BEST HAITIAN CLUB 2002 | Spirit Lounge | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Although Spirit doesn't host Haitian parties every evening, this little nightclub on the west side of the airport sizzles and sweats most Friday and Saturday nights to the sounds of compas. The club is so well-known among Haitian promoters that it regularly books traveling acts like T-Vice, Sweet Micky, and Kreyol Kompas. Sometimes, around 5:00 a.m., as young Miami Haitians dance and sing and animatedly pump their arms, it seems as if the party will never end.
Saturday nights, when his cozy parrillada is just about full, Jorge "Papa Gallo" Sanchez, the Uruguayan owner of Zuperpollo, wedges his burly frame from behind the cash register and onto the restaurant's tiny stage. A big man with a giant personality, Sanchez easily dominates the room when he takes the mike and treats his guests to dramatic interpretations of tangos and folk songs from the pampas and the Rio de la Plata basin. His hearty vibrato easily overtakes the busy flow of waiters and loud conversations beneath the chintzy trellis. The songs are complex enough, with Sanchez hitting all the emotional nuances of the melancholy tunes, that one is glad to let go of dinner conversation to listen. But if you must talk, get there early -- otherwise you will be seated at a table in the middle of the room, and you'll have no choice but to participate in the best place to hear tango.

¡Coño! Two weeks before press time the damn club closes. Maybe we should have given it this award last year. Here's what we were going to say about Nostalgia: We've been holding out, waiting for the floor to get a little scruffy, the walls to get smoky, the barkeeps worn down, but Little Havana this will never be. Pepe Horta's club packs as much glamorama as it did when it first opened more than two years ago in its swanky, next-to-the-Forge digs. But we can't deny it any longer: This is the best place to find the best in Latin music and, best of all, to find it live. Once upon a time the house band Grupo Nostalgia alone was enough to justify a visit. Lately though the place has taken to hosting such a wide variety of acts that the only thing the artists crossing Nostalgia's stage have in common is quality and swing. Brand-new talent like the band Yenyere has found a home here, as have weary wanderers like Manolín. Peruvian crooner Gian Marco kicked off his U.S. career here and Cuban troubadour Amaury Gutierrez is a frequent visitor. Latin rock has its place, whether it's skanking hard like Argentina's La Mosca or waxing lyrical like Miami's own Bacilos. And we have to admit, the setting could not be more fitting for breathtaking performances by such monsters of jazz as Paquito D'Rivera or for the elegant retro turn of Federico Britos's recently formed Danzon by Six. To say nothing of giving shelter to the Songwriters-in-the-Round monthly showcase. We might just have to get used to all the glitz.
For years Edgar V. has played the gracious host and properly set the turntables for many guest DJs claiming to be superstars. He's done it so well, in fact, that certifiable star Paul Van Dyk doesn't want anyone else opening for him. But now Edgar is proving he's ready to deliver the main course. He's patented a wax recipe for melting together the soaring anthems of Europe with the break beats of the States to form an edgy but smooth high-energy vibe that always shakes Miami's club floors. His two Trancemissions compilations effectively condense his stylishly acclaimed sets into bite-size dance gems. But to truly appreciate this rising DJ's dish, you have to experience him live. After great gigs at Space and Billboardlive, Edgar now spins at Liquid as the prestigious Saturday-night resident.
If you're a certain age it does your heart good to snarl, "Nine ball off the five in the side pocket!" and then crack the stick while young loons like the Laundry Room Squelchers or Dolly Rocket are ululating in the background, and the Youth Attitude crowd is teetering around the room in their six-inch, winkle-picker-heeled boots. Even when these kids shoot straight pool they drape themselves over the table languorously, style über alles, and invariably scratch, or make slacker shots, giggling like Rhesus monkeys. Being good at something -- singing, playing guitar, tending bar, shooting pool -- is retro and out. It registers as rehash from the wrong side of the hill. So it's fun to run the table and then ask the bartendress if you can have some quarters to play "Under My Thumb." Makes you feel like Brian Jones again.
Since the dawn of time, models have been in love with fur-covered chairs. Especially orange-red fur. That's one reason they flock to Pearl, located in deep-south South Beach. Designer Stephane Dupoux, a native of France, must have known about this mysterious phenomenon, for he placed such shaggy furniture around the purple-and-red neon aura of the second-floor bar of what was once Penrod's. Dupoux was also not clueless about the fact that models migrate toward retro-futuristic lounges that are luminescent orange and have curvaceous bars and extra-large white leather sofas. Who can explain this curiously magnetic attraction? Probably no one, but what matters is that it really exists. Proprietor Jack Penrod -- who reportedly shelled out $1.2 million for the makeover of his faded old cheeseburger and piña colada joint -- can vouch for it. But you, Monsieur Voyeur, only have to pay one one-hundred-thousandth of that ($12) for a dose of the bubbly. Go ahead, try your best to buy one of these exotic creatures a glass. (Or try tempting them with a bottle, which range in price from $100 to $3000.) But first you must penetrate the compound, which also houses the voyeur-friendly, open-air Nikki Beach Club. Tip for males who are not models and who are not tight with Mr. Penrod's promotional partners, Tommy Pooch and Eric Omores: Dress distinctively, think creatively, and you might pass muster at the velvet rope. Otherwise you'll have to settle for the scanned snapshots accessible online at pearl.shtml.

