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Tobacco Road's Last Call Ever: Closing Night at Miami's Oldest Bar

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It was midnight. Just hours till Tobacco Road's last call ever.

After almost 102 years, 626 S. Miami Avenue's final beer and a shot would be served at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

But like the Road's owner Pat Gleber said: "That's only officially. We have to stop selling. But we can still serve. And then the real party's gonna get going."

See also: Tobacco Road: A Seven-Part, 102-Year History

Even the afterparty could only go on so long, though.

Two and a half years ago, the Road's property was sold for $12.5 million. And that's exactly when its end became assured.

Inevitably, the century-old bar would be razed. It was just a matter of waiting around for the wrecking crew. And though the owner, Gleber, secured a three-year lease to help his employees "get new jobs, go to school," and figure out whatever's next in their lives ... Closing night has come.

Now, in nearly every direction, construction cranes loom and Brickell CityCentre, a $1.05 billion shopping and condo development project, hovers.

Sometime in the next few weeks, Tobacco Road will be torn apart. And then it'll be torn down.

See also: Tobacco Road Closing, Becoming Bar Aboard Norwegian Cruise Ship in 2015

But in those final hours before the Road's last call ever, there wasn't much talk of doom and demolition.

The barflies and bands and 4,000 other folks had simply shown up for a good booze buzz, a good burger, some good friends, some good tunes, and a good time.

It was like most nights at 626 S. Miami Avenue. Except that there would never be another. This was it.

See also: Tobacco Road Turns 101! Ten Classic Moments From Miami's Oldest Bar

All night, the main bar was a total mob scene, packed with Miami party people shakin' ass to old-school rap shit while bleary-eyed amateur boozers sat down for some munchies and the professional drinkers ordered another round of Beam on the rocks.

Upstairs, where Al Capone and other lesser-known thugs once gambled and whored, the second-floor saloon was hot and humid and soaked, from floor to table tops, with spilled drinks.

Outside, the patio was cool and breezy and dark enough to hide from tomorrow's hangover. And the parking-lot stage was swarmed by a couple thousand people, who'd only disperse between bands, zipping to the booze tent and Tobacco Road food truck and port-a-johns on beer and burger and restroom runs.

See also: First Peek at Tobacco Road's Food Truck (Photos)

The mood was celebratory.

But Juke's Eric Garcia made certain to remind us that the end of Tobacco Road was nigh. In the guise of a Southern preacher, he unleashed a fire 'n' brimstone sermon. Then his band heralded armageddon at Miami's oldest bar with some furious, stomping, down 'n' dirty blues.

There were also goodbye sets from Road regulars The Hoovers, The Eclectics, The Hongs, Eric Vick, Jay Blues Band, and Afrobeta -- not to mention Pat De Leon, the man known as Mr. Tobacco Road.

And they all played for free. "Because," as Garcia, also the bar's music booker, said, "we love the fuckin' place."

See also: Ten Reasons Tobacco Road Should Live Another 100 Years

By 2 a.m., the beer had ceased to flow, except from a jerry-rigged tap behind the backyard bar. And there were empty liquor bottles lining up like it was time for target practice.

But longtime Road promoter Oski Gonzalez remained jubilant, even while facing dwindling alcohol reserves and the imminent end of his favorite boozing establishment.

"I used to dream about playing here," he told the still only half-drunk crowd, sweating it out in the hot and humid second-floor saloon. "Literally, I'd stay awake in bed and say, 'One day, I'm gonna stand on the stage at Tobacco Road.'

"And I did play here. For years," Oski smiled. "And now, I'm playing the last set in history at this legendary joint.

"Well," he paused. "Unless Graham Wood Drout and Iko-Iko get here to finish off the night like it should be finished."

And indeed, Graham Wood Drout and Iko-Iko, the most important band in Tobacco Road's history, did get there -- 'round about 3 a.m. -- to finish off the night like it should be finished.

"We signed a contract to play a weekend. And we stayed 14 years," Drout joked, remembering his crew's tenure as Road house band.

For 60 solid minutes, they rambled, rocked, and rolled through Iko's swampy classics, from "Pet de Kat" to "I Want My Goddamn Money" to their namesake, the Mardi Gras song, "Jock-A-Mo (Iko-Iko)." They invited Eric Garcia to hold down harmonica duties, shouting out his band, Juke, as "the best in Miami." And they reminisced about the bad old days when the Road was a dangerous place, frequented only by outlaws, the reckless, and blues legends.

"We'd show up and there would be a guy slumped in the doorway with an ambulance at the curb," Drout recalled. "The bridge on S. Miami Avenue was broken too. Stuck upright. So this was a real dead-end street.

"But no doubt, this is sacred ground, where John Lee Hooker and Koko Taylor and James Cotton did their thing."

After Drout and Iko-Iko, there was nothing left to do. Except drink.

So the barflies and the bands and I had a drink. And another drink. And another drink. But then, inescapably, the clock struck 5 a.m. and Tobacco Road staff slammed the gates shut on the backyard bar.

However, as owner Pat Gleber promised, there were a few free rounds. We gulped down leftover beers. We emptied plastic cups full of liquor-flavored ice water. We drank the dregs poured from whatever random bottles remained behind the bar.

Soon, the place was nearly dry. The sun was almost risen. It was time to go. And I stumbled around the block. And I stood on Tobacco Road's doorstep. And I took one final look at that famous neon sign before it flickered out.

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