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.

J.Lo and Ben Affleck canoodling on a wooden swing at the front of the main bar. Missy Elliott and entourage lounging on a Moroccan-theme bed by the pool. Ten-dollar Bacardi Razz and Sprite with a lemon twist. Ian Schrager's imprint. Entrance is around the corner on 20th Street. Head east, past the Setai, the behemoth condo under construction next door, until you come to the Alice in Wonderland-esque blue wooden door, where, depending on your chic attire, you are granted entry into a lush garden softly lit by bamboo-encased lanterns. DJs spin some old-school hip-hop, New Wave, and altrock sprinkled with a little Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. But see, this is in a hotel. Avoid the crowds out front by sneaking in through the Shore Club's majestically decorated white linen lobby, past the make-out benches, into SkyBar's surreal Red Room lounge.

Eagle-eyed traffic scouts will notice a reverse hipster exodus on Miami Beach -- folks are heading west, far away from Washington Avenue's mega-sized venues and velvet-roped lounges, and into Miami proper. Once-quiet neighborhoods are now crawling with activity, thanks to a fresh crop of promoters in search of cheap rents and the resulting freedom to host the musical styles they love -- not the ones that are the most profitable. The irony? The Friday-night crowds at Revolver in the Soho Lounge and Saturday's Poplife at the Piccadilly Restaurant (both were in the Design District, though Poplife has now moved downtown) have rivaled those Beach affairs these electronically artsy-oriented parties were originally launched as a relief from. Which means even newer outposts are surely on the way, such as the Slak Lounge, which has just begun giving the surrounding blocks of Wynwood a taste of the much-heralded garage-rock revival. And of course, the Spam Allstars continue to make Little Havana's cozy Hoy Como Ayer the premiere Thursday-night spot for jumpin' jive and space-age salsa. Just as refreshing as the music you'll hear inside all these nightspots is the accompanying attitude -- or lack thereof. For those whose idea of nightlife is clipboard-wielding door divas, canned beats, and twelve-dollar cocktails, there'll always be the Beach. For the rest of us, Miami has never looked more inviting.

After being bounced from venue to venue for a year and a half, Revolver promoter Josh Menendez scouted out the Design District's Soho Lounge, and since last August, its two stories have provided a happy home for all manner of fresh sonic options. Serving up dance music you won't hear anywhere else in town -- from off-kilter electronica to New Wave obscurities -- to a crowd who actually loves to dance to it all, Revolver has become an obvious Friday-night destination. Add in frequent live shows from bands who never previously toured through Miami, free street parking, and one of the few scenes where gay and straight clubbers mix, and you've got a crucial new addition to local nightlife. And even with the capacity crowds now packing out his party, Menendez has kept the prices reasonable, his patrons' posing at an entertaining minimum, and the overall vibe more inspiring than anything on the Beach -- or around the rest of the city, for that matter.

The vegetables were speaking to me

You see, I used to understand the whispering broccoli and brussel sprouts

But I never heard a peep from the peas, and I love peas

After all, I was the dishrag, the sponge, the dishwashing Zen

Then I heard of the World Wrestling Jackass Duo

Where big bully Bush fights little bully Hussein

And sweating oily men get it on

And suddenly the earth became my booking agent

And I became a planetary citizen.

Is it over? Fuácata is definitely not over. The weekly Thursday-night party at Hoy Como Ayer, in the heart of Little Havana, had Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair crooning for it, calling it the bastion of Miami's new scene, a cocktail of the old and new Latin experience. The freshness is still in the air, though it is hard to pick up through the musky humidity of so many sweaty bods jam-packed inside. Getting there after midnight might mean no entry thanks to fire codes. The spirit of the night stems from the historical, authentically New World Latin neighborhood, and the nostalgic venue, scattered with autographed pictures of Latin music greats -- Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Celia Cruz to name a few. The soul, though, belongs to the band everyone comes to see, the Spam Allstars. The improvisational modern jazz ensemble mixes a unique Latin funk infusion with an urban bass backdrop courtesy of the group's face and maestro, DJ Le Spam, a.k.a. Andrew Yeomanson. The low roof and seamless sea of people conjure up images of other music sardine cans like Manhattan's old CBGB's. The differences are obviously musical: punk rock for New Age salsa'd funk, and young mohawked moshers for prepped-up Latin lovers of all ages. The big shots in music still come around too. Mick Jagger swung by and danced up a storm, and Ricky Martin partied with his entourage of five great-looking guys. Fuácata is the one circuit party in the city that's always sure to be alive and kicking.

Chic. Cool. Intoxicated. And that's the way you feel even before your cocktail! As you walk through the hotel doors, the sleek white chairs and tables to the left announce Miami's best place to sip from a long-stemmed glass and sink into one smooth recline (or decline, depending on how many rounds). What used to be supercool-looking Astor Place and its bar is now even better looking, with clean lines in white, mahogany, and steel gray. From your chair is a full view -- through a glass wall -- of the patio, with its waterfall and colorful plants. Turn your head slowly and the deep-brown wooden shutters that cover the windows make a picture-perfect backdrop to the all-white chairs. But to really do the cocktail experience right, you need to perch yourself on one of the white stools at the glass-covered bar, where Todd will mix you up anything your thirsty soul desires, and will flick a gold Zippo before you realized you even needed a light. What does that whiskey taste like? Here, try it, he'll say. There's no better seat in town.

Readers Choice: Delano Hotel

You could go to some pumped-up strip mall and find one of those generic, neon-lit game meccas where they have twenty dart boards -- all in perfect condition. Bah! As any good dart player knows, you need a crowded, smoky pub for proper darts. You need lots of dark wood and ready access to foaming pints of beer. But you also need a place where the board is not just another wall decoration. That's Norman's. The place respects the tossing of the feathers. They set aside an alcove away from the passing crowd so no one will jostle you. A ledge runs to the right of where you stand so you don't have to move between throws in order to take a sip from your beer. Anybody who has ever been in the zone knows how important that is. The bristle board is replaced on average every three months. The bar darts, quite serviceable, are replaced every two weeks. But as you should know by now, you're better off bringing your own darts.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®