Miamians are used to things that fade away: tan lines, coastlines, winter crowds, historic buildings, beloved institutions. Sooner or later, the beat trails offs. And then, as quickly as the things appeared, they vanish.
Sometimes, though, they come back to life.
“There was Studio A, Pawn Shop — there have been a lot of venues that have come and gone. But those same people resurrect new places and keep the scene intact,” says Oscar Sardiñas of the Miami rock band Jaialai.
Grand Central, Tobacco Road, Bardot, the Stage, Vagabond, Bar Black — the list of Miami music spaces lost too soon is long. Now, on an unassuming corner in Allapattah just west of I-95, a low, flat rectangle of a building holds Las Rosas, one of the city’s newest platforms for live music. Its success has largely been the result of a group of passionate old-timers hustling to keep their dreams for the city alive.
Wood Tavern Group owner and founder Cesar Morales opened Las Rosas in a decaying 1920s building on NW Seventh Avenue in November 2016. Conceived initially as a food-and-beverage concept with a speciality in tequila and a rock 'n' roll aesthetic, the bar quickly evolved into something much bigger. It began as a single-room, Mexican-themed dive and became a sprawling venue with a patio, a fully built-out stage, and a serious sound system. Las Rosas now books seven to ten live acts each week, drawing crowds that top out around 300.
Not too far from Wynwood’s throngs of tourists, shops, and restaurants, Las Rosas has become a local stalwart that consistently attracts touring talent. The place promotes the exchange of music, ideas, and culture that’s crucial for cultivating a healthy scene. But the nearly two-year trajectory hasn’t been straight or easy.
“There was a point where I almost threw in the towel,” Morales says. Several months after its opening, Las Rosas had yet to find its footing. The space felt too large, not intimate enough, so Morales erected some dividing walls and created B-Side, a distinct concept within Las Rosas dedicated to his love of old-school hip-hop. But that venue never attracted the hoped-for crowds, and losses mounted. But things finally began to turn around. Morales' girlfriend introduced him to Nicky Bowe.
Formerly a major driving force behind Churchill’s, Miami’s undisputed punk-rock haven, Bowe was the stringy, freewheeling Irishman who had been the patriarch of rowdy pub crowds for more than a decade. After he came onboard as general manager of Las Rosas, it didn’t take long for Miami to follow.
“Nicky definitely put Las Rosas on the map,” Morales says. “Without a doubt, I owe that to him.”
People who passed through Las Rosas in those early months might have noticed the bar’s amorphous layout and shifting identities. Dividing walls came down and then went back up again. B-Side fell to the wayside, as did the focus on tequila. “It’s funny, but there’s a wall that we took down,” Morales says. “After it was put up, it was like, ‘Holy crap! This is where the wall was originally!’ Yeah, I’m a little impulsive that way.”
For the entrepreneur who helped pioneer Wynwood nightlife through the opening of Wood Tavern in 2011, there was finally another success. Las Rosas celebrated its first anniversary with a blowout this past June, commemorating a year of redefining itself as a grungy, comfortable, music-driven venue for locals. Lines wrapped around the building that night.
“It was insane,” recalls Sardiñas, whose band was among the many local acts on the bill that night.
Morales remembers the feeling of gratitude and relief that party gave him. “The most rewarding part of the night, apart from people having a good time, was just seeing it finally become what I had envisioned years prior.”
Bowe’s tenure at Las Rosas was short-lived, however. After some disagreements, the two men parted ways, though not on bad terms. Still, “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen," Morales says. "Was his crowd going to go with him or not?” The crowds stayed. Then Nayra Serrano joined the team.
Another Churchill’s alum, Serrano picked up the reins as Las Rosas’ talent buyer and program director around five months ago. The Miami-born-and-bred music head has been promoting here for more than 15 years. She has worked to build up the local music community for as long as she can remember. “I was one of those old-school promoters that actually passed out flyers, which is a dying art form,” she laughs.
Like many Miamians who grew up in the scene, Serrano went to warehouse parties. She worked with Poplife. She cofounded her own production company, Idle Hands, and continued promoting — mainly focusing on punk, rock, garage, and the melding of touring talent and local showcases. For her, Miami’s music scene has always had an ebb and flow. “It was desolate for a little bit. It’s gone through its waves, just like every scene,” she says. “Every city goes through its waves.”
Perhaps the most vital ingredient in the success of Las Rosas has been its melting pot of behind-the-scenes champions, the people who have been the glue holding together Miami’s eclectic, far-flung scene together. This city is not an easy one to reach.
“Location, location, location. At the end of the day, that, to me, is the hindering factor,” Sardiñas says of Miami's remoteness. “We fight to get our scene recognized.”
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The team behind Las Rosas insists, over and over, it is a bar for everyone. They book tons of live music but also host Italo-disco dance parties, underground hip-hop nights, and up-and-coming death rockers. The crowd is difficult to pin down on any given weekend. A constant flow of familiar and fresh faces weaves through the venue’s many rooms and spaces.
"We are the new kids in town, but we're not really the new kids in town," Serrano says. "We're collectively an old group of people that have gotten together and started something to create a different angle on things."
We live in a city pregnant with biblical symbolism: great floods, snakes hiding in the weeds, rosaries swinging from rearview mirrors. And we have resurrections too. Sometimes the things we lose come back to us, just in a new form.
“I've seen the music scene fail, I've seen it succeed, and I've always just been one to want to push it,” Serrano says, optimistic about the future of Las Rosas and Miami as a city for music lovers. “I think it’s the promoter in me, the little kid in me that’s always wanted to go to that show. As long as I can do it, I'm gonna do it.”