Miami’s nightlife ebbs and flows. Areas once thought unworthy now host beloved clubs and bars, while after-hours behemoths have been lost to the passage of time. Coconut Grove holds a unique place in Miami’s history. The neighborhood reached its zenith between the 1970s and '90s, producing bars and attractions many Miamians have grown up with. Those places include Taurus, which opened in 1969, and the iconic A.C.'s Icees, which has been serving frozen lemonade to the community for the past three decades in Kennedy Park.
But as the rest of Miami’s nightlife has drifted toward electronic music and the extravagant, Coconut Grove has been more reluctant, prioritizing its resident-oriented community over the fast-paced thrills found elsewhere. Areas such as Wynwood and South Beach have experienced booms and busts, while the Grove has remained staid and reclusive. The most exciting sight you might see are locals grabbing drinks and a late-night meal, most of whom are guaranteed to call it a night by 2 a.m. The Grove is also home to some of the most exclusive real estate in Miami; communities such as the Cloisters surely don’t want any part of late-night parties and the excitable cast of characters that come with them.
The Grove hit an all-time low in the late 2000s and has had difficulty regaining traction following the 2008 recession.
However, things might soon change. The shopping, dining, and nightlife hub CocoWalk is slated to reopen in spring 2020 after undergoing extensive renovations for the past two years. Hoping to lure locals, tourists, and even the young people once again, the center is slated to include all-new storefronts. Enticing concepts set to open include Books & Books, Bombay Darbar, Bonobos, and El Taquito. Plus, Wynwood’s hot spots have been migrating to the Grove, which now boasts outposts such as Panther Coffee and Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop.
But even with these signs of life, Miami after dark thrives on beats, and the Grove has continued to struggle to deliver — at least until recently. Unbeknownst to most, a collection of DJ-organized events has been quietly brewing in the Grove for a little more than three years. The aptly named Coconut Groove is an ongoing series of parties hosted by local DJs with an unabashed love for the neighborhood, all of whom are dead set on revitalizing it in an era marked by construction and renovation.
“We started doing parties in the backroom of the Grove Spot,” says Dan Travieso, creator of Coconut Groove. A Grove resident for the past ten years, Travieso began assembling the block party and fundraiser Festi Dan in his neighborhood in 2009. The party gained traction year after year among locals. He soon had the idea to throw smaller and more house-music-orientated parties off Dinner Key. He decided to try his hand at a monthly party at the now-closed Grove Spot in 2017.
“I asked the owner if we could do a sort of speakeasy show in the backroom, and we have been doing them ever since,” he says.
Since its inception, Coconut Groove has hosted an almost monthly party with a techno, house, tech-house, and deep-house sound. It usually happens at Tavern in the Grove or Barracuda Taphouse & Grill, which Travieso and crew have delightfully dubbed “Electric Cuda.” Shows have included local talent such as Nii Tei, Fiin, and Kike Roldan — acts who are all set to play the Heart Festival during Miami Art Week next month.
“I kinda brought the idea from Ibiza, where the DJ is the main guy and he invites a guest DJ to open and then go back-to-back at the end of the night,” Travieso says when asked about the party’s origins. “The person who got invited would then be the main act for the following party, and he or she would invite someone else. It would snowball from there.”
Coconut Groove prides itself on its barebones, no-frills Boiler Room-like vibe. There's no extravagant stage design, blinding lasers, or tawdry production; instead, crowds dance with the accompaniment of little more than stack of speakers, lighting, and a disco ball.
“The main focus [at Boiler Room] is the music,” Travieso says of the long-running international series of parties. “The cameras, the focus... everything is on the music, and you’re capturing it and enjoying it for a future moment — that whole concept fascinated me. I don’t have the budget for crazy cameras, but I record the sets — sometimes with a webcam — and publish them to YouTube or SoundCloud.”
Miami DJ Nii Tei is a proponent of Coconut Groove’s efforts.
"I’m sure when the CocoWalk construction is complete, there will be more activity in the area, but I think it's important to have the right people hosting parties and curating experiences that understand the history, vibe, and atmosphere of the Grove," says Nii Tei, who has played venues such as Club Space and credits his Ghanaian roots for his distinctive mixing style.
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Coconut Grove still has an identity crisis when it comes to balancing the new and the old. Look no further than the juxtaposition of high-end shops with the purgatory of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. There's also the almost austere segregation of the luxury homes and the rundown apartments on Grand Avenue, where a CVS acts as a partition between the two worlds.
"I’m not really sure what’s in store for the future of the Grove," Nii Tei says. "What I do know is that the neighborhood is in good hands if Coconut Groove keeps doing what they’re doing and highlighting Coconut Grove as a destination for evolved music and unique parties."
Overall, the renovations in the Grove are a good thing. Travieso points out that new office buildings will disperse workers to nearby bars and restaurants, while CocoWalk will attract tourists. Grovites are nothing if not persistent in their quest to preserve their home’s cultural foundations and expand into more bohemian pursuits. But the viability and long-term cultural health of the area are ensured only if people support the individuals striving to make the Grove a place to do more than just eat, drink, and sleep.
Tavern Takeover V. 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, November 22, at Tavern in the Grove, 3416 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove; 305-447-3884; facebook.com/thetaverninthegrove. Tickets cost $11 via residentadvisor.net.