, and it's probably represented on the menu. Zeke's is especially deserving of recognition this year because it marks the reinstatement of the two-dollar-per-bottle policy. Five years ago, when Zeke's first opened, idiosyncratic owner Victor J. Deutsch garnered a reputation for his "beer garden" by charging that paltry sum. Then reality set in (the joint is on Lincoln Road, for crying out loud), and Deutsch set a still extremely reasonable price of three dollars for his bottled beers and four dollars for his pints. But last year Deutsch went off his medication again, God bless him, and down went the prices. Good cheap brew is not the only thing that makes this place convivial. Outside seating means friends passing by are likely to stop and knock one back with you. The bartenders may not be much to look at, but they sure are nice. And if you hang out there long enough, they're likely to call you if they haven't seen you in a while -- just to make sure everything's okay.
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.
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.
After bartenders in Coral Gables call the last round, many of them make their way to The Bar for nightcaps. There is no better endorsement for a watering hole than one from the mixologist class. But if you need another, check out the beer selection. The Bar boasts 10 brands of brew on tap and 21 in bottles, plus a wide variety of liquor. A serviceable menu of standards features four kinds of hamburgers, a decent chicken sandwich, and mozzarella sticks that don't bathe your fingers in grease. Tunes that range from Sinatra to Kid Rock stack the jukebox. On Saturdays live music rocks the room. Above it all is an air of comfort that makes The Bar's steady clientele treat the joint like a second home.
Candy Caramelo, the hostess so nice she named herself twice (caramelo is Spanish for candy), zings one-liners and double-entendres from the stage of Club Tropigala Wednesday through Sunday nights. "This is not fat," she says, showing off her hefty figure, barely concealed by a teddy and feathery robe. "This is filet mignon." Then she winks and pulls some unsuspecting patron up to the stage, burying his face in her prodigious bosom to the delight of the crowd. Candy has been having fun with cabaret and nightclub audiences since the Fifties, and she doesn't mind telling you about her career in between jiggles, wiggles, and giggles. So sit back, order a mojito, and enjoy show biz the way it used to be. Just remember: Sit too close to the stage and there's a good chance you'll end up in Candy's, er, act.

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.

The Fifties: Miami Beach was the sun-and-fun capital of the world. The postwar cocktail nation was in full swing, and Morris Lapidus was creating what he called an "architecture of joy." The Lapidus-designed Eden Roc opened in 1956 and is considered a classic example of MIMo, or Miami Modernism. It's also still the best place anywhere to enjoy an adult beverage or two. The bar and the hotel lobby in which it sits, recently restored to its midcentury splendor, are an ode to the kind of sophistication that existed only in the movies. A sculpted canopy, supported by fluted columns that rise to the ceiling, hovers above a sunken oasis filled with plump couches and chairs upholstered in regal gold and deep purple. Grecian-style statues and fleur-de-lis floor designs accent the room. Sun and moonlight filter through the sheer curtains of a curved window-wall overlooking the pool. Just when you think nothing could be more perfect, martinis and mixed drinks arrive in stately glassware while a house piano player offers a song of love from another time. God bless and comfort Morris Lapidus.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®