BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR/MIAMI BEACH 2002 | Smith & Wollensky | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
This veteran steak house may look stiff and formal, and the patrons may appear stuffy and overfed. But if you think that's all there is to this place, then you haven't been downstairs and outside, where an oceanfront bar serves a group of regulars who arrive in shorts and, well, usually leave in them, too. A big destination for South Beach restaurant-industry personnel, here many of the patrons and staff are on a first-name, first-serve basis. Indeed in the best of traditions, this is the kind of neighborhood bar where everybody really does know your name -- and your business -- at least until the third round or so, that is.
It would have been easy to go to South Beach or the Grove with this category, two areas filthy with gin joints and beer halls, all staffed by popular, and always busy, pourers and shakers. But because those who sit and wait also serve, we've decided instead to acknowledge the grunts, those bartenders who are the backbone of South Florida's -- and America's -- saloon industry. Bartenders like Maria Lara, who, day after day, flicks the lights on at the Roof Top Lounge, an eighth-floor hotel bar with a spectacular wraparound view of the Miami and Miami Beach skylines, a pretty little island bar in the middle of the room, and empty chairs. Lots and lots of empty chairs. It's not Maria's fault. The Howard Johnson Hotel in which the bar is located just isn't the kind of place people off the street wander into. Guests are mostly families on vacation or conventioneers with busy schedules. Get the picture? Not exactly the New York City subway at rush hour. But Maria opens the doors most every day at 3:00 p.m. and leaves them open till about 11:00 p.m., later if anybody has a hankering to keep drinking or talking. She mixes a mean Manhattan and, if you ask real nice, she might even let you pop a cassette from your pocket into the house stereo. So to her and to all others like her, we say: Thanks for always leaving a light on.

Restaurateur Joe Allen, who operates dining establishments in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami Beach, knows his way around a bar. In January 1999, nine months after his popular local eatery opened, he told the Herald's Meg Laughlin: "Life is a cruel joke. But less cruel and more of a joke when you're in a good bar." Of course his casually sophisticated Miami Beach outpost is more than just a bar. It's a darn good restaurant too. Which is essential in our reckoning of the best places to find well-made martinis. This is axiomatic: The better the restaurant, the better the martini. In Joe Allen's case, that formula has the added advantage of specific instructions in the preparation of this most stylish and delicate of cocktails. Those instructions come from Mr. Allen's very active partner in the Beach venture, Mario Rubeo, who practically lives at the restaurant, greets every regular by name, and also knows his way around a bar. Here's the Joe Allen/Mario Rubeo secret recipe: Fill a glass shaker to the top with ice. Pour in six ounces of liquor (only heathens ask for anything but top-shelf gin) and no more than a whiff of extra-dry vermouth if requested. Take two long-handled metal spoons and begin mashing the ice, up and down. Do this with gusto for approximately ten seconds. In the process the spoons splinter off chips of ice that melt into the liquor and chill it simultaneously. After ten seconds the ice will be somewhat compacted. Top off the shaker with fresh ice, cover with a strainer, and pour into a chilled cone. The fresh ice provides a second cooling filter for the liquid without diluting it. Bits of the chipped ice will float to the top in a light, crusty sheen. Add the desired garnish and serve immediately. At Joe Allen this splendor in the glass will set you back $9.75 for premium liquor or $7.75 poured from the well.

There are two ways to survive as a tourist-town bar: specialize in one thing or cut loose and try everything. SoBe staple Twist unloads the queer-club crate when delivering its weekly party favors. Be it billiards in the lounge, a variety of DJs handling multiple dance floors, impromptu drag queens, or fresh eye candy, this watering hole is a tropical spa for locals and tourists needing the place to soothe before or after emptying their pockets at the cover-charge clubs. Often peaking around 3:00 a.m., its location is choice for those up to doing the town properly. With great drink specials, a friendly and competent bar staff, more rooms than most know about, and a variety of hired strippers at the Bungalow Bar, Twist is a great turn on the gay-circuit map.
All right, so their Sunday-night lesbian party, Purdy Girl, fizzled. That doesn't mean this funky joint lacks that estrogen-to-estrogen thing. Any Miami lesbian worth her MAC lipstick knows that if she's going to look for a chica, she's gotta deal with bi-girls. And Purdy, with its couches full of adventurous young women, screams Anne Heche. So if you're bored with nesting and want to satisfy a girl's curiosity, check out this lava-lamp lounge. Be assured, young lipstick lesbians, your main competition lies in the grown-up frat boys who don't know nearly as much about women as you do. And if you do get something going with a nice and naughty girl, Frankie and Johnny's, a friendly gay bar, is just around the corner.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®