Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
What type are you? Are you the Paranoid Stoner, always convinced the last toke will bring you closer to Satan? Or are you the Teenage Stoner, talking up your homemade honey-bear bong and sad sage stash? Maybe you're the Chronic Connoisseur, a wake-and-bake badass meticulous about strains and rituals. Wherever you land on the spectrum, there's a wondrous place that welcomes doobie bros of all kinds: Santa's Enchanted Forest. Let's start with the name. Santa: Jolly. Enchanted: It's magical. Forest: Trees are the best. In short, it's a pothead's paradise — an amusement park snow-blasted with Christmas cheer in the middle of the tropics from late October till early January every year. Walking under the giant, rosy-cheeked Saint Nick sign, you're greeted by an archway of lights, the first of many twinkling displays that make your bloodshot eyes widen with delight. What follows is a huge Christmas tree, whose bright decor flickers in sync with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Don't hate — it's awesome. Perhaps most important, the Forest will feed your munchies. You'll find chicharrones, fries, funnel cakes, coladas, arepas, fried Oreos, and other treats. And for the more active stoner, Santa's Enchanted Forest has games and fun rides like roller coasters, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel perfect for lighting that hidden joint high in the air. At $30 per person, with no separate ride tickets required, the Forest is an affordable must for the happy, blazed kid in us all.
Sidebar is packed with contradictions. One of its owners used to work at Opium Group, the bottle-service-king of South Beach that manages clubs like Mansion and SET. Another used to be the manager at Bar, a dearly departed downtown hipster hole in the wall. Their former employers, in other words, represented diametrically different dimensions of Dade nightlife. At Sidebar, the cavernous inside — with black walls, a stage, and a large dance floor — is the perfect place to be drowned in sound and to dance the night away. The ample outdoor area, in contrast, provides a place to catch a break and some conversation. On Wednesday, Sidebar features live jazz, Fridays is for hip-hop, and Saturdays are open format. It's ladies' night on Thursday, when there are the standard free drinks at the beginning of the night for women — but also free ice cream for all. Sidebar can't even be easily geographically categorized. It sits at the juncture of Brickell and Little Havana. And yet all these elements come together perfectly. Sidebar isn't trying too hard to be one thing, but it's not trying too hard to please everyone either. It's just great.
Readers' choice: Ball & Chain
Coyo Taco is a bright, fast-casual taco joint in Wynwood — with a dark secret. To find it, walk past the bathrooms and down the hall. There, you'll find a small, square room, softly lit by novena candles. A DJ plays a mix of soft house music, and people lounge on comfortable sofas. You've found Coyo Taco's hush-hush bar. The small space is home to 50 tequilas and mezcals, all of which can be mixed into the bar's inventive cocktails created by Coyo partner Anna Robbins. There's a banana margarita, called the Anna Bannana (the extra "N" refers to Robbins' childhood nickname), made with a rare Brazilian banana liqueur, and rimmed with sal de gusano, a Mexican salt made with ground gusano worms (the same ones getting drunk at the bottom of your Mezcal bottle). For health nuts falling off the wagon, there's a chia margarita. But with 100-degree heat fast approaching, go for the bar's PaletaRitas ($14). A locally made paleta is cut in half. One part is used in the margarita; the other half serves as both garnish and refreshingly icy swizzle stick. In flavors like cocopassion and chili cucumber, these PaletaRitas are the most refreshing and boozy treat in Miami. The fact that they're served in a secret bar filled with lit effigies of saints pushes the coolness factor off the charts.
You say you want your cheap drinks with a side of ribs? Come on down to Billy's Pub Too, friend. An average bar might have a two-hour window of discounts known as "Happy Hour," but Billy's has its time frame stretched to a full workday. That's correct; it runs an eight-hour Happy Hour from 4 p.m. until midnight with drink specials. It also ups the ante on Thursdays, when you can get 99-cent beer with a valid college ID. If you are looking for more than cheap booze, Billy's boasts four pool tables, a back patio with a tiki bar, and foosball to keep you busy. And don't forget those ribs. Mr. Cobb's kitchen menu has wings, burgers, and Southern sides, but it's the ribs that are completely memorable, sticking Billy's firmly in your mind, teeth, and fingers. You can get a full meal of a quarter rack of ribs and fries for just $8.75. South Beach can keep its $18 cocktails — you'll have a better time up north, where the meat falls off the bone and the drink specials never expire.