The meager buck you have to kill between bands won't buy a beer. Pinball and Ms. Pac-Man wreak havoc with your sore shoulder. No patience for the pool table; you've already poked one too many a sloshed patron with your cue tonight. What's left? A couple of songs on the jukebox. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Al Green, Nirvana, the Who, even Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sinatra are all there. But it's discs by active and retired local musicians -- who graced Churchill's stage many a time -- that offer a much-needed education to those unschooled in the Miami scene of yore. An eponymous pre-major-label album by this city's onetime country girl, Mary Karlzen, waits to be taken for a spin. The now-dissolved Goods' mock-rock opera Five Steps to Being Signed continues to thumb its nose at the music industry. The best sampler of past glory, though, can be heard on the 1993 compilations Music Generated by Geographical Seclusion and Beer and Sun Brewed Action Music. Recorded in this very club, they offer a showcase for old-timers such as Charlie Pickett, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, I Don't Know, Quit, Holy Terrors, and the Chant. Sure a dollar doesn't go very far anymore, but for a few good songs from the good old days? That's a sound investment.
It's saying something that the best night out in Miami unfolds far from the clogged swath of Washington Avenue's clubland. Forget about velvet ropes, overpriced drinks, canned beats, and -- most of all -- the kind of preening folks you've been trying to avoid since high school. In fact forget about South Beach altogether. Instead hit the causeways in reverse and head for the heart of Little Havana. There, at Hoy Como Ayer (formerly the hallowed ground of Café Nostalgia), owners Fabio Diaz and Eduardo Llama turn Thursdays over to the Ministry of Culture -- the duo of Erik Fabregat and Ralph de Portilla -- and their Fuácata party. Inside, the Spam Allstars regularly throw down a sweaty jam of funky turntablism and percussive salsa for a refreshingly diverse crowd that's much too concerned with dancing and simply soaking up the vibe to worry about posing. And really, isn't that the whole point of clubbing in the first place?
Yes, you can walk into a bar in New York or Los Angeles and order a mojito. The bartender will probably know what you're asking for and might even try to make you one. But only Miami can truly claim the mojito as its own. For local Cubans the drink (whose exact origins are difficult to pinpoint but nonetheless are undeniably Cuban) is a taste of home and an historical symbol, less a fashionable trend than a cultural fixture. For young Miami carousers, regardless of origin, it has become a popular cocktail that offers a more refreshing and refined alternative to rum's other "tropical" siblings such as piña coladas and daiquiris. Miami bartenders know you can't compromise on the recipe: crushed ice, rum, fresh-squeezed lime juice, white sugar, fresh yerbabuena, and a splash of soda water must be combined in just the right proportions. Just any sprig of mint won't do; it must be yerbabuena, crushed by hand to release its essence. Bartenders of all stripes take pride in preparing their special versions and competing for ownership of the perfect mojito. But this is Miami. Best leave the mojitos to the Cubans.


Lagoon Restaurant and Lounge

This venerable establishment, located on the east bank of the Intracoastal under the bridge that carries NE 163rd Street over the water, might appear at first glance to be more Jersey Turnpike than old Miami. But don't be fooled. The Lagoon, a combination marina/restaurant, has been open for business since the Thirties, when goodfellas like Al Capone used to drop in for a nightcap on their way home from an evening of nightclubbing, illegal gambling, or maybe just whacking some guy. The times, the clientele, and the drink menu have all changed since then but the aura, like the old-fashioned knotty-pine décor, remains. Don't believe us? Drop in one evening and order a house specialty. One of the high-octane, tiki concoctions (we recommend the Suffering Bastard, so named because if you didn't feel that way before you ordered it, you will after you drink it). Then step out onto the Lagoon's waterfront deck. Take a look around. Dark. Quiet. Secluded. You'll almost wish you had a body to hide.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®