Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Longevity for music clubs in this city is akin to "dog years." A decade run equals a lifetime anywhere else. Which means the biweekly open-mike night at Luna Star Café, now in its eighth year, has grown long in the tooth. But you'd never notice by the exuberance of the participants, a roster of volunteer songsters who begin signing up about 8:00 p.m. for a night that runs into the wee hours. Young guns getting their first taste of the spotlight and old folkies reliving their glory days take to the stage with guitars, keyboards, even an occasional banjo or bongo. And it's not just one and done. Players can settle in and show their stuff with a set of three or four tunes. Neither is the night relegated to a slow Tuesday, like so many such affairs. Luna's jam takes place on Saturdays. Bring your six-string and work those vocals for the faithful, then relax with a few cold ones in Luna Star's friendly, casual, and arty atmosphere.
A Mediterranean restaurant by day is transformed by night, becoming party central for the Young Turks among Miami's people from Turkey, who, for those keeping tabs, are giving the Russians a run for their rubles as the area's most exotic party animals from the Old World. An eclectic mix of dance beats, including the increasingly popular Arab house music, keeps the floor teeming with recent arrivals not only from Turkey but most of Eastern Europe looking for a club of their own on the edge of a strip mall, away from South Beach. The café-cum-nightclub also draws more commonplace minglers from Spain, France, and South America. They dance and dream of apprenticeships with Donald Trump, whose new luxury high-rise project looms right across the avenue, casting the shadow of raw American capitalism across the entire affair.
Favela Chic, which we might quite liberally translate as "ghetto fabulous," takes its name from a Brazilian nightlife trend in which the hip, educated, and employed plunge into Rio shantytowns, where the downtrodden, streetwise, and dirt poor know how to party away woes. If you're looking for a quiet, candle-lighted ambiance, slip into this place before 11:00 p.m., especially on Fridays and Saturdays. After that the restaurant/lounge tends to start imitating the high-spirited, caipirinha-fueled, arm-waving, butt-wiggling displays of revelry that lured the well-heeled across the tracks and into the fabled favelas to find a girl from Ipanema, at least figuratively. There is no charge to enter this elegant North Beach shanty either, but those inside will have an easy time taking five of your (date's) hard-earned dollars for a beer or eight bucks for a caipirinha (a lime-flavored cocktail made in Brazil with cachaça, in North Beach with vodka). Owner and DJ Roberto Costa, who has rocked dance floors from Saint-Tropez on the Mediterranean to Jimmy'z on Arthur Godfrey Drive, provides musical mixes of house, samba, salsa, and Arabic. Yes, Arabic.
A decade ago Miami was the reggae gateway to the United States. On any given weekend major acts like Third World, Inner Circle, or the Kinsey Report could be found playing in a park or at a club. Even Africa-based reggae stars (e.g. Alpha Blondy) came to play at the old Cameo on South Beach. Today there is not one club in Miami devoted to staging high-grade (or even mediocre) reggae acts. The spiritual, danceable, durable genre is dead to this town. Fortunately, right at the county line the Empire recently conducted a sort of three-beat charrette (with the Caribbean Association and reps from local universities) to improve and expand its already established mix of reggae and hip-hop weekends (mostly featuring DJs, though some bands have played the 400-capacity club). After the meeting, and following policy (any promoters are welcome to offer their product to the club, and many are accepted), the Empire plans to book more and more live reggae. Besides the joy that news brings to many hearts and minds (and ears), it should make the owners rich considering the sickening lack of competition. Robert Nesta must be spinning as he looks down on the city where he died and sees (or hears, really) -- not much.
The best neighborhood bar is the one closest to home, but Bougainvillea's, a snug "old Florida Tavern" near Sunset Place, makes a bit of travel pay off. Built inside a Forties-era cottage and open about four years, it's a fine place to sip wine and contemplate humanity, or down a beer and contemplate your navel. Actually, just drink and contemplate if you choose. The lights are generally dim, there's a fireplace, and some tables are set up outside (got a light?). And it's one of the few neighborhood bars to feature three or four nights per week of live jazz or blues music.
This two-story, suburban drinkery is one of North Miami's most happening joints. It's an off-the-beaten-path destination situated next to a supermarket, but it's mostly round-the-way peeps who ride out there anyway, so the surroundings ain't no thing. Hip-hop and R&B reign here, and WMIB-FM (103.5) the Beat's DJ JS1 keeps it bumping for the young neighborhood "jits" until 5:00 a.m., occasionally extending those hours if the crowd calls for extra party time. A definite break from South Beach and Coconut Grove, though the unwelcome apple martini drinker might find it too far from the glitz and glam for comfort. All the better for the locals.
There's an old rule for judging restaurants when you're outside the hood. If the parking lot is full, eat there. If the food sucked, there wouldn't be a crowd (and vice versa, of course). This place packs 'em in without giving up its Cheers-like friendliness. The clients might lean toward the corporate side, but the staff at this watering hole possesses an uncanny talent for pushing just the right buttons. Is this place all about the number of TV sets and that "modern sports bar" feel? Hell, no. Just ask and, with a merry smile and cheery tongue-wipe to remove the foam from his or her upper lip, a regular will dial you in: "Five beers for five bucks." Ka-ching -- we got a winner.