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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®