Mac Klein's Wife on the Future of Club Deuce: "I'm Not Going to Change That Bar"

It's 5:43 p.m. inside Mac's Club Deuce, and the lurid pink neon on the walls glows through the cigarette haze. College kids in tank tops play a game of pick-up pool with a Colombian man who speaks broken English while the Staple Singers wail from the jukebox, promising to take everyone to a place where "ain't nobody crying."

In other words, March 25's happy hour is like any other in the legendary South Beach dive. Except that just a few hours earlier, news had broken that the Deuce's equally legendary proprietor — the 101-year-old Mac Klein — had passed away.

But the steady stream of liquor-guzzling roustabouts is probably exactly the tribute Klein would have wanted in the booze-soaked haunt he ran for the past 51 years, working seven days a week from a cozy back office. Klein had celebrated his 99th, 100th, and 101st birthdays in the bar. As recently as three weeks ago, he was still arriving at 8 a.m. to manage the place.

"The only competition I ever had for Mac's affections was that bar, and I'm not changing a hair on that beautiful woman's head."

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Even as people file in to pay their respects with a shot and a beer in the hours after his passing, their faces are smiling and their heads are reeling with wild memories of bar fights and friendly rounds in the one sure thing South Beach ever had.

"Mac was always kind, but he was funny too," Lori Santoro remembers as she sits along the same bar she worked behind for about five years, from 2007 to 2012. "It was my favorite job in my whole life. He was straight up, he paid us fairly, and he was in World War II. He only stopped driving like three years ago, right when I left."

Klein grew up in New York City's Lower East Side during the Great Depression. In 1939, he was among the first wave of American soldiers sent overseas to fight in the war. He was wounded in action, shot in the arm and stomach, but survived his injuries and returned home to New Jersey, where he bounced in and out of hospitals for close to a year. Upon his discharge, a doctor suggested warm weather would help his body heal better, so Klein packed his bags and headed to Miami.

On February 3, 1964, he purchased Club Deuce, which had been in operation since 1926. Klein went there for a celebratory drink after the birth of his first daughter, straight from the hospital. But the place was closed when he arrived. He learned the owner had died earlier that day, and rather than see his favorite bar crumble to the ground, he decided to buy it himself. So Club Deuce became Mac's Club Deuce.

Mac's quickly became known as a place for locals. At a time when racism ran deep in Miami Beach, Klein welcomed all in his bar, from celebrities to construction workers, and treated everyone equally, regardless of race or sexual orientation. To Klein, it didn't matter if Humphrey Bogart, Cameron Diaz, or Eddie Vedder were sitting at his S-curved bar (they all have, by the way). Everyone was nothing more or less than a customer.

"Most times, they came in, they had a drink, and that was it," Klein told New Times last September, weeks before he turned 101. "They didn't want attention, and we didn't give it to them. Nobody would ask for autographs here. And I made sure."

But despite Klein's indifference toward status, or perhaps because of it, Hollywood gravitated toward his bar time and time again. Mac's first taste of national fame came when the crew of Miami Vice stopped by to film a few scenes inside the bar. The neon lights installed for the episode still hang inside Mac's today, and the cast would often come by after work for drinks.

"If we were filming at the beach, after we wrapped, we'd go to Club Deuce for cocktails," Miami Vice actor Michael Talbott told New Times. "I've walked out of Club Deuce with the sun hitting me right in the eyes.

Mac's would be featured onscreen again when Anthony Bourdain stopped by in 2006 to film a segment for his show No Reservations. The celebrity chef has continued to praise the bar and Klein himself, featuring Mac's on The Layover in 2011 and Parts Unknown in May 2015.

But despite the accolades and fame, the bar never succumbed to pretension. It retained its local flavor and iconic happy hour (two-for-one drinks from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week). And Mac Klein was more than just a name on the sign. Until his final days, he was running the bar just about every day, working from a closet-size office lined floor to ceiling with liquor bottles. His desk drawers were basically a Miami Beach civic museum, packed full of old menus from the '20s and photos of a handsome Klein in his younger years.

Ash Swanson, who has worked the door at Mac's since 2009, says Klein was still coming into work just weeks before he passed away.

"It's nice to tell people the owner is 101 and still alive, but the guy was sharp as a tack," Swanson says. Klein wasn't coming in just for show either; he was managing his bar. "He was the only one who knew how to do it."

Klein's death took most by surprise. There was no sharp decline in his health, and Swanson isn't sure of the exact cause of his passing, chalking it up to old age. Even in his final days at the office, Klein showed up with lunch prepared by his wife Mary. When he felt a bit indulgent, he would wolf down "the occasional hot dog," Swanson says. The only indication that something was wrong came when he began missing consecutive days from work.

There's a natural question in the wake of Klein's death: What happens to the bar he so steadfastly guarded from change in the midst of ever-shifting South Beach? For now, it's business as usual, Swanson says. "We got word that things will continue as normal — don't worry about a thing."

Mary Klein, Mac's wife, affirms that statement. "I'm not going to change that bar," she tells New Times. Mary will take over the business, and she firmly insists she has no intention of altering any aspect of the place. "The only competition I ever had for Mac's affections was that bar, and I'm not changing a hair on that beautiful woman's head.

"Mac had the right idea. That place is like home to a lot of people"

Klein's daughter Zina took to Facebook with a similar sentiment. Shortly after Klein's death, his biggest celebrity backer, Bourdain, posted on Facebook, "RIP Mac. Club Deuce Bar & Grill A Drinking Class Hero till the end at 101. Let flags fly at half mast in Miami." In the comments section, Zina thanked Bourdain for his support: "My family will continue to run it Mac's way until the last pour and the Deuce no longer exists. Thank you for your condolences."

As an impromptu wake broke out for Klein in the hours after he passed, everything still looked to be running "Mac's way." Bartenders served beer to the dozens huddled around the Deuce's snaking bar. One New Times correspondent is fuzzy on any particular details after 9 p.m., which is a sure sign all is well inside the Deuce.

Klein never got the opportunity to stop by his bar for a grand goodbye in his final days, but even if he'd had the chance, Swanson says, that wasn't his style.

"He wouldn't have done that," he says. "I think he was fighting in the end to get back into the Deuce."

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Kat Bein is a freelance writer and has been described as this publication’s "senior millennial correspondent." She has an impressive, if unhealthy, knowledge of all things pop culture.
Ryan Pfeffer is a contributor and former Miami New Times music editor. After earning a BS from Florida State University, Ryan joined the New Times staff in November 2013 as a web editor.
Contact: Ryan Pfeffer