Readers' choice: Duffy's Sports Grill
Ball & Chain likes to tout its history — for good reason. The joint opened in 1935, after all, near the tail end of the Great Depression. For two decades, it reigned as one of Miami's most celebrated nightclubs, where greats like Billie Holiday and Chet Baker belted it out nightly. However, it closed in 1957 just as the Cuban immigrants who gave Little Havana its name began arriving in big numbers. It wasn't until last fall that partners Bill Fuller, Zack Bush, and Ben Bush decided to the revive the lounge. Except for the exposed ceiling and rafters, almost everything that was original to Ball & Chain was long gone. From that starting point, the owners painstakingly re-created the 1935 bar. The result isn't just a stunning reconnection to the city's past — it's a happening nightlife spot that's reintroducing the city at large to a neighborhood most people frequent only for the ethnic eats and cigars. Do yourself a favor and grab a spot at the bar to enjoy a mojito ($12) — one of the most authentic versions you'll find in Dade — or a Calle Ocho old-fashioned ($12) that uses tobacco bitters and actual tobacco leaves. Hungry? The Cuban spring roll ($8) takes the Cuban sandwich and wraps it inside a paper-thin dough. And though it's too late to see Holiday perform in person, Ball & Chain keeps the musical spirit alive with DJs, live bands, and singers all week.
Readers' choice: Ball & Chain
This strip-mall space in Hialeah used to be called Our Place — until that dive bar got busted by the feds May 2, 2014, for drug dealing and illegal gambling. Now under new ownership, the bar has gone legit. Architect Landy Lamas and builder Mo Lacayo have given these formerly sleazy digs a major face-lift, a fresh booze list, and a new name, opening as the Bend Liquor Lounge in February 2015. "This was our local watering hole, our favorite dive, until it started going downhill," Lamas told New Times just after the fixed-up boozing spot began slinging drinks. "The bar was opened in the '70s but had been muddled up by shabby remodels. After stripping it down to its bones, we could appreciate its original spirit and decided to build on it. The '70s was a key time for the development of the area, and we thought of nothing more fitting for a quote-unquote local bar." As for the brand of intoxicants being peddled at the Bend, there's $2.50 beer (Miller High Life, Rolling Rock, Coors Banquet, Pabst Blue Ribbon), $6 local pints (Biscayne Bay Brewing, Wynwood Brewing, M.I.A. Brewing), and $8 classic cocktails too. But no more cocaine, weed, or molly. Sorry, old-timers.
Readers' choice: Finka Table & Tap
We ended up writing an entire 340-page book about how much we love Scully's, but we didn't have enough room to print it all. So we can show you only the table of contents.
Chapter 1: Cheap Drinks
Chapter 2: "This Food Is Really Good": An Ode to Scully's Culinary Side.
Chapter 3: Gridiron Glory: An Interview Series With 32 Football Fans on Why Scully's Is Their Favorite Place to Watch a Game
Chapter 4: "I Really Love These Green Walls": An Analysis of the Charming Interior Decor of the Restaurant
Chapter 5: That Time Guy Fieri Featured It on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
Chapter 6: Pool Rules: A Photographic Essay of the Men and Women Who Shoot Pool at Scully's
Chapter 7: No, This Food Is Really Good
Chapter 8: A Comprehensive List of Every Live Band That Has Played Here
Chapter 9: No Lines, No List, No Cover, No Attitude
Chapter 10: Karaoke Dreams: Wednesday Nights at Scully's
Chapter 11: We Decided Its Chicken Wings Needed a Full Chapter
Readers' choice: Bougainvillea's Old Florida Tavern
Farm-to-table dining has all but become a cliché in Miami, but how about farm-to-glass drinking? At Repour, Isaac Grillo's intimate space tucked away inside the Albion Hotel, the idea is becoming a reality. The bar, furnished out of repurposed wood from Colorado, is a welcome and rustic respite from the über-commercial Lincoln Road just outside the door. But what sets this place apart is the cocktails. The bartender turned bar owner makes drinks that are both whimsical and deceptively simple. Drinks, which are generally around $12, are handcrafted with care and use surprising ingredients like fresh herbs grown from onsite gardens, teas, and Pop Rocks (for a lip-cracking version of a sugared rim). Special attention is also given to the way your drink is chilled. Grillo uses cold Colorado River rocks in some drinks; others are made with coconut-water ice spheres. Although the cocktail menu changes monthly, there's always a freshly made cocktail or two from the garden, as well as a few porch pounders — all written right on the wall. There's one constant, however. Grillo's cocktails all contain a surprising twist — a sprig of sage in a fruity drink or a hit of black pepper in honey — because a city as exciting as Miami Beach needs cocktails that can keep us on our toes.
