This bar is Miami's version of the Eighties sitcom Cheers, where everybody knows your name. "This place is like a family. I know everybody in here," say Steve, a regular, as he waves to a "drinking buddy" across the bar. The vibe is friendly, the bartenders are sexy, and the pitchers are cheap ($6 domestic). Located across the street from Miami Dade College's Kendall campus, LA Sports Bar and Grill opened six months ago, where the legendary College Park Inn once stood (next to Hungry Bear subs). The bartender brags about her martini skills: "I make them with love," she says while measuring vermouth. The horseshoe-shape bar is surrounded by large plasma TV sets tuned to ESPN. Tuesday is the night for videogame players. In the restaurant area, patrons play Guitar Hero on a 100-inch TV screen. Wednesday is poker night. Thursday is biker night, when the patio becomes a scene out of some Hells Angels documentary. On Friday night, DJ Steve spins the wheels of steel. On Saturday night, a live salsa band called Grupo Select performs. And Monday — karaoke night — is the most jam-packed of them all. This bar's food is amazing: Philly cheese steaks, pizzas, and chicken wings are surprisingly delicious. And yes, she makes a damn good martini.
The Vagabond
Somewhere between lounge, bar, and club sits The Vagabond, a lovably comfy new hangout in the old I/O space on NE 14th St. This is a place with a mission statement unlike no other in town: Everybody is welcome here as long as they dance and have a good time. Just see the club's official slogan: "You are no one. You are every one." Rock kids can come in scruffy Converse sneakers; house heads can show up to jam without worrying about not having an asymmetrical haircut. That's because there's a vibe for everyone in this indoor/outdoor playground, from the mod-futuristic main room to the bohemian-styled front bar to the urban-tiki weirdness of the back patio. The soundtrack can be anything from a mix of cutting-edge dance sounds to throwback soul to garage rock to all of the above, depending on the hour of the evening and the mood of the crowd. Prices, too, are superrelaxed: Well drinks go for $6, a better deal than at the bar's downtown neighbors. Chilled-out and familiar but still fresh and funky, The Vagabond feels like ... well, home.
What do you get when you cross a wiry, tattoo-covered Vincent-Gallo-look-alike batshit frontman, slashed-speaker Stooges-style power chord freakouts, and gigs at places such as adults-only female wrestling events? Pure fucking rock and roll, that's what. Mad Martigan can't even be bothered to put up a song sample on its MySpace page, but if you hit the local circuit enough, you will encounter the group. And if you're weak, the band's raw power will send you running back to the baby's corner where you belong. More room for those of us who are ready to hail the homecoming of balls-to-the-wall, whiskey-fueled madness.
For a while, only the most intrepid venue owners and clubbers ventured to the edge of Overtown around NE 14th Street and North Miami Avenue. For several years, the medium-size indoor/outdoor club I/O flourished there, and then tiny watering hole PS14 opened a couple of doors down. Alas I/O closed, leaving PS14 alone. But then the megaluxury palace Karu & Y opened a couple of blocks west, to extreme skepticism, to say the least. Somewhere along the way, the strip of NE 11th Street known as the "Park West District" became a wall-to-wall strip of high-traffic spots, and at least the nightclub part of the Karu & Y complex did okay. The sparkly-white bohemian joint White Room opened on NE Miami Court, the old Ice Palace studios began hosting the occasional event again, The Vagabond took over the old I/O space, and not so suddenly there was an honest-to-goodness club district on the mainland. And unlike their glitzy counterpart left behind on the Beach, the areas around Overtown and Park West offer something for everybody, from scruffy artsy parties to strip club debauchery to live bands to superclub afterhours. It's the kind of patchwork nightlife playground, relatively free of pretension, that made Miami Beach cool the first time around. Maybe on this side of the causeway, we'll get it right this time.
