BEST LOW-RENT BAR 2002 | Bikini Bar | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Young unemployed hipster, you who've been pink-slipped from that career that promised to shoot you forever upward, there's no need to drink alone. Come to the place that promises skin and sin and delusion with the glow of its pink neon and cheerful surfer murals. The Bikini Bar beckons you into its mirthful malaise, but be aware that anything can happen within its North Beach confines. You may fall in love with one of the gorgeous barmaids who hail from Cali or Caracas. You might comfort a leathery one-eyed Cuban who cries on your shoulder, or you could just as easily duke it out with a sunburned Russian. But don't let the stone-faced macho posturing of this little joint fool you. This is just about the friendliest and most colorful place to enjoy a two-dollar Bud Light, guilt-free, after cashing that unemployment check. Located in the heart of what is known as Little Buenos Aires, you can bet you'll find a scrawny Argentine with hungry eyes to accompany you in a toast to the good old days when you had insurance. And with all the business that goes on in the bar's dark corners, you just may be on the -- ahem -- career track again.

Residents of the nearby neighborhoods hear the unmistakable sound every Thursday night. The vroom, vroom, vroom of motorcycles -- from lightning-fast Japanese models to lumbering Harley-Davidsons -- roaring their way down Bird Road toward, of all places, La Carreta Restaurant. It's there, in the parking lot, that bikers of all ages congregate from 9:00 p.m. until sometimes 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning -- not for drinking or carousing but for socializing. Anybody who rides is welcome. While it's not a club, some members of local motorcycle organizations attend. Begun with two or three enthusiasts around 1996, the group attracts scores of cycling aficionados who talk about everything from parts to politics. Lately the large number of bikes has forced them across the street to an expansive empty parking lot, but if among all the chatting, hunger or thirst happens to strike, satisfaction is just a few steps away.
It's Tuesday. Concert canceled. Need to hear some music. Need a beer. Need to park. Need to park for free. Need to dive into some fries. Need not to be alone. Tobacco Road. It doesn't matter if it's Wednesday or Friday either. There isn't another place in town you can be guaranteed all the above every night -- when that other thing falls through. Whatever the night, you'll likely bump into someone you know. You'll hear rock and Latin and folk. You'll have your choice of outdoor or indoor seating. You'll get a really good hamburger. You'll be fine.

Let's say you've been chasing some official or politician all day and you find yourself dazed on the 79th Street Causeway, and the sun is setting, the sweat is staining your car seat gray, and you just cock your wheel onto the parking lot and crunch onto the gravel. A long, cool vista past the Best Western to a kind of ship motif on the rear wharf. Blond girls with long legs who've flunked the Hooters test but are all the friendlier for it. A thick English pub glass slick with red hot sauce, black pepper, a crunchy green celery stalk, and holy vodka. There's one waitress who'll even crack an egg in there so you won't feel you're just drinking. They won't do that on South Beach.
On Saturday nights the microphone stands open until the last poet drops. And what the street wordsmiths throw down is nothing short of a verbal pipe bomb -- homemade and packed with angst, sexual longing, and political rage. Billed as a night of poetry for the strong and conscious soul, this poetry jam often goes until 5:00 a.m., the evening suffused with the sweet smell of incense, vegetarian soul food, and a bazaar of scented oils and artwork for sale. Musicians take the stage between poets, and often improvise in the background during a reading. If you are burning with a message, this would be the place to release it to the universe.

Mary Klein, wife of Mac Klein, owner of the famed Mac's Club Deuce in South Beach, creates a social atmosphere like an English pub (Piccadilly's dark-wood, ornate interior even looks like a pub). That means you're quickly taken into the group: beauteous, hip Debra Douglas, the legendary former 1800 Club bartender; Karen Oltan, whose wicked humor and leather pants break hearts nightly; Rosie Hayes, the brilliant Kenyan hostess; and Linda Kaehler, the late-night bartender who will serve you beer and cosmopolitans and tell you about Hans Mancuse, the German former owner/cook, whose ghost still haunts the place. "No wind outside, chandelier starts swinging; pan of wrapped lasagna in the kitchen -- one neat square cut out! You switch off the lights, leave, and from outside you see a light go back on. Laugh if you will!" Soon you're part of all of this: smart women, great food, stiff drinks, and theater in a side room starting July 4.

Churchill's has been our winner over and over and over again, and we don't care if the sound system sucks or people get jacked in the parking lot or that the worst imaginable musicians play here as often as they want to. Some of the very best musicians play here too, from psychobilly fiends Southern Culture on the Skids to the rockabilly filly Rosie Flores. They come here for the same reason we do. It's dirty. It's dicey. It's democratic (if that's the word for it). It's owner Dave Daniels. It's chicks wrestling in Jell-O. It's rock and roll.
If it's Friday, it's Cotton Club night at this dive. The joint starts jumping around midnight. A little while later, depending on the number of shouts and stomps, the cozy club is leaping and rolling with the sounds of some of Miami's most accomplished jazz players. Jesse Jones, Jr. -- Liberty City's maestro of bop -- and his combo are the usual anchors, with occasional sets from featured singers. On the barstools old men dance funk to the heated jam sessions. At the tables local musicians and artists swing to the rhythms. If you are aching to taste what jazz might have been like during the Harlem Renaissance, this funky little speakeasy will cook it up. The club is testament to aficionados that bebop and blues are not confined to chrome interiors where the well-heeled listen motionless to the sermon of jazz. The Cotton Club serves its music with homey grit, friendly faces, and a free buffet.

Far removed from the rest of the nation, South Florida has always had difficulty attracting major musical acts in every genre, but these days the folks who play folk seem to flock here. At Homestead's Main Street Café, each Thursday is folk night. For the past year the eatery's Up-Close and Personal Concert Series has presented a relaxed evening of new or traditional music featuring folkies from in and around the area, as well as national artists traveling on the circuit. For a reasonable cover charge ranging from $10 to $15 (really big acts command $25), you can take in the congenial setting and enjoy the likes of Melanie, Jack Williams, Janis Ian, Annie Wenz, Roger Sprung, and Hal Wylie. Who would have guessed a short journey south could pack such ear-pleasing benefits.

Tom's is a low-key, friendly place to watch the game. Just about any game is usually playing on one of the bar's several well-placed televisions, although they favor the all-American triumvirate: football, basketball, and baseball. But if you are a golf or soccer nut and a good tipper, the bartender can usually be talked into switching to whatever obscure match you're interested in. Plus there are three pool tables, space for darts, bar tables, and several cushy booths for those who want to partake of the food. The clientele is a mix of regulars and travelers passing through to the airport, visible across the street. Tom's is open 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. every day.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®