Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
It's dusk and you're cruising down West Dixie Highway in a black Cadillac at 66 mph. A pair of plastic dice dangles from the rear-view mirror, a stolen pool cue leans on the passenger seat, and a cheap vinyl bowling bag full of empty beer cans and melted ice sits in the trunk. Your back pocket bulges with a thick, wet roll of $5 bills. And you're sweating like a scared pig on speed. The plan: Slide into Styx's street-side parking lot, leave the Caddy near the door, swallow some cheap brew, hustle a game on a corner table, and triple your money in two hours before splitting as fast as possible without making anybody nervous enough to knock you out, slash your tires, or something worse. An hour and a half later, the bets are laid out on the bar, pinned under your third $8 pitcher of cold, watery Budweiser. The mark is feeding the table four quarters and racking one last round. On TV, the Dolphins are losing again and time is running out. But right here and now, you're minutes from winning big, just trying to stay sober enough to clear the table, sink the eight ball without scratching, slip out the door, hop into the Caddy, and tear away at top speed with exactly the right amount of cash to get the hell out of Miami.
The only thing more imaginative than the Wynwood Walls backdrop at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar is the cocktails. Our favorites include the Nunca ($12) — named for the Brazilian graffiti artist — a caipirinha that replaces cachaça with Japanese sake along with muddled strawberries and mint. The fresh ingredients add a delicate sweetness that doesn't overpower the sake. The Kenny Scharf ($12) pays homage to the American painter with a tequila and berry blend that starts out sweet but leaves the taste buds with a subtle kick of the spirit. For beer snobs, there are microbrews such as the North Coast Brewing Company's Old Rasputin ($7) — a Russian imperial stout — and the Full Sail Amber Ale ($5). You'll come first for the food, but you'll return for the libations.
Sunday was invented less as a day of rest and more as a time to recover from Saturday night. (That's not in the Bible, in case you were preparing to look.) As you sit at GreenStreet Café in the Grove, trying to keep your brains from oozing out of your skull, questions about the previous evening begin popping into your head, such as: Was it a good idea to mix tequila and Jägermeister? Was that a golden retriever, a French dude, Jamie Foxx, and two hookers at the bar? Just how much did the bar tab run, anyway? As you decide whether you'll be able to keep down some eggs, your server brings along the only antidote guaranteed to flush the poison out of your body and turn you into something resembling a human: a bloody mary. GreenStreet's bloody ($11) is presented in an extra-tall glass. As you lick the rim, encrusted in celery salt and cayenne pepper, shards of life start to return to your withered body. A sip of the salty, spicy elixir fills you with much-needed hair of the dog. The combination of fresh tomato juice, horseradish, pepper, and seasonings hits the spot as you lean back on a red-velvet love seat and finally notice — hey! — it's a beautiful day.
"How do I live without you? I want to know!" LeAnn Rimes's love song should be crooned into the mike and dedicated to the best karaoke spot in Miami. Studio has offered wannabe singers good and consistent karaoke for ages. You can belt out just about any song, in a group (Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun") or sad and alone (Patsy Cline's "Crazy"). Your song can be out of tune, and your white knuckles can intensely grasp the microphone to canned applause and an audience of drunken bachelorette-party attendees. Located in the basement of the beachfront hotel the Shelborne, Studio is so dark you'd never know you were on a sunny strip of tourist heaven. There's no place more open and more ready to put you onstage than this place. Not only is it open every night of the week until 5 a.m., but also every famous person, short of Barack Obama, has been spotted here, and photos on the walls prove it. The two-drink minimum sucks, but all the fancy working and just-for-show instruments beat the crap out of playing empty-handed air guitar. Even though Karaoke Nazi Ronnie is no longer there, don't worry — he was replaced with a younger dude. Note: Flirting will bump you to the front of the queue.
Real sports bars, just like true-blue fans, are usually a little rough around the edges. Think about it. When you watch the Dolphins pound the Pats at Sun Life, are the suits in the skyboxes the ones pumping the Aqua and Orange with energy? So why in hell would you expect to find real 305 passion in some slick corporate joint full of flat-screens and $9 appletinis? If there's sushi on the menu, you're not at a real sports bar. So leave immediately and head for somewhere grittier, somewhere full of the working stiffs who bleed black, silver, and teal, and the guys who save their paychecks to see D-Wade and LeBron in person. Somewhere like the Midtown Sports Bar. The bar's ethos is painted right on its adobe walls, where proudly homemade murals for the Heat, Fins, and Canes mark the spot. Just in case you're not catching the vibe, the "No Guns" sign on the front door and buzzer controlled by the bartender should clear it up. And once you're inside, you'll find a comfortable, dimly lit watering hole with plenty of TV sets and beer, including $1.75 domestic drafts every day. There are pool tables and darts for halftime. And as for the rough-looking characters crowding around the tiny tables at game time, they might not be headed for the corporate box seats anytime soon, but you can bet you're ass they'll be cheering on the MIA.
