Best Dive Bar 2015 | Happy's Stork Lounge | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of Happy Stork Lounge

A curious child asks, "Mommy, where do dive bars come from?" In Miami at least, Happy's Stork Lounge is the correct answer. This glorious dive on the JFK Causeway breathes a special life into the neighborhood and acts as a courier for grimy, boozy goodness. Here you have two options: To the left is the liquor store, and to the right is the bar. This stork has been making dive-bomb deliveries for more than 50 years, and the bar has the scars to prove it. There is the pool table that has turned more gray than green, humorous signs that give you material for days, sections of the bar that have never been dusted, and the painting of a woman on the back wall has a bullet hole piercing her face (right in the Marilyn Monroe birthmark region). Legend goes it came from an off-duty policeman who was mad about losing a card game. This bar is filled with people and bartenders who have some good stories to tell. The original owner of the joint went by "Happy," and each drink you down keeps the memory and sentiment alive and well.

Karli Evans

Drag fans know that the performances are largely a nocturnal art form. Most queens around America save their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent for the cover of darkness — you gotta wait for the pitchfork-wielders to turn in, after all. Miami Beach is so bursting with rainbow pride, however, that lucky locals get treated to the rare sight of daytime drag every weekend at legendary hangout the Palace. Delighting beach revelers and tourists alike for more than 25 years, the Palace is the only gay restaurant and bar in Miami where you can watch queens turn it out while you get trashed and munch toast. While the Palace's popular nighttime shows are usually more fierce, the weekly Sunday Brunch is a beloved frontrunner for the most fun show in town. With two seatings, at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., at $39.99, each Sunday brings bottomless mimosas and nonstop drag shows while you down breakfast grub like chocolate-chip pancakes and chicken and waffles. The talented ladies traipse through the tables with traffic-stopping performances that spill onto Ocean Drive, where shocked looks from South Beach tourists only add to the entertainment. The friendly interaction between the queens and the crowds — plus the prime people-watching location — makes this a great place to take out-of-towners. Maybe underground drag nights are more your thing, but these queens will impress with fun sidewalk-grinding lip-syncs full of hits from Rihanna, Gloria Estefan, Whitney Houston, and more. This is the former stomping ground of RuPaul's Drag Race star Latrice Royale, after all, and respect and tribute are owed. So bring your appetite and plenty of dollar bills — these ladies ain't dancing in the South Florida heat for nothin'.

Photo by Alex Markow

The search for good gay nightlife options outside South Beach has sometimes resembled an Indiana Jones-esque quest. So thank God for Gramps for cracking that conundrum once and for all by bringing us Double Stubble. It's a welcome new hipster piece to gay Miami's party puzzle. The last Sunday afternoon of every month, there's no need to keep your sexuality subtle. The disco beats of DJ Hottpants will surely make everyone shuffle or do the hustle. Whether you like muscle or a little extra stubble, you may even find someone to snuggle, cuddle, or get into some other sort of trouble. So get all your friends in a huddle, hop in a shuttle, and come out, because missing this tea dance is certainly a social fumble.

Alexander Guerra

"What are we doing tonight?" Roy asks his roommate, Danny.

"I was thinking maybe we could go out to a place with a dark dance floor. Find ourselves some men," replies Danny.

"No thanks; I've had my fill of Tribal House remixes of Beyoncé tracks for the month."

"That place with the naughty backroom?"

"You've got Grindr for that."

"We could head up to one of those go-go-boy bars in Broward?"

"Ugh, I wish there were a gay bar that was just like an actual bar. One that actually served craft cocktails instead of having shirtless bartenders shoot out vodka crans like it was an assembly line. A place that's not too dark, well decorated, with decent music. A place where you can actually talk with a good mix of locals and tourists. Dudes of all types and ages. Maybe they did things like weekly trivia nights. No lines out front or VIP rooms. You know, like those charming little neighborhood bars straight people have so many of."

"Oh, you mean the Bar at Hotel Gaythering. It's at that new gay hotel in South Beach. It's Thursday, right? I think they've got '90s music night and $3 local craft beers."

"Gaythering? Well, that's certainly a name."

"Eh, well having a slightly silly name is just about the only thing this place has in common with the rest of the gay bars in town."

Readers' choice: Twist

Photo by Nikolas Koenig

The weekly party has all but gone the way of the dinosaur in South Florida, killed not by a massive comet rocketing to Earth but by some combination of bottle service, a tourist-driven market, and a serious lack of people willing to take the risk of getting a regularly scheduled gathering on the calendar. Basement Miami at the new Miami Beach Edition, on the other hand, seems completely at ease taking big risks, even if that means introducing a downtown-esque nightclub to the middle of Miami Beach. On Fridays, a smattering of DJs, both local and visiting, get on the decks in the Discobox space to pump out dance-friendly tunes that range from nü-disco to hip-hop and house. The best part is that the sets usually don't pander to EDM and Top 40-loving crowds. The music feels familiar and accessible, but it's always a step above the megaclubs' usual dreck. The space itself is also a marvel — it seems pitch black except for the amazing lighting schematic that pops out of the most unexpected places. The crowd is as varied as the dance tracks, including downtown and Beach locals and plenty of tourists. Cover is usually $20, but if you go often enough or know people who know people, that fee is usually waived — so don't be a sucker. After all, a good party doesn't come cheap — well drinks alone usually run about $15 at Basement Miami. Think about prepartying elsewhere, and show up when you're good and ready to dance.

