Before He Opened the Bunker in South Beach, Thomas Slater Built Bombs for the Government

In what might be the strangest origin story for a nightlife venue, owner and chef Thomas Slater found inspiration for his new restaurant and lounge, the Bunker at 1826, while doing classified work for the government. "I built missiles and explosives," he reveals. But because of confidentiality agreements, Slater is loathe to provide exact details of the work he did for more than 15 years. But he does elaborate a bit on why he chose the name. "I was working on powerful things that could destroy a whole town. That made you really see the importance of a bunker."

When Thomas and his wife, Samantha, who opened her own restaurant in New Mexico, came across the 8,200-square-foot, four-story space with an all-glass exterior at 1826 Collins Ave. in South Beach, they wasted no time developing the Bunker. "A lot of people didn't know this was a restaurant or nightclub in this building," Slater says. "They thought it was an office building. We added some art, TVs, a great sound system, but there wasn't a lot of work that needed to be done outside of marketing and letting people know we're here." The second floor serves as a dining area, and the third and fourth levels function as a lounge, furnished with wood floors, low-hanging Edison bulbs, brushed concrete, and bronze rails.

"Take shelter with the Bunker" is the venue's catchphrase, but Slater hopes — with the help of drinks like the Bunker Buster, a spicy habanero margarita spiked with sriracha — patrons won't need the threat of nuclear disaster to hunker down inside his new venue. "We're open every day from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., with a special late-night menu. The old restaurant here was fine dining, but we're casual, so you can come in your flip-flops or in your bathing suit straight from the beach. We're not intimidating at all."

Boredom might be a problem in many bunkers, but Slater hopes 20 flat-screen TVs and a 108-inch projection screen to watch sporting events will help prevent that. The VIP room is equipped with PlayStation consoles and other gaming systems so guests can compete in Madden or FIFA. Slater was thrilled to hire DJ George Acosta as the Bunker's music curator. Acosta, Slater says, "introduced a lot of people to house music," and he hopes the DJ will make the Bunker a serious destination for DJs. The soundtrack will be mostly open format, but the 2-month-old establishment is also working on hip-hop and house-music nights.

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When New Times spoke with Slater, he was excited that the Bunker was getting ready for Winter Music Conference, when a medley of DJs, from Plastik Funk to Spektre, was set to draw new crowds to the venue. This Saturday, the Bunker will host Twisted Circus, a surreal cabaret show that will be soundtracked by DJs Ray Milian, Danny Bled, Ollie Ferrara, and Carlos Menendez.

Slater is confident that all of his effort will lure newcomers and make them regulars, even without the threat of war.

Twisted Circus with Ray Milian, Danny Bled, Ollie Ferrara, and others. 11 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at the Bunker at 1826, 1826 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-397-8054. Tickets cost $16 plus fees via eventbrite.com.

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