A raw bar is the best kind of bar, and Rodbenders is the best kind of raw bar: a friendly joint with verve, a happy vibe, and ambiance swimming with things nautical. "This is a home," says owner Kathy McMillan. "It's comfortable. It's a real neighborhood bar, especially for guys who like to fish. We have a fishing atmosphere." The walls are covered with rods, photos of customers with their catches, and mounted fish, including the ladies' world record mutton snapper, a 23.3 pound specimen caught by McMillan six years ago. Rodbenders even sponsors its own dolphin tournament (taking place June 24) and supports other local competitions. The servers' stand that greets customers is a representation of the center console of a boat. When Budweiser brought in a new blond ale, McMillan allowed her customers to name it: Reel Crazy, reads the label. Drink prices range from $3 to $7, and the seafood is delish, especially shrimp, dolphin, and the shrimp egg rolls. Oddly, though, the prime item happens to be the chicken wings ($4.95 for ten) served with a hot sauce or a honey blackened sauce. "They're good, aren't they? Our wings are reason enough to come down," chirps one waitress. When you do, give McMillan a photo of yourself with one of your catches. "We'll be glad to hang it on the wall," she says. Happy hours are 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. weekdays, but this is a place to get happy any time.
Alabama Jack's
Whether you're concluding a trip to the Keys or attempting a serene re-entry into the weekday grind, Alabama Jack's is the perfect place to toast your weekend goodbye. A big outdoor bar-restaurant set in the middle of mangroves just north of the Card Sound Bridge, the 58-year-old Jack's is a South Florida institution and a great place to watch wading birds (and sometimes a snook or two) and let the sunset wash over you. The grub is straight bar food -- in a good way (fried seafood abounds), and on occasion a local country band takes the stage to boot your ass into the work week. Try the crabcakes ($7) or conch fritters ($6) for true Florida cracker fare. Open daily 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
On the Rocks Bar
Photo by Keara O'Neil
Do you like to drink cheap beer in the company of serious drinkers who don't give two shits about ambiance, South Beach glitz, cleanliness, or really anything except drinking? On the Rocks is your bar. Three beers, five bucks, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. daily. Enough said.
All it takes is one song. One single song can make or break a mood, pack or empty a dance floor, ignite or extinguish a vibe. Just one tune can send a middle-age mother of two heading straight to the stripper pole, fool a white girl into thinking she be backing it up like Beyoncé do, inspire some dude to publicly perform the funky chicken and think he's actually cool, and make a gay man shed his shirt in a fit of nellyness. Few understand the strange, random, and mysterious power music wields over mankind better than DJs, because gauging which track will do what to whom is their craft. And around these parts, Jody McDonald is considered a master, Miami's number one man behind the music. "If you're spinning in a club, that's different, but when you're doing events and corporate gigs, it's not about you as a DJ," quips McDonald, "it's about what the client wants." Since beginning more than twenty years ago, McDonald has spun the soundtrack for everything from trendy fashion shows, decadent dance clubs, classical museum openings, and the pregame tent at the Orange Bowl, to infamous celebrity weddings. "They can range in music from Arabic lounge to contemporary hip-hop; you just have to be prepared." When McDonald DJed Mets catcher Mike Piazza's nuptials last summer, he made sure to pack an extra twelve-inch or two lest the newlywed change his tune at the last minute. And when he was invited to perform for sober former-Creed frontman Scott Stapp's wedding at Vizcaya this past February, McDonald left Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" at home. Because as any good DJ will tell you, one song is all it takes.
Skybar at the Shore Club
It's difficult to believe this posh spot is still jumping with glitterati after notorious hip-hop producer Marion "Suge" Knight was shot in the leg while chilling at the Red Room during last year's Video Music Awards revelry. After all, who wants to get capped when you're dropping $500 on a bottle of Patrón? But the Suge incident seems to have added a dose of notoriety to South Beach's most exclusive VIP room. Of course, the service and the attitude at the Red Room are as pretentious as the eclectic décor, noted Sheri Mischon, a 24-year-old New York-born Jewish princess who attended Skybar's star-studded New Year's Eve soiree that included John Stamos, Molly Sims, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Vin Diesel, and perennial Red Room guest Lil' Jon. Of course, you need a strong stomach to withstand the onslaught of dull, beautiful people preoccupied with posing in front of others. But what else would you expect from a tr?ès chic snob bar? Now excuse us -- we just saw Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton walk through the door.