"Please allow your barkeep a minute or two to craft your cocktail with the finest spirits and freshest ingredients," reads the cocktail menu at the Martini Bar at the Raleigh. It's a notice that your patience will be rewarded with a carefully created libation. In fact, you shouldn't mind if the bartender takes 20 minutes to pour such tasty concoctions. Our favorite, the Lola, combines Dos Maderas rum, passion fruit purée, basil leaves, jalapeño, lime juice, and homemade syrup into a sweet-and-spicy beverage that allows the smoky flavor of the rum to come through. This is just one of the well-priced $14 speciality cocktails. Drinks aside, when you enter the retro-refined space from the lobby, it's easy to see why Details magazine in 2010 called it one of the "10 Best Hotel Bars in the World" and a "monument to forties Florida cool." And don't let the location fool you. You won't find Jersey Shore knockoffs here. Locals love it because it's still a slice of authentic South Beach glamour.
Studies show the best way to unwind after a long day of work is drinking cheap beer and playing some equally cheap pool. This is especially true when this constructive behavior is carried out at a place where you can smoke to your heart's content, dress to unimpress, and not pay for parking. Peg's Pocket is a relatively undiscovered and nondescript bar. In fact, most patrons became acquainted with Peg's through a friend who was already a regular. And Peg's isn't a pick-up joint — unless you're free beer. On Tuesday and Thursday, the suds flow gratis — as long as you're playing — and you won't get eighty-sixed, no matter how many times you weave to the bar for a refill. People have been known to drink 20 to 30 pints, and Peg's just keeps 'em coming. The other five days of the week, beers cost about $4 each and a pitcher is less than $10. Peg's is in no way hip, cool, or trendy — the décor ain't new, and the bar is in a mini-mall. But you can count on the felts and the drafts being just right night after night. Sometimes you wanna go where nobody knows your name.
The neighborhood bar's contributions to the community are various, and indispensable, as well documented in the '80s sitcom Cheers. It can be a watering hole and public house, a sanctuary and second home. It serves local boozehounds, working professionals, and inebriated philosophers alike. At a place like Billy's Pub Too, it can also serve some damn fine pub grub. But most important, it offers a place to kick back, unwind, imbibe, and forget your troubles for a while. And besides, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. But we digress. It's hard not to feel at home in a place that offers events and entertainment such as Xbox 360 Kinect on the patio, Texas Hold 'Em on Tuesday, hot honeys flaunting their stuff in bikini contests, $1 Jell-O shots anytime, and a full menu including apps such as mozz sticks ($5) and sliders ($1.50 each), burgers, wraps, and sandwiches ranging from $3 to $7.50.
Give it up, Coconut Grove. Your attempt at being a nightlife hot spot that can compete with South Beach or downtown is long dead (and we get the feeling some of you like it that way). Time to go back to what you do best: charming, no-frills watering holes that don't come with exorbitant prices or velvet-rope attitude. That tradition was established back in the '60s by the Taurus, the Grove's oldest bar, and still its best. The Main Highway mainstay reopened in 2009 after a seven-year hiatus and found itself surrounded by a couple of Italian restaurants and fancy new condos. But it stayed true to its roots as a casual place to grab sanely priced suds and cocktails. Patrons can select from nearly 50 beers to down either in the spirited but cozy main room or out back on the quiet patio.
You're driving deep into the underbelly of West Kendall and everything seems perfectly normal. A gigantic Walmart, duh. Rows of identical townhouses with manicured lawns, yep. A strip mall across the street, of course. A parking lot sectioned off with police tape and packing 20 motorcycles... Wait, what? Behind the super-dark-tinted windows of the sports bar in this shopping complex: leather-clad bikers, bros in polo shirts, indie-music-heads who are friends with the rotating bands that play on a tiny stage, secret gamblers glued to the videogame machines, cheapskates who love $2 drink specials, and football addicts transfixed by individual TV screens in booths. Go ahead — order a drink, kick back, and soak up the wilds of suburbia.
True story. The parking lot in front of Rumors Neighborhood Bistro and Bar in the Old Cutler Towne Center is like an experiment in societal and cultural interaction. Some nights you'll see patrons parking pickup trucks decorated with Confederate flags. Other nights, hoopties will roll up with spinning rims (they're a bit behind the times in South Dade). Still, other nights the parking lot will teem with young emo chicks who, let's face it, don't drive as much as they get rides. There's a lot going on here on a weekly basis. But exactly what is highly dependent on the night. Rumors hosts country and western, hip-hop, hard rock, comedy, and other uniquely themed nights. And you know what? It works. Different tastes can share the same venue. After all, down south isn't South Beach, where every storefront caters to a unique niche of debauchery. No, in Cutler Bay, it's one-stop clubbing for all.
Seven years. That's how long the title of "Best Dance Club" has eluded one of Miami-Dade's most iconic nightclubs. Seven years. That's a lifetime in club years. Mansion was basically the Susan Lucci of this category, so this is long overdue. Seven years ago, it filled the void left by Level, another legendary nightclub. Since then, superstar DJs such as Deadmau5, Bob Sinclar, David Guetta, Paul van Dyk, Laidback Luke, Benny Benassi, Justice, Calvin Harris, and others have given its sound system a proper workout. Let's not forget the live performances too. Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Crystal Castles, Peaches, La Roux, Mickey Avalon, and hell, even the Chongalicious Girls (remember them?) have performed at this beautiful joint. Even through all the usual criticism — door policy, drink prices, tourist clientele — leveled at this place, how can you argue with a seven-year history of this magnitude?