Churchill's Pub
Alexander Oliva
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.

BEST PLACE TO SIP A SUFFERING BASTARD WHILE RESEARCHING THE HOFFA DISAPPEARANCE

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.

Granted, you might not want to be sitting in one of the two VIP lounges upstairs at Rumi until the restaurant does its reverse-Cinderella act. At 11:30 p.m. or thereabouts the Murphy bed that plops down in the downstairs dining room signifies the transition from restaurant to club. At that point, if you want a table, a champagne purchase is requisite. So you may as well bluff, or genuinely be allowed to venture upstairs, where the view is much better, especially if there happens to be a woman in a low-cut dress designed by her plastic surgeon standing beneath you -- and there always is such a woman. So what exactly are the perks? The usual assortment of models, celebrities, and others who have been seriously favored by Mother Nature, along with the paparazzi and other members of the media who, generally speaking, haven't been so generously favored. In addition there'll be quicker service and the goodwill that comes from folks who not only know they've been invited to the party, they believe they're first on the list.

Sometimes the magic is simply in the place. No matter what you call it. No matter how lively Thursday nights get with all those boisterous kids. Fridays and Saturdays after midnight at this little place on the corner of Calle Ocho and SW 22nd Avenue -- with the lights down low and Luis Bofill at the microphone channeling Beny Moré -- today is just like yesterday. All the love you've every felt, all the arms that have ever held you, every kiss still worth remembering comes back to you. Go ahead, slide your hand down his back. Brush your lips across the nape of her neck. Nobody's watching. And if they are, they're smiling.
Your generic Cheers-type bar -- a neighborhood hangout that could be located in Anywhereville, USA -- feels fine most of the time. But when you want a brew at a bar that screams, "Hey, this here's Florida!" there's only one place in Miami: Jimbo's. Which isn't actually a bar. Officially it's a bait shop, tucked away at Shrimpers' Lagoon on Virginia Key. Unofficially it's an authentic time warp, a ramshackle compound of boats and trailers and derelict cars crowded around an assortment of brightly colored shacks (backdrops for fashion shoots), outdoor tables, and as mixed a crowd as you'll find anywhere. It's been there nearly 50 years, which makes it a venerable institution in a place like South Florida. And it's all presided over by the ageless Jim Luznar, easily identified by baseball cap and perpetual stogie. For sale: live bait, smoked fish, and lots of cold beer. For free: a delightfully pleasant menagerie of fisherfolk, models, suit-and-tie businessmen on extremely extended lunch breaks, weekend bikers, and a full range of locals looking to sit by the water, maybe fish a little, watch the wandering chickens, play some bocce on Jimbo's two open-air courts, bask in the warm weather with a brew, chat about this and that with complete strangers, and just be there.

Miami is a late-night kind of place, so it makes more sense for happy hours to begin late. At Fox's little den of iniquity, it's two-for-one on whatever you're drinking (barring the top shelf and imported beer), from 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Saturday nights. "It's standing-room-only, honey -- a lot of fun," assures the bartender in her smoke-deepened cackle. Fox's is a timeless, crimson-hued twilight zone, the darkened Fifties lounge of beat poets and deadbeats, of those looking for their future ex-wives, of slumming college students and aging hipsters. Slip down low into the deep booths. Enjoy the sounds of the free house jukebox, which admirably covers every era since the place was founded in 1946. Have a drink. Have two. (Fox's also hosts a conventional happy hour from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. every day.) Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday; 5:00 p.m. to midnight Sunday. Hungry? Fox's prime-rib special is way cool.
Not everyone is destined for fame and glory, but at this quintessential karaoke club, one can sure as heck pretend. Here the extremely vocally challenged rub shoulders with the karaoke fanatics, and anyone with the nerve to get up on the raised stage in front of the tipsy and boisterous crowd on the dance floor is guaranteed to be rewarded -- with at least a few minutes of fame and a great adrenaline rush. The club boasts over 18,000 songs in several languages (although a manual count has not officially been conducted), which are displayed in a well-lit and less chaotic corner of the bar for serious browsing. And for the musically talented who prefer to keep their mouths shut, the owner/host -- who dresses like Elvis but otherwise keeps a low profile, making his presence known from a dark corner of the bar only via brief spoken interludes -- extends an open invitation to come up and jam on the drums, guitar, or any number of instruments onstage. Everyone may not be created equal, but at least at Studio, everyone is given a shot. Hours of operation are from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Karaoke is available seven days a week. No cover charge.
Meander up and down Washington Avenue on a Saturday night and there's no shortage of clubbing options -- from small and loungy to sprawling and manic. There's even a host of nightspots across the Bay attempting to give South Beach a run for its late-night money. But if you're looking to dance -- period -- crobar remains a sure bet for a sweaty night out. The door policy, while hardly anything-goes, is still relatively relaxed (by Beach standards, at least). Guys, bring a girl, leave the Guido look at home, and you should have little problem clearing the doorstaff. And once you've hurdled the velvet rope, you'll find marquee-name DJs utilizing crobar's top-notch PA to keep the gyrating crowd working it out on the dance floor 'til dawn. Just slide into the middle of it all, tip your head back, and let yourself go. After all, that's why you hit South Beach in the first place, right?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®