Ted's Hideaway
Photo by Chelsea Olson
When the precocious, self-absorbed, ridiculously good-looking boys and girls who earn their living posing for catalogues and strutting the catwalk want a place where they can get down and dirty, they scamper to Ted's Hideaway, the institutional dive bar between Collins and Washington. After all, Ted's offers a nice respite from the glittery, Top 40 hip-hop-infused SoBe club scene where the models get to mingle with the local surf rats and other colorful characters who troll the blocks south of Fifth. Don't believe us? Check out Ted's on Tuesday nights before Tommy Pooch's Hotel Astor party or on Thursday nights on the way to Snatch. You'll be surprised by how many faces represented by Wilhelmina, Next, and Elite are playing pool and rocking the jukebox at Ted's.
In Miami's small but burgeoning wine bar scene, newcomer Stop Miami is a cut above. While other vino joints may have more selection or sex appeal, Stop Miami is the most eclectic, laid-back, and friendly spot to sip a Pinot Grigio and nibble on Serrano ham. Cozily ensconced in a former gas station on the edge of Wynwood and the Design District, the little bar spills onto the sidewalk with tables and chairs. Everyone seems to know one another here, and the vibe is warm. Bottles are moderately priced from $12 for a 2003 Shale Ridge Syrah from Monterey, California, to $31 for a 2004 Insoglio de Cinghiale red blend from Bibbona, Italy. Wine by the glass is $4 and up. Tapas and montaditos such as Spanish egg tortilla and boquerones in vinaigrette range from $2 to $10. Happy hour features $3 sangrias and wine and beer specials, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit, including free winetastings Fridays and live music most nights. If you want to avoid the $9 corkage fee, try a beer from the more-than-adequate selection of bottles for $4 and $5; then take your bottle of wine to go. Stop Miami is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., and Sundays from 6:00 p.m. to midnight.
Café Nostalgia's return to Miami Beach this year brought Havana and Calle Ocho a bit closer to the land of sea and sand. The club turned a much-loved back-door Spanish tavern into a cozy cabaret with a Latin speakeasy flair. Decorated with old music photographs and a modern video screen, it's the only place on the Beach to effectively capture the essence of Cuba's past and present. That is also evident onstage, where audiences can find a healthy diet of traditional son and salsa during the early hours and a descarga creativa (literally a creative discharge) as Latin artists drop their tourist getups and jam to their own fusion beat later into the night.
It took people in Miami a long time to figure out what people in California caught a clue about (courtesy of a strict state law) a decade ago: You can dance, talk, and generally party longer and harder in smoke-free environments. Also you don't have to leave your glam nighttime wear outside on the porch owing to the ground-in tobacco stench. There is no law in Florida generally or Miami-Dade County that specifically prohibits lighting up at a nightclub (though it is verboten where food is served). People just seem to be smoking less, burning holes in pashminas less, exhaling all over the person next to them on the dance floor less.
Let's make something clear right off the bat, people. "Madhouse is a party, not a place," says event organizer Marlon Whiteman, one of the members of the Trini South Boyz party syndicate. The confusion arose back when the Key Biscayne establishment Bayside Hut was known as Madfish House. At night the party promoters would remove fish so that the glowing red sign worked as a beacon for legions of Caribbean partiers. Among the island immigrant ranks, Madhouse became a must every Friday night. Famously decadent events took place, including many of the best-attended Miami Carnaval parties, bigtime reggae concerts featuring the likes of Elephant Man and Capleton, and last year's notorious Fourth of July Wet Fete, in which revelers were soaked with fire hoses, water guns, and water balloons. Then the organizers of the popular weekly bash came across some drama that led to relocation issues. "We went to Bongos first, and we spent three weeks there before we realized we had to move again. To put hype on it, I came up with the idea of taking the party on the road. So right now we're in Fort Lauderdale at Club Ole Ole," Whiteman explains. "But Madhouse has always been a Miami-based promotion. We on the road right now; we're enjoying it for the moment. But you never know what tomorrow might bring," the charming party-thrower quips. Madhouse's local base has dwindled somewhat in the face of the daunting trek to Broward, and the party is destined to return to Miami-Dade in the near future. Although Marlon Whiteman remains coy about the party's prospective destinations, he admits his ideal venue is one that combines indoor heat with outdoorsy space. "That venue in Key Biscayne was like our first child, and your first will always be your favorite. Unless the child messes up as he gets older and becomes a crackhead or something," he laughs. "But still, your love for that one will always be the strongest. In the parties we throwing now, the vibe isn't how it used to be," he confesses. For now, reggae revelers will continue to venture north for their weekly fix. But we light a candle and hope Madhouse will come home soon, to the Miami bay where it's meant to be.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®