Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
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.
A good neighborhood bar is just as appealing to folks from afar as it is to round-the-way regulars. Hooligan's is that kind of neighborhood bar. College kids from all over town converge on the sports bar on hump day, where the gals really do get wild, up onstage or up on chairs and sometimes just up on anything. Watching sporting events at this joint is second only to being at the game in person. Two theater-size screens broadcast main events, and more than fifteen smaller televisions line the walls of the entire bar/grill. There's a pool hall in the back and an arcade. Of course there are happy-hour specials, a beer stock full of imports, and the best conch fritters this side of Key West.
Readers Choice: Hooligans Pub & Oyster Bar
Some would argue that Flanigan's is more restaurant than bar, disqualifying it from the "Best Bar Food" category. Nonsense. Flanigan's is all bar, albeit a sort of pubby, collegial, take-the-family-for-a-meal bar (as opposed to a sloppy-drunk bar or a pickup bar). From the lacquered wood to the sports and fishing junk on the walls, Flanigan's has all the appropriate bar accoutrements. Most important, Flanigan's has great burgers -- undoubtedly the most important bar food. The chain, with six Miami-Dade locations, even excels at second-tier bar food, like ribs (wash down a plate of Flanigan's ribs with a pitcher of beer and try to claim you're not in a bar) and fish sandwiches.
The real models, the girls and guys down here during the season working German catalogues and Mexican commercials, aren't all that different from you and me. They enjoy a tony soiree every now and then, but the snootiness gets to them too. For regular relaxing they head to Automatic Slim's on Tuesday nights for the "Double Wide" party. It's become the locals' hangout -- at least for locals who don't have to work Wednesday morning. DJ Mark Leventhal spins rock and roll and old-school hip-hop. That's a big draw. Plus the raucous atmosphere, in which you're actually encouraged to dance on tables, is unselfconsciously fun. After a day of being paid to be incredibly self-conscious, that's liberating. "There are a lot of locals, models, photographers," says one booking agent. "It's a friendly, regular atmosphere. Plus the girls that work there are pretty hot." No cover. Domestic beers are four bucks. The most expensive drink they have is eight dollars. Don't show up before 11:00 p.m.
A good bartender takes care of her regulars, knows what they drink, keeps them company, and isn't afraid to tell them to shut up. Margot Love has all of these qualities and then some. The tall blonde with something to say about everything makes sure your glass is always full before putting a thumb on what's making your life half empty. Bartenders are great therapists, aren't they? At least this gal is. She tells it like it is and her tips come cheaper than a psychiatrist's bill. Spilling your guts is fine, just be prepared to be called a whiner. The older gentlemen who lunch every weekday in designated stools around the L-shaped bar at Fox's dimly lit, leather-boothed lounge are aptly named "Margot's babies," though they're all older than her by an undisclosed number of years (she says it is a lot). They say out loud that the food and drink has them sold on the 57-year-old lounge, but a couple admit with a twinkled eye that it's Margot who keeps them coming. They can't get enough of her laugh; it fills the otherwise drowsy room. But spunk, personality, and straight-shooting insight don't make a great bartender. It starts with how the drinks go down, and no one serves up a better Manhattan than Margot.
You're cruising south on U.S. 1, just past the new Home Depot in North Miami, when you see it: a pearl-white Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, glistening under the neon beer signs of a nondescript storefront. That would be The Uke. Inside, a group of aging easy riders are knocking back cold Buds and reminiscing about their track-and-field days at North Miami Senior High School. Their ladies play a game of eight-ball on a cherry-red pool table while Hank Williams, Jr., emanates from the jukebox. Out back, two guys wearing Latin Motorcycle Club jackets roar their hogs to life and disappear into the night.
"It's not just for breakfast anymore" chimed the old Florida orange juice slogan. "It's not just for brunch anymore" could be said about the Bloody Mary. Long considered the perfect morning-after cure for night-before-induced ills, the tomato juice-vodka concoction -- often embellished with horseradish, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, and stomach-turning substances such as Clamato -- is now commonly imbibed at all hours of the day. Doraku's extensive drink menu (including more than twenty types of sake) features a tasteful twist on the classic cocktail: Stoli Limon vodka, a splash of sake, and a good deal of potent Bloody Mary mix. The wasabi-stuffed olives offer that inimitable eye- and sinus-opening experience. You're up now!