The best parties are always house parties, so it's only natural that House Nightclub tries to re-create that experience every night. Once you possess a "house key," you are free to explore the venue, located on the edge of where Wynwood meets Overtown. You enter through the high-tech foyer/living room, where silver bubbles in the air seem to provide the only (legal) high you'll ever need. If you arrive early, you'll be confined to this area until the rest of the "house" opens for debauchery. However, if you're looking for the VIP experience, you're going to want to request a table in the backroom area, where you'll find the "bedroom" and "bath." That area gives you a clear view of the dance floor and stage so you can scope out any potential hotties you might want to invite back to your table. And no, House isn't a gay venue, it's just very gay-friendly — meaning if you want the company of guys or girls, that can easily be arranged here, no questions asked. There is a minimum in the VIP area, so expect to pay around $5,000 for the privilege of looking down at the common folk.

Tap 79 is one of the least assuming joints in Miami. The beer hall is decorated in old typewriters, wine crates, and Jenga games and looks like it was funded with loose couch change. Pay that no mind, though, because the beer is cold and the food is delicious. It's owned by the people who brought the more chic Bin 18 to Edgewater, and the menu is a mashup of elegant bites with take-no-prisoners pub grub. A baked Brie in a crock, served with garlic-infused honey ($12), shares face time with Scooby snacks ($8), a plate of ginger-marinated salmon bites and house cured beef jerky ($6). An ahi tuna sandwich on toasted country bread ($12) is best friends with the Tap 79 burger, a thick patty of Angus short rib, brisket, and chuck, seared to a crisp on the outside and pink in the middle, then topped with Scottish cheddar and bacon ($12). It's a burger to die for. That's not to mention a mac 'n' cheese ($8) that's so delicious the restaurant tends to run out of it well before closing, and the truffle fries, which could possibly be the world's best use of a spud.

Readers' choice: Kush

Deep within the recesses of the monolithic Loews Hotel complex lies a small, intimate outdoor bar lit by tiki torches and string lamps. The cocktails, crafted under the guidance of bar manager Rob Ferrara, are segmented into categories like classics and new school, but it's the modern takes on classic (and potent) tiki cocktails that make the Rum Line so special. The drinks call to you like the song of a sea siren... sweet and frothy yet with a respectable bite. The Tug Boat ($16) is a perfect example. Made with two Jamaican rums, allspice dram, honey, and ginger, it's smooth, spicy, and can knock you on your ass if you're not careful — exactly what a good tiki drink is supposed to do. With its unpretentious bamboo furniture, large communal tables, and ever-present sea breezes, the Rum Line is the best place to live out your island fantasies — especially when your island happens to be Miami Beach.

Readers' choice: The Broken Shaker

Not every man can get away with wearing full emperor regalia, but at last year's Tales of the Cocktail — the world's largest mixologist festival — John Lermayer dressed like Napoleon and then mooned all of New Orleans from a balcony high above the French Quarter. Look up "bon vivant" in the dictionary and you'll likely see a picture of the ever-social bartender. Lermayer jets to all corners of the country —from the Hamptons to Manhattan to South Beach — to represent spirits companies or consult on a new beverage program for a chic lounge. But behind that glamorous life, Lermayer has the goods to back it up. The New York native shook Miami's cocktail foundation to the core when he opened the Florida Room at the Delano, bringing the art of the cocktail to a city where Diet Coke and vodka was the drink of choice. Lermayer then went on to create the mixology program at Blackbird Ordinary and the Regent Cocktail Club at South Beach's Gale Hotel. These days, he is working on opening Sweet Liberty Drink & Supply Co. later this summer in South Beach. The emperor of the cocktail has truly conquered Miami.

Readers' choice: Hector Acevedo, Fontainebleau Miami Beach

Even in a city full of oversized egos, Miami's DJs aren't exactly short on unearned self-confidence. That's why it's so refreshing to find a beatmaker as approachable and humble as Lazaro Casanova, who has been DJing and producing music for more than a decade. Casanova first rose to prominence as the resident DJ of Miami's premier indie-dance party Revolver. But after he grew tired of the cooler-than-thou hipster scene, he moved on to house music, where he eventually hooked up with one of the city's most iconic DJs, Oscar G, who became a mentor of sorts as Casanova explored Afro and Latin sounds while delving deeper into house-music aesthetics. Casanova now travels the globe as one of Miami's best musical ambassadors. This year, Oscar G and Ralph Falcon bestowed upon him the managerial duties of Murk Records, one of the city's most important dance labels. And right now, the place to catch Casanova spinning live is at Murk Mondays at Coyo Taco (2300 NW Second Ave., Miami), where — alongside Oscar G and Ralph Falcon in person — he shows Miami every week that great, made-in-the-305 dance music is alive and well.

Readers' choice: DJ Irie

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®