Churchill's Pub
Alexander Oliva
Who would've thought that a weekly night of quieter, strummed sounds would turn into one of punk dive Churchill's best-loved regular events? Well, local duo Raffa and Rainer, the brains behind the operation, must have had some idea. They've created a weekly Wednesday event that's as warm and welcoming as a group hug yet still attracts topnotch talent. Everybody gets a shot at the opening part of the night, a true open mike, with a scheduled performer taking the stage later. Since the event began last summer, it has attracted all the local luminaries, including Rachel Goodrich and Jesse Jackson, and even unexpected, uh, softer sets from acts such as Fitzroy, the Down Home Southernaires, and MJ of Awesome New Republic. Out-of-town guests, too, have gotten in on the act, including a somewhat baffling recent appearance by Michale Graves, former vocalist for the (post-Danzig) Misfits. In fact, CYRALS has established itself as a sort of friendly local proving ground. If a song can make it here, regardless of genre or electronic hookup, it can make it anywhere.
We never thought Poplife would really go away. Hell, the party/crew/local-culture juggernaut can take the lion's share of credit for launching the city's indie-type scene, back when it was a little gathering called Life at an art gallery in Coral Gables. Since then, it's turned into a watermark (brand sounds so crass) for progressive, creative thinking in a city that can seem so intent on anything but. Which is why we got a little worried when the Saturday-night soirée ditched its longtime digs at the now-defunct District, moved to a restaurant on Coral Way, and then seemed to grind to a halt. It semi-returned, absorbed into the short-lived Dirty Disco collab at Pawn Shop, but the vibe just wasn't the same. Thankfully, our worrying was for naught. The minds behind Poplife were just turning the wheels and working on bigger projects still to come, and the party returned to much fanfare last fall, with a new home at White Room. It's continued doing what it does best — exposing its crowd to next-shit acts that later blow up, stretching minds and genres at once.
La Paloma
Cocktails are weird. They're prim, in a Mamie Eisenhower kind of way, and yet they're meant to get you sort of drunk before you eat.Plus they're kind of expensive. So don't try to beat around the bush by drinking your cocktails somewhere cheap and normal. Go to La Paloma. You've seen it before; it's that restaurant on North Biscayne Boulevard that's covered in Christmas lights.Step inside.The décor will make you feel like some kind of Swiss duke. There are cabinets full of strange porcelain dolls. Heavy wooden furniture and red carpet abound.Enjoy your white Russian (or whatever) slowly. It's going to cost you about 10 bucks.
Monty's Sunset
Sometimes you just want to kill everyone in Miami. The traffic, the sweating, the general idiocy.Cool down there, chief. You need to get your ass to Monty's. Enjoy a quiet beer on the water's edge. Stare out past the marina and watch the ships go by. Contemplate the vastness of the ocean and the insignificance of your worries.Or order a bucket load of margaritas and a half-dozen oysters, get yourself good and drunk, and giggle at the people getting their scuba certification in the swimming pool. They look like little seals!Soak up the sweet abandon of faux island tunes being pounded out on the keyboard by the guy in the Hawaiian shirt. No need to get angry. Life is but a Jimmy Buffett song.
"This is the best radio station in Miami," says DJ Bo. "Go ahead and change the station — I dare you." This is old-school, Miami-style pirate radio from the hood. "Fire it up and get loose," he says. "It's time for some booty music." He plays hip-hop songs at high speed, so they sound as if the Chipmunks were rapping in the background. He talks over the beat — "For the love of God, say what?" — and takes calls on the air, always asking the same three questions: (1) What neighborhood you represent? (2) What school you represent? And (3) Who is your best friend for life? Don't be afraid. Give him a listen and a call.
Tobacco Road
Tobacco Road has provided a venue for local artists, and booze for its loyal patrons, for what seems like an eternity. (Actually, in Miami, the club's 96 years comes pretty close to eternal.) But The Road stands out among its competitors for more than its longevity; you'll be tapping your toes and rocking out any day you walk in. The open-air patio provides the perfect festival atmosphere, even if there is only one band playing. Sure, Tobacco Road isn't as seedy as it once was, but what centenarian is?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®