It wasn't always that way. When Mario Irustra bought the club a few years ago, police stopped by frequently and violently. The current owner remembers his last tense encounter with the boys in blue, back in December 2000. He says 50 cops stormed the joint, ordered the scarce customers to the floor, and threatened him not to move or else. "The place that was here before had a really bad reputation," he explains.
Then Irustra sunk his life savings into rehabilitating the dive. He left the old neon "Liquor" sign out front, but let regulars know the new name that he'd come across in a ghost town near Lake Tahoe: Ten Last Shoes. "I thought ten was too many," Irustra smiles, but the higher number just might fit. Since opening, the bar owner has turned to nearly that many promoters in his efforts to bring a vibrant young crowd to his club.
First there was Fabrika, the Latin underground night that packed Two Last Shoes for nine solid months with shows by local favorites Estación Local, Soniko, Locos por Juana, and Tereso as well as then-rising stars such as Juanes. Fabrika pulled in large crowds despite the rustic conditions of the early renovations until, says the owner, a "stupid, stupid misunderstanding" with Fabrika organizer Gerardo "Toto" Gonzalez sent it packing. The strain of promoting did in Adam Gersten, who made a run of his own Friday night for about nine months. "We locked into something that started to work," Gersten explains, "but by that time I was kind of burnt out."
Gersten had encouraged Ryan Weinstein, formerly of the rock group Cavity, and Ben Carillo of Machete to set up a casual rock night on Thursdays called Real Cool Time. With a moniker cribbed from the Stooges' Fun House, it keeps the atmosphere light, showcasing one band and a whole lot of vinyl every week. "It's a relaxed atmosphere, inexpensive, tucked away," says Weinstein of the venue. "Mario gives us free rein to do whatever we want to do."
Josh Menendez also appreciates the owner's understanding; Irustra gave his very popular Friday-night party Revolver a temporary home after its last venue suddenly shut its doors. "This is just a pit stop for us," Menendez admits, "but I think Two Last Shoes is a hidden gem. It adds to the scene," he says, catching himself using a phrase he never dreamed would fit his hometown: "Miami finally has a scene."
That's what Josh Tiktin hopes. The 28-year-old Miami native spent five years as a DJ and scenester around Atlanta and D.C. before returning home to turn the upstairs at Two Last Shoes into an art gallery and dance space. Tiktin, a.k.a. MC Salvation, inaugurates his Two Last Shoes residency with a release party for his debut CD Salvation, which features his brilliant novelty rap, "The Windshield Wiper Dance." With a goofy beat and deadpan delivery, Windshield Wiper is more contagious than the Macarena. "I know it's like candy," pleads Tiktin. "But there are a lot of other, more spiritual songs on the CD." But it's too late. His audience is already overexcited, crooking elbows and waving arms to the command. "Do it like a bus ya'll." Drop in and do it like an ice cream truck or a Benz. Awww yeah!