Best Venue for Local Acts 2012 | PAX Miami | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Set back about a hundred steps from SW Eighth Street, a black, boxy building hides in the shadow of I-95. This is the Performing Arts Exchange, also known as PAX Miami. Just more than a year ago, owner and art buyer Roxanne Scalia completed renovations on the former Miami Herald distribution center. She quickly booked a bunch of bands, including Miami jam stars Suénalo, local Latin fusion legends Locos por Juana, and Magic City alt-rockers Minimal. In the intervening 13 months, Scalia's place has become a clubhouse for Brickell and the rest of Miami's best- and least-known Afro-Cuban, compas, indie rock, reggae, and jazz musicians — not to mention touring acts from foreign lands like Haiti, Chile, Argentina, France, and Puerto Rico. A laid-back cultural hub that describes itself as "a progressive independent performing and cinema arts center in a sustainable format, with a local focus and a global reach," PAX is all about promoting Miami's artists and musicians. And that's exactly why the locals hang out here, scenesters sip java and beer at the bar, and the small, low-slung stage is almost never empty.

Courtesy of Bardot

From the outside, there's no sign of life. Long curtains hinder any attempt to spy through the windows of midtown's ever-expanding strip mall on North Miami Avenue. In fact, there's really nothing — aside from the packed parking lot — to indicate you have arrived at your destination in an otherwise desolate area. Late at night, there is only this bar and Gigi's, both owned by Amir Ben-Zion, who is building a local empire. Bardot reminds us of a cross between the coolest music venue in NYC's East Village and your best friend's basement. There's good booze, plenty of beer, and programming that ranges from local performers to more established names. The lineup is impossibly diverse, from sonic jazz to Latin fusion, classic hip-hop, vintage funk, electronic trance, reggae, alternative rock, and more. Bardot curates an amazing rotating selection that definitely has something for every taste. Plus there's a fantastic sound system in this rectangular, railroad-style space. Music fills the bar without speaker backlash, delivering the lyrical voice of whoever is at the microphone. There are plenty of couches in dark corners and new friends making out like crazy. Bardot manages to be a bar where both community and privacy are respected. But in the end, it's all about the music.

How do you build a killer tree house? Step 1: Pick the perfect crotch, a space between boughs that's ideally suited for supporting a couple of rooms, a few friends, and a full premium bar. Step 2: Lay the dance floor, install the VIP tables, and unfurl the rope ladder. Step 3: Hire a bouncer-slash-model to work the door. Step 4: Charge a modest $10 cover. Step 5: Book the raddest house, techno, and indie-dance acts of any club in Miami Beach. Sure, your favorite elevated party place used to be that secret leafy spot where you kept a stash of stolen porn, smuggled cigarettes, and watered-down vodka. But ever since construction wrapped in January 2011, you've switched to the Treehouse on 23rd Street at Park Avenue, a smallish nightlife hideout and music venue that's been ceaselessly presenting Beach clubbers with EDM legends such as M.A.N.D.Y., Mr. C, and Steve Bug — plus live crossover crews including Miami's own Krisp. So whether it's Winter Music Conference or just another Sunday, climb up, shoot some vodka, and come play.

If you're a musician, performance artist, poet, or spoken-wordsmith, follow the map in the sky to Luna Star Cafe in North Miami, now in its 16th year of awesomeness. There you can display your talent in an open-minded open format, with a supporting cast of more than 100 cosmopolitan beers (including a Florida brew called Holy Mackerel and a Belgian one called Kwak; Coors, Heineken, and Amstel Light did not make the cut). There is also a menu that includes duck wings, crabcakes served with a key lime tartar sauce, pizzas, pastas, and Mediterranean plates. For those looking to activate sleepy corners of their creative minds before taking the stage, an espresso or gourmet coffee is a peppy choice. The open jam on Tuesdays is a laid-back event that often features local musicians playing original acoustic folk or rock, but comedians, storytellers, and others with a creative seed to sew are welcome to do so too. Not ready to strum in public? No worries. There's enough graphic art on the walls, live entertainment, fresh food, and stimulating conversation to make even wallflowers emerge from their shells. Call to make sure the schedule hasn't changed — things at Luna Star Cafe rotate like the planets.

Courtesy of Bardot

On May 10, 2012, Laura Sutnick closed a chapter of her life. Besides matriculating at the University of Miami, she's been the iconic on-air DJ Laura (of Miami) on WVUM for the past four years. Her show, Vamos a la Playa, quickly became a Miami staple — a two-hour feature of the best in college radio. Sutnick also took her keen ear to the nightclubs, spinning regularly at places such as the Electric Pickle and Bardot. But she wasn't content to be only a DJ. With Patrick Walsh, she developed the nightlife collective and blog Nightdrive, which has attracted some of the best indie-rock and electronic acts to area venues. And it's that love of introducing the city to new music, either from behind the decks or behind the scenes, that has made Sutnick Miami's top DJ. At a time when most of our DJs are content to spoon-feed crowds the stuff they expect to hear, Laura (of Miami) has us reaching for Shazam, hoping we can figure out the name of that awesome track she's spinning. And for Vamos a la Playa fans, the show lives on at Mondays from 2 to 4 p.m.

