Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
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?
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?
It started in 1946 as a bait shack. Then it began serving fish sandwiches. Then the menu expanded. Then the bait was phased out and a bar added. Today the bar is still there. So is the food. And so is the Old Cracker spirit of the original establishment launched by Anne Gordon. Her late son Mike didn't change much in the many years he ran the place, and his offspring decided to leave well enough alone. Smart. So there it endures, a long memory hunkered down hard by the Intracoastal on the north side of the 79th Street Causeway. To walk inside is to step back in time. The walls of knotty pine. The old photos here and there. The views out over the water. The feeling that you're always welcome here, no matter who you are, what your age, what time of day, what day of the week. Amble up to the bar in the front room, grab a stool, and ponder the possibilities. Martini? Manhattan? Whiskey neat? You could while away hours here watching the sky go from blue to black. People have been doing it for more than half a century.
Tuna's has been described as North Miami-Dade's best-kept secret. Its bar certainly is underappreciated, a neighborhood tavern in a community forced to gather on the neon strip of Biscayne Boulevard. By opening outward onto Maule Lake Marina, Tuna's waterfront views manage to convey some of the beauty that brought so many of us down here in the first place. Tuna's hops to a lively happy hour while the sun sets on boats sailing up the Intracoastal. Late into the night live music inspires dancing both inside and outside on the patio. Couples canoodle in quiet spaces tucked here and there. The restaurant serves fresh fish and stone crabs (in season) to those in search of a good meal. Best of all, the bar stays open until 2:00 a.m., which, in this neck of the woods, is way late. Let the secret escape.
A big, sturdy mahogany bar, handsome wood interiors, and Diana Krall on the sound system lends Jake's a New York ambiance. Or the wide-open space of the place, the booths along one wall, and a pool table can make you think Old Florida. Whatever. Local restaurateur Patrick Gleber -- he also owns Tobacco Road and Fishbone Grille -- says he has tried to create a place where you might stop in for a drink and stay for dinner. The menu offers reasonably priced comfort food -- meat loaf, for example, or a sixteen-ounce strip steak for $11.99. On tap: Bass, Guinness, and Sierra Nevada for about $3.50 a pint, or a dollar less than that during daily happy hour, from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. On Thursdays a DJ spins jazz, and brunch is served on Sundays.
The Bohemian barrio of Wynwood keeps burgeoning, thanks to the efforts of people like Mario Irusta, who has brought a kind of noir whimsy to the neighborhood with this place. He derived the seemingly random name from an old shopping mall called Ten Last Shoes he happened upon years ago in a one-street town in Nevada. Irusta, who hails from Bolivia, has drawn an eclectic crowd to this popular Honduran hangout by presenting karaoke on Tuesdays and hip instrumental DJ sounds on Fridays. On other days it's a laid-back neo-cantina where the clack of pool balls mixes with the strains of crooner Luis Miguel, salsera Olga Tañon, and rockers Pearl Jam emanating from the jukebox.
This big, often teeming room is a popular oasis for Doral area denizens and has the community feel of a European beer hall. Watch televised sports, play pool and foosball, or heck, talk to your Doralian neighbors (or new acquaintances, since this part of town is ever-more packed with newcomers from South and Central America). The U-shaped bar seems half a kilometer long, which is good because that means ample points of access even during the hustle and bustle of happy hour. The bartenders will rattle off more domestic and import draft beers than you can shake a stick at. And the liquor choices are abundant, right down to the single-malt Scotches. Order from the quality raw bar and you just might make some new friends. Last call is 1:30 a.m. every night.
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.
BEST ONE-NIGHTER: Fuácata
Thursday evenings at Hoy Como Ayer