This is a weirdly cool place. The dim lighting, black paint peeling off the walls, and wobbly stage decorated by guitars, horns, and drum sets sit in stark contrast to the bright and busy milieu just outside on Collins Avenue. The portraits on the wall pay homage to recording stars of yesteryear, Elvis, Dean, and Frank among others, but the spotlight glares mostly for young hipsters prodded into belting out popular tunes as recent as 50 Cent's "In Da Club." The best time to visit is in the wee hours of the morning. You'll hear the strained crooning even before you enter; that's when hopped-up club hoppers usually drop in to see if they can be an American Idol, even if it's just in front of friends and barflies. Speaking of American Idols, last year's runner-up, Justin Guarini, is a regular there. He likes to show off and without Kelly or Simon around, he's always the best in the room. The true draw, though, are the drunken buffoons who muddle the spelled-out words to "Red, Red Wine." Don't be afraid to get up onstage. You might sound as good as you do in the shower. Ronnie, the Regis look-alike at the helm of the PA system, takes requests -- but don't be pushy, he can be a little impatient with rabble-rousers.

First there were the glory years in that wonderful hole in the wall on Calle Ocho, when the beautiful boys in Grupo Nostalgia used to jam till dawn with whatever master musician was in town, and Matt Dillon took to running around in a guayabera, smoking tabaco. Then there were the glamorous if not so glorious couple of years annexed to Jimmy'z at the Forge in Miami Beach, with film premieres and full-on concerts by Latin jazz greats, and really, really expensive drinks. The likes of Marc Anthony and Celia Cruz and James Olmos still stopped in, but the boys in the band began to look a little haggard. Even the unflappable Pepe Horta, proprietor and brainchild of the first two incarnations, grew tired and threatened to retire to Paris. And then there were those brief few months on the Miami River, with a boatload of investment capital breathing new life into Pepe's smile. And Yenyere, a new bunch of beautiful kids on the bandstand, breathing new life into the multimillion-dollar dance space that had earlier opened and closed under the name Rio. But by then Miami's love affair with postrevolutionary, pre-special-period Havana was over. Or maybe Miami's love affair with post-special-period Miami was over. Whatever the reason for the empty dance floor and the empty bar, our nostalgia for Nostalgia lives on.

Latin pop music is blowing up among young Hispanics with the tenacity of Shakira's wild blond locks. Play a Carlos Vives, Bacilos, or Maná track for this crowd, and the obligatory circles of young maidens will break out into song, all crooning toward the sky together as young men try to shuffle their rumps in between. Latin pop music drips with sexuality, and Friday nights at Señor Frog's are brimming with sexual energy. It's become the new mecca for Latin synergy among young Colombians, Dominicans, Boriquas, and Venezuelans. Warning: Don't load up on salsa before you shake, shake, shake.

Readers Choice: Bongos Cuban Café

It seems gay women in Miami have always lamented the fact that a nightclub for lesbians is as hard to find as a hot woman who doesn't mind nesting with them for the rest of the foreseeable future. We say it takes a little work, Betty, but it pays off when you find it. The Concorde, a spicy late-night dive on the edge of Coral Gables, has a knack for attracting single, fun-loving gay women with its mix of salsa, cumbia, merengue, rock en español, and American pop. The club has a large dance floor where you can twirl a fabulous lipstick girl or rumba with a Latin butch mama. While women frequent the Concorde, the club allows anyone over eighteen (straight, gay, man, or woman) in.

If you don't have an invitation to one of the many exclusive parties thrown by Mynt, chances are you won't gain admittance to this latest South Beach hot spot. But if you make it past the doorman/power broker and the long, slender velvet rope protecting this nightclub from the great unwashed, you'll find a front room draped in egg white and mint green colors; a Grand Lounge with a walkway nestled between an encirclement of plush couches and the bar; and an Ultra Lounge marked by hanging mirrors and marble floors. Mynt is usually frequented by the finest in Beach glitterati, so dress to impress if you want to get in.

"Hey, what's up? Yeah, I know the place. It's cool. Shoot some pool, chill to some funky world lounge in one of the plushy chairs or couch. No, no, there are several tables inside and outside too, and of course the bar. What kind? Usually some Argentineans, Anglos, Cubans, Haitians, blacks -- well, I guess just about every kind. Hmmm, hard to say. Artists, musicians, writers, designers -- you know. The owners? They're always milling about, like it's their party. Maybe there'll be a live band or a DJ, pretty fine stuff. No way, save your appetite, the food is awesome, or you can have an incredible cheese plate. Actually, one of the jamming parties there is the Sunday brunch. One thing, make sure you check out the bathrooms, decorated by artist Charo Oquet, they're even cooler than the décor in the main room. It's like on a neighborhood street just north of the Design District, kinda feels like you're just going to a friend's house. Don't know. Probably when the last soul decides to call it a night." Open 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. (officially) Tuesday through Thursday; till midnight (officially) Friday and Saturday.

