Music venue PAX Miami opens after a tough 12-month overhaul

After a quick trip to El Gato Tuerto and a few games of pool at El Primer Molino Rojo, you're headed for this new music joint called Performing Arts Exchange, or PAX. You've got the street address. You've Google-mapped it. And you're cruising down Calle Ocho with the windows open and a Los Aldeanos bootleg blasting on the stereo.

You're ready to roll up, park, and party. But you can't find the place. So you circle around the block, taking a second shot, crawling past this time. And finally, you see it — a black, boxy building set back a hundred steps from the street. There's no marquee, no exterior light, and no sign-flipper in a gorilla suit trying to lure loiterers and passersby inside for a couple of cold Coronas. This is a secret spot. But you'll see it if you're really looking.

Just a few blocks from the Tobacco Road and Transit strip (not to mention the point where I-95 and the Miami River converge, splitting up Brickell, Little Havana, and downtown), PAX is housed inside a former Miami Herald distribution center that sat vacant for a half-decade before art buyer Roxanne Scalia and business partner Jerry Pennington decided to rent and renovate it.

Over the past year, Scalia and her crew have slaved away, ripping out drop ceilings, stripping the space, building the bar, filling and refinishing the concrete floors, and cloaking the walls in floor-to-ceiling sheets of acoustic material and heavy paisley curtains. She has pasted pages from old issues of Andy Warhol's Interview in the restroom stalls, outfitted the place with thrift-store sofas, salvaged a bunch of tables and chairs from recently shuttered downtown hangout the Wallflower Gallery, and installed a medium-size stage near the far end of the main room.

It's been a tough 12 months. "I've eaten dirt for a year. I'm still eating dirt," Scalia laughs. But the overhaul is finally finished. And unofficially, PAX's doors have been open, Wednesday through Friday, since the beginning of April.

By day, it's a chilled-out café, serving fair-trade, shade-grown coffee and stocked with a mini-library of heady magazines and literary classics such as Utne Reader, Express, King Lear, Miles Davis's autobiography, and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. "The idea is for people to come in the afternoon and grab a coffee," Scalia says. "There's really no place in Miami where you can just show up and sit down, like New York or Europe, and not feel rushed, use the Wi-Fi, read a book, and just hang out."

By night, PAX turns into an after-dark art house, serving cold Coronas and booking bands such as Miami jam stars Suénalo, local Latin fusion legends Locos por Juana, and Magic City alt-rockers Minimal. This weekend, for example, you can roll up, park, and party with Paris-schooled singer-songwriter (and Scalia's husband) Vincent Raffard on Thursday and Locos side project Afro-Kumbe on Friday. Or you can wait a couple of weeks before cruising down Calle Ocho for late nights with Puerto Rican reggae crew Cultura Profética and Haitian big band Boukman Eksperyans.

Either way, PAX will be easier to find next time. You won't have to double-back or slow down. You'll see the black, boxy building straight away. And if you spread the word, invite some friends, and hand out directions, it won't be a secret spot for long.

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S. Pajot