Oscar G, the G standing for Gaetan, blends a unique combination of pounding, hardfloor beats and smooth melody, without compromising soulful rhythm, something lost on much of house music. His residency at Club Space has made him bigger in the club scene than trance king George Acosta, which makes sense considering he taught Acosta the ropes. His fame came by way of his Murk Boys productions with partner Ralph Falcon. Their early tracks laid the foundation for house music in Miami, bringing it out of the gay clubs and into the mainstream. He has steadily become Miami's most promising export. According to local label heads like SFP Records' Marc Sacheli, "Oscar is bigger in France than Paul Oakenfold."
Readers Choice: DJ Snow White
The legendary fixture of South Beach clubland lore died, again, last fall. Liquid is synonymous with Washington Avenue's glam-slam heyday of the late Nineties, when it sat juxtaposed with the peasantry of a Payless shoe store and the Art Deco all-night supermarket. Back then the cavernous joint pioneered the trance-dance subculture that dominated clubs till just a couple years back. This is where the notorious and the beautiful trick-or-treated under the moonshine magic of the now witness-protected Chris Paciello, the thug-cum-club king and his partner in crime (er ... figuratively speaking) Ingrid Casares, the queen of clubland and at the time Madonna gal pal. The original location on Fourteenth and Washington closed soon after the Paciello crime syndicate debacle, then reopened across the street at Shadow Lounge's old site a year later. But the magic had disappeared, or at least headed down the avenue to Level and across the bay to Space, where the new superclubs have prospered with the image and fare Liquid introduced back in '95. The new club tried to sign heavy-hitting, cutting-edge resident DJs and sapped all the promotional flair Casares and new partners could muster, but to no avail. Liquid has finally faded into nightlife lore.
Given all of Level's recent guises -- live music venue, host to touring theater productions, boxing matches, as well as Bill Clinton and Janet Reno political rallies -- it's easy to forget this cavernous spot is also an old-fashioned nightclub. Thankfully the staff here hasn't neglected to tend to its thumping dance floor amid all this diversification, and for clubbers seeking a hands-in-the-air night out, Level remains a solid weekend bet. A top-notch sound system delivers the beats in stomach-rumbling (but still clear) audio, while the pumping air conditioning ensures you'll be just the right side of sweaty. The second-floor balconies provide for plenty of people watching down below, while the club's bounty of nooks and crannies serve up some semi-secluded spots for when you've gotten your mix 'n' mingling down to a more intimate, ahem, level. True, the six-dollar miniature bottles of water are a bit outrageous. And the egalitarian door policy has more than a few fashionistas turning up their carefully sculpted noses. But an evening of affordable drinks and snobbery-free socializing just wouldn't be very South Beach, now would it?
Readers Choice: crobar
Do not confuse this category with best happy hour. This is about the best drink served at a reduced price. The two-for-one mojitos at C&P House (a.k.a. Condal & Peñamil, Spanish tobacconists), offered from noon to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, crisply suit that definition. The drinks, expertly concocted the labor-intensive way, with all ingredients mixed in the glass, are offered for $7.50. Most notably, no premade lime juice is used. Instead chopped limes are ground with a pestle in your glass. The yerbabuena mint leaves are clipped from fresh bunches kept refrigerated. The bar rum used is the respectable Puerto Rican distillery Castillo. You could request a fancier rum, but it would be a waste given that the ingredients would obliterate the finer points of a sophisticated liquor. Sit out on Lincoln Road and ignore the tourists; take a long sip confident in the knowledge that the next one is not going to cost you a thing.
There is more to the gay party scene in South Florida than the white-centric, steroid-drenched circuit party. Trance music, electronic diva music, and drum and bass get as monotonous and obnoxious as the middle-age muscle clones who haunt the clubs looking to score a gram of Tina. Club Boi, located in the heart of black Miami, just above a ramshackle female strip club, offers a refreshing, if not grittier alternative. Here the bruthas and those who love them party all night on Fridays and Saturdays to the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, house, reggae, and old school. The macho rapper posturing is charming during hip-hop nights and the old-school/house music crowd on Saturdays is among the rockingest parties in town.
Readers Choice: Twist