Julio Mejia is young, talented, local, and seemingly unstoppable. Just old enough to drink, the 21-year-old has already merked the decks onstage with great names such as Diplo, Dave Nada, Klever, and last year's best Miami DJ, Craze. Whether he's working on solo projects or with his partner Matthew Toth as half of electro duo GTA, Mejia has penned tunes that have attracted the attention of bloggers, EDM enthusiasts, and superstar DJs alike. His big break came when Dave Nada, founder of the genre, began playing his moombahton track "Move." Around the same time, GTA started working with Laidback Luke, and ever since, the requests and scene support have come in droves. He has officially remixed artists including Flosstradamus and Buraka Som Sistema. He's working on a few EPs, both as JWLS and GTA, as well as a series of rap instrumentals to be titled JWLS Is Bored. Keep an eye out for JWLS and GTA. Miami's moombah kid is doing big things.

A quick look at the Billboard charts reveals that the rest of America has finally learned something Miami figured out long ago: House music is awesome. Of course, the Magic City wasn't always so hip. Murk — the team of Ralph Falcón and Oscar G. — defined our club music culture starting with their debut in the early '90s. Separately, the Miami natives are superstar DJs with residencies and gigs across the globe. But together, under an ever-growing list of aliases, they've become house production royalty. The duo has scored seven consecutive number one hits on Billboard's club play charts. They have also remixed singles for pop stars as disparate as Madonna and RuPaul. And this past February, Defected Records released a best-of compilation for its elite House Masters series. They haven't quite reached the commercial heights of some of those new kids who are tearing up the pop charts with crossover hits, but that's only because Murk's Miami fans know the definition of real house music.

Whether they're ass-smashing Nachos Supreme with strippers, "Planking on Yo Bitch" all over South Beach, or overdosing on "Kush Smoke & Pussy" in a Miami Shores parking lot, O'Grime's L.Rey and Nikolais Javan are this city's most ridiculously rad rap team. Their YouTube vids routinely get 100,000 views. Their email inboxes are constantly flooded with nudie pics from fans of both sexes. They're even huge in Lithuania, thanks to last year's b-ball anthem, "Valanciunas (Big V Lithuanian Hero)," in honor of seven-foot phenom and fifth-overall NBA draft pick Jonas Valanciunas. But really, it all started in summer 2011 when these barely post-teen hip-hop pranksters debuted with a nine-song eponymous EP chockablock with funny, filthy tracks like "Domework," a drugged-out, dubsteppy cut about getting blowjobs while playing video games. And then it hit peak perversity just a few months ago when L.Rey and Niko finally followed up with a full-length slab — the equally horny, totally superhigh, and oh-so-swaggishly titled Pearl Necklace — whose NSFW cover art features a corseted set of boobies spattered with gobs of semen spelling out O'Grime. So yeah, they're young, wild, crazy, uncensored, and occasionally offensive. But that's how Miami has always liked its bangers — from Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew to Disco Rick, Trick, and the Baddest Bitch. We just wanna get grimy in the 305.

Bachamambo plays bachata criollo, a form of Dominican roots music that was born in country barrooms of the D.R. The style is a dance based on Dominican blues, with songs about getting drunk, losing your woman, and getting kicked out of the house. It's all set to an infectious beat that Latins call "pegajoso," as in sticky or extremely catchy. It's a guitar-driven style whose heroes are Luis Vargas, Raulín Rodríguez, and Luis Segura. The most popular song might be Luis Santos's "Corazón Culpable" ("Guilty Heart"). Bachamambo pays tribute to these greats with covers performed by the seven-piece band of guitars, bass, keyboard, tambora, timbales, and saxophone. They are six Dominicans and a Nicaraguan. Founder Raffy Quezada started the band in January 2009. You can see them live every Sunday night at Club Típico Dominicano in Allapattah, every Friday at Puerto Marino in Hialeah, and monthly at La Guira in Miami. They are available for booking and have found huge support from Hondurans and Nicaraguans, in addition to Cubans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, and gringos. There was a time when Dominican radio would not play bachata, but in the past decade it has risen to the heights of popular Latin dance alongside salsa and merengue. Every time Bachamambo hits the stage, it keeps the audience drinking and dancing to the classics till the early morning.

This 12-member mini-orchestra is perhaps the most ambitious indie music project in recent South Florida memory. Psychic Mirrors comes complete with choreographed back-up singers, horns, keys, and a unique blend of funk rhythms, electro beats, and Latin flavor that includes decidedly futuristic nods toward the past. This is a band that doesn't follow any predefined archetypes. The brainchild of Cuban-American composer Mickey de Grand IV, it delivers on all of that ambition. Tracks such as "Mystic Hustle" and "We Can Groove" sound like something from a tropical space party. Luckily you don't have to travel into orbit to catch the band live.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®