Readers Choice: Tobacco Road

Few places on South Beach have $4 Heinekens (that's change on the Beach) and $5000 tits sitting side-by-side. Purdy Lounge is the alternative for nightlifers worn out by South Beach glam slam and boulevard clubbing. This off-the-beaten-path (as in off Washington Avenue) bar on Purdy Avenue has the beer-hall vibe of a street-corner hook-up joint. It's the place on the Beach to hang out away from the spirit of the club strip without missing out on beautiful people. Not that there aren't ugly people too. Purdy's no-hassle affair attracts all kinds. South Beach smoothies, beer-binging frat boys, girls gone wild, and a 60-year-old Russian who plays like he owns the place rub past each other for a spot at the bar. It's homey, spotted with cushy velvet sofas. Short-attention-span patrons can play one of the board games stacked up on the back wall. The DJs play everything from 50 Cent to Lynyrd Skynyrd. No cover, just show up before the line does -- around midnight. Come as you are, leather shoes or worn-out sneaks. The only impression you need to leave on the doorman is that you're over 21. Tags on drinks are just as appeasing as the attitude, from $6 for cocktails.

Readers Choice: Purdy Lounge

Driving along Biscayne Boulevard, you could easily zip past this watering hole, tucked into the end of a modest strip mall that appears all the humbler for its location across from a brash new center with a Jumbo Buffet and a Starbucks. As befits a local hang, Billy's has dartboards, a pool table, a genuinely friendly bartender chatting amiably with newcomers and regulars alike, and an eclectic jukebox with selections ranging from the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" to Gordon Lightfoot's mournful "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The evening vibe is so low-key you'd be drinking backward if it were any chiller, but Billy's comes into its own in the wee hours. The bar stays open until 6:00 a.m. and runs specials between midnight and 2:00 a.m., with most well drinks half price (they're only about three dollars to start) and draft beers a mere 75 cents. Female patrons should be aware that the mirror over the ladies' room creates a fun-house image and is no reflection on your level of consumption.

Readers Choice: Normans Tavern

This neighborhood place, tucked in an unlikely spot just east of the 826, is at once down-home and charmingly tacky in a delightful Miami kind of way. The theme is unfinished wood plank tables bordered by thick nautical rope and a deck that overlooks the retention pond/lake beside the restaurant. The sheer profusion of decoration suggests that here, at least, what goes up never comes down -- oversized Christmas bulbs dangling from green fishing nets, tinsel tossed over trees growing up through wooden tables on the deck, Mardi Gras beads, a witch hat and wig perched on a pole. These visual elements compete with an impressive array of beer signs, all to an effect that recalls a Key West bar set in Havana. Naturally there's a small stage for live performances. Bottles of beer are typically served in buckets of ice. The menu is generous, offering everything from a $4 steak sandwich to a nice $9 conch salad to the ambitious seafood combo for two, a hearty plate of lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, oysters, crabs, and fish in Creole sauce, all for $45. The Sonia of the name is Sonia Salomon, who opened the place in 2000 with husband Luis. The family also operates a fish market and a fishing accessories store next to the restaurant.

Readers Choice: Doral Ale House

Something always seems to be going these days at the former working-class dive once known as Two Last Shoes. Late last November a group of young guns (including one simply named Phoenix) took over, rechristened, renovated, and energized the space -- and kept the drinks at a reasonable price. The Honduran and Mexican tunes emanating from the jukebox may be a relic of the past, but an eclectic mix of music (live and from DJs) still fills the two floors. Local crews present hip-hop, open-mike, and MC battles each Thursday. During Hot Pants Fridays, DJs Seamstar and Jel-O, and occasionally Le Spam, bring in the funk while Goth nights Pitch Black and the Industrial Ball go on respectively the first and last Friday of the month. Long-time Goth party The Kitchen Club takes place upstairs on Saturdays while downstairs retro evening RealCoolTime offers a mix of Sixties soul, R&B, and garage plus the sporadic guest DJ spinning surf, exotica, Brit pop, and punk. RealCoolTime also has presented a live show or two featuring indie bands such as the Lyres and the Immortal Lee County Killers.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®