Churchill's Pub
Alexander Oliva
Long-time patrons use the phrase "dive bar" with only the utmost of affection when describing Churchill's. Its low-rent environs (please, use the bathroom before you arrive -- trust us), cheap drinks, and anything-goes spirit all personify what rock and roll is supposed to be about. And while the wall outside may read "A Sort of English Pub," and British soccer may indeed be playing on the television set inside, rock and roll is exactly what Churchill's is about. Countless Miami bands have formed and broken up, new musicians have hit town and then left just as promptly, and endless other nightclubs have opened and shuttered their doors. But like a musical cockroach, Churchill's endures, playing host to touring groups from NRBQ to Rilo Kiley, and practically every local who's ever owned a fuzz pedal. For more than twenty years now, owner Dave Daniels has kept his spot relatively unchanged, offering the talented and talentless alike a friendly stage. Long may he -- and Churchill's -- run.

Readers Choice: Churchills Pub

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

Across the street from the Diamond Club, a seemingly endless line of nightcrawlers wraps around the corner, waiting to get into Level. Cars cruise along Washington Avenue, drivers honk their horns, and passengers try to pick up women traipsing around in tight-fitting clothes that show off lots of cleavage. It's a typical night in South Beach. But inside this pool joint, patrons are focused on only one thing: sinking a shot, preferably the eight ball. Diamond's cool atmosphere, spacious layout, and plentiful tables make for a primo pool-playing place. And the wide, wonderful view of Washington Avenue will tantalize those who must people-watch as they rack 'em up. Plus it is open way late -- till 5:00 a.m. seven days a week.

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

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

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.

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 CLUB TO DIE IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Liquid

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

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®