Adam Gersten knew he had a hit right away. Gramps, his boxy bar located steps off the main vein in Wynwood, began pouring drinks the first week of December last year, right in the thick of Art Basel. The buzz was high, and so was the body count. The bar has continued to be Miami's new go-to place for the hip set, and the success comes with satisfaction for a guy who has basically worked his whole life to capture his particular aesthetic within four walls.
"It's a success beyond numbers and a busy Friday night," Gersten says. "It's about expressing myself."
Certainly some of Gramps' popularity is tied to the shifting tectonics of Miami's nightlife scene. Last fall, something in the city's chemistry clicked. Miami had finally OD'd on South Beach cocaine glitter and club grind. Miami was ready for a laid-back vibe.
"I think the city in general is at a magical place. It doesn't feel like a bubble for the first time," he says. "There's so much more happening and so many more people interested in what's happening. It's awesome."
Despite the fact that his bar is center stage in the big picture of Miami's new nightlife, Gramps couldn't be more personal for Gersten. Ride-or-die 305, he is from a long line of Miamians. His family tree includes not only two Dade County circuit judges but also a disgraced former county commissioner currently on the lam.
Music was big early on. In high school, he began collecting records and had a mobile DJ system. After earning a theater degree from the University of Florida, he became a mainstay on the Miami scene, running weekly parties at long-gone hipster enclaves such as PS14 and Two Last Shoes. He eventually went to law school at St. Thomas University but always aimed at opening his own place. It was just a question of when.
Around 2011, Gersten was working as a lawyer for the state in Key West, ping-ponging between the Conch Republic and home thanks to a hot-and-cold relationship. He was lonely. Nothing seemed to be working out. Then, that summer, Bar (the inheritor of the PS14 space) shut down, a serious gut punch to the live music scene. Gersten felt an opportunity had opened.
"There was a point when I realized I'd gotten all the pieces together, and the choice is practice law for another 20 years, not really love it, and then open a bar, or just open a bar because that's what you want to do," he says.
He moved back to town, continued to practice law, and began moving his chessmen around the board. The bar he envisioned — and opened — was just an extension of the parties and DJ sets. "This is like my first album," he says. "All those songs that I built up over 