Readers' choice: The Broken Shaker
The tank is almost empty. And there are only a few miles left till you hit that long, winding southbound stretch of one-lane Overseas Highway with no gas, food, or beverages. It's a treacherous route along which the reckless road tripper could easily get stranded, go hungry, or even die of thirst while surrounded by a trillion gallons of salty sea. So you yank the wheel, pulling a U-turn into the RaceTrac truck-stop parking lot with plans for some unleaded, beef jerky, and ten liters of grape Gatorade. But that's when you spot Sam's Hideaway, with its placards that read, "Cocktails," "Cold Beer," and "The Oldest Southernmost Tavern on the Mainland USA." Forget dehydrated meat and purple drink. This bar's got cold $2.50 Budweiser and free hot dogs on Sundays. However, the strongest sign that Sam's just might be paradise: a painting above the doorway depicting a fanciful Florida landscape in which two dolphins can be seen leaping out of cresting waves and over a frosty, overflowing mug. So why risk crossing causeways and island chains? Perhaps this dive was always meant to be your final destination.
Rather than try to describe the magic of Monty's Sunset, let's review a random selection of recent captions from Instagram tagged at the SoBe mainstay:
"It's always a party!!"
"Doing #Business in #Miami looks like #Vacation... @ #Montys in #SoFe on #SouthBeach where else is there a #Pool in the middle of a #Restaurant w/ a #View of #Yachts on the #Intercoastal #Water"
"#DanMarino" [This person ran into Dan Marino at Monty's and took a selfie with him.]
"Why do I find it so hard to be serious? Cuz that would be no #fun #lol #Montys #miamibeach #happyhour #Mattsbday #SavvySingleGirl
"Tuna tar tar on this fine Tuesday #thenaughtyfork #PHAAT"
"This is exactly what I need after an action packed week in Miami!"
"Chilling with a #manatee. #miami #lovemylife" [There was a manatee by the marina in this pic.]
"Great view, live music, and good food and drinks. Monty's Miami Beach."
"#Painreliever" [Seriously, though, do get a signature Pain Remover drink, which range from $10 to $12 depending on how much pain you need to remove.]
"Delicia de noite em otima companhia."
Of course, the captions are even better when attached to the breathtaking sunset views, but these will have to do.
Sports bar in a strip mall. We'd usually sneer. But we swear Pubgrill doesn't suck. In fact, this Cutler Bay spot's game-time eats are awesome, whether it's brunch stuff like bourbon-and-brown-sugar-glazed ham with eggs or dinner grub like jalapeño-bacon maple syrup chicken 'n' waffles with a side of truffle mac 'n' cheese. There are also upgraded bar-food staples, from $10 baskets of wings in seven signature flavors to $9 beef burgers topped with Gouda, bacon, and rosé sauce to $17 racks of slow-roasted, sauce-slathered ribs. And, dude, the booze menu isn't any less badass, boasting tons of solid $7 to $9 craft beers on draft, even from Florida's Cigar City and Miami's own Wynwood, M.I.A., Concrete Beach, and J. Wakefield breweries. As for Pubgrill's walls, they're loaded with flat-screens, which means you can easily watch three games without ever having to take a time-out from stuffing that gut and swilling fancy pints.
Readers' choice: Flanigan's Seafood Bar & Grill
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.