Specs Music

For many among us, there's nothing better than walking into a well-stocked record store and discovering a cool new artist. And while there's nothing wrong with getting music through the computer, there's still something magical about a real record palace. This being Miami, one of our most cherished record stores caters deeply to the Latin music aficionado. Located between Sunset Place and the University of Miami, Spec's offers a Latin music section that stands as one of the best in the nation. The shop's extensive selection covers everything from tango to reggaeton and those classic romantic Mexican boleros. Cooler still, the used CD section offers deep discounts on many top-selling and rare albums. So whether you are into the latest Calle 13 reggaeton rump or on the hunt for some unusual old-school Latin recording (that's not available on iTunes), the place to hit is Spec's in Coral Gables.

Churchill's Pub
Alexander Oliva

Churchill's has pretty much stayed the same for 30 years while fancier newcomers have come and tanked. Why? Because the place has stuck to the magic formula of successful, no-frill rock clubs: a strict commitment to live music (no bullshit DJ nights), cheap drinks, and regrettable bathrooms. Pretty much anyone can play here, and as any number of local micro-scenes are born and die, they all, at some point, touch on Churchill's. Anything goes here, from sold-out shows by touring blog-buzz bands, to experimental theater, to low-budget porn shoots. So the place, thankfully, seems to repel gentrification. It's a good bet that after the nuclear holocaust, the survivors will still gather at Churchill's, blithely awaiting the first of ten bands to go on at midnight.

The upstart warehouse venue Goo is quickly becoming something of a Churchill's Junior, with a bustling near-daily schedule of music and art shows. The important distinction, though, is that this place is strictly DIY — no bar and earlier start times make it friendly to the underage crowd. Still, it's no kiddie playground; there are plenty of clued-in legals showing up to hear multiband bills that largely fall along the punk/hardcore spectrum. Goo is a no-frills operation run purely out of love by volunteers, so please, please don't screw it up by acting like a jackass.

Club Euforia

Traditionally in Miami, all the top Latin clubs have resided somewhere in Little Havana, but this year there's a new sweet spot. Downtown's newly christened 90 Degree is now boldly bringing Latin vibes to the house-music-oriented club strip on NE 11th Street. Every Saturday night, the place's Sábados Elegantes party jams with the latest reggaeton, merengue, and old-school salsa. Even better, the downtown venue is getting into live music, recently throwing a concert by the legendary Gran Combo — arguably one of the greatest and most acclaimed Latin orchestras of all time. With more live performances on the way and the finest Latin DJs in town keeping things moving, 90 Degree is an undeniably central destination for Latin rhythms in Miami.

Before Set opened in 2007, ultra-lounges such as Mynt and Mokai were popping up everywhere, aiming to taking over the Beach's — and the Opium Group's — high-end clientele. So what did these mega-club wizards do? They created a monstrous lounge with minimal dance-floor space but plenty of couches for VIPs looking to consume copious amounts of liquor. It's a place full of contradictions that has us in a constant love/hate relationship with the venue. We hate it because it's more difficult to get through Set's doors than it is to get into the Jonas Brothers' pants, and because drink prices ($12 for a standard well vodka and mix) make us wish Bernie Madoff had persuaded brothers Eric and Francis Milon and Roman Jones to invest in his Ponzi scheme. But we love it because there is never a shortage of superstar DJs taking over the decks; among those who have performed here are Benny Benassi, Fedde Le Grand, and Miguel Migs. And it's so luxuriously decorated you feel like the excess of wealth might rub off on you. In other words, we love to criticize, but we are secretly envious every time we aren't taking part in the fun.

Louis Bar-Lounge

As the Opium Group expanded to national locales in New York and Las Vegas, the last thing we expected was a new addition to its Miami Beach portfolio. But 2008 brought exactly that with the introduction of Louis at the Gansevoort South Hotel. And while most beach hotel lounges are slickly integrated into the lobby or pool, Louis takes guests completely out of the Gansevoort to a place where 18th-century French aristocracy meets contemporary urban hipster. And it's topped off with a dwarf in full Napoleon regalia walking around the space. It's dark and cavernous, with touches of hot pink and regal wallpaper. The door policy is just as hollow as its sister clubs, but for some reason the payoff seems greater when you gain access. Yes, everyone is gorgeous, and bottle service will get you noticed, but if you're content with hanging out at one of the two expansive bars or cheering on whatever DJ is spinning, your pathetic normalcy is quickly forgotten.

We could have gone the obvious route and chosen a locale in the Park West district, but where's the fun in that? In fact, for years there has been an (often-illegal) after-hours scene happening right under the city's nose. Though the Wynwood Art District enjoys plenty of crowds during its Second Saturday gallery walk and Art Basel, 90 percent of the time, it's an empty urban wasteland — a perfect setting for promoters looking to throw a party. Underground acts such as Audiofly, Steve Lawler, and Matthew Dear have performed at nondescript warehouses in the area. Totally cool and legal places such as Soho Studios, Charcoal Studio, and Awarehouse have sponsored shows that have lasted until noon the following day. Unfortunately, there is nothing scheduled, but staying in the loop guarantees you'll hear about the next after-hours party.

The Vagabond

Hipsters love irony. But don't call the Sweat Records and ¿Que Pasa M.I.A.? crews responsible for this Thursday-night fiesta hipsters. That's totally not what they're trying to attract. They're more interested in spicing the event with scrumptiously dirty 305 flavor and enticing those who enjoy an anti-South Beach party. They do very uncool quince-themed nights featuing grilled pan con lechón. And what could be nerdier than dressing grown men in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes? Projecting original Nintendo games on a large screen for patrons to play? Or maybe cranking out old-school tunes that range from 2 Live Crew to the Buzzcocks? But it's not like there's Pabst Blue Ribbon (the official drink of the stylistically unwashed) on special during this particular night — just one-dollar Colt tallboys, seven-dollar gin 'n' juice, and seven-buck Dirty Shake combos (a tall boy and a shot of Jäger).

So if the organizers are not trying to allure hipsters, why does this undeniably fun, nostalgia-hawking, ultimately sarcastic shindig at the Vagabond draw them like coke on a key every week?

Uh, we're not sure.

But it's kind of ironic, doncha think?

LIV
Courtesy of LIV

So you secured a smoking-hot date for the evening and you want to be like Bruce Wayne taking out a Russian ballerina. Flash your credit card at the nearest exotic car rental, select that gunmetal-gray Lambo, pick up your honey, and head to LIV at the Fontainebleau. Find the VIP host and request one of the six skyboxes suspended over the main dance floor. High above the thumping, bumping party, you and your date will be completely isolated from all the regular club denizens battling each other to get to the bar, where they will fork over $20 a drink. You, on the other hand, will be balling outrageous, ordering up bottles of Santana champagne and getting your date so tipsy she will give an impromptu lap dance. But try to contain your friskiness, lest you want to get thrown out by security for conducting unsanctioned acts in the skybox. LIV is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Best Nightclub to Die in the Past 12 Months

Studio A

M.I.A., Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, Girl Talk, Bonde Do Rolê, Chromeo, Moby, Cat Power, and many others graced its stage. It hosted a slew of infamous weekly parties, including Revolver, Plastik Fantastik, SceneWolf, and Misfit. It was the city's only rock 'n' roll nightclub and its only midsize venue. Nothing hurt us more than having to say bye to Studio A in 2008. And to rub salt in the wound, Studio A's sister club, Studio B in Brooklyn, continues to thrive and book acts we only wish would stop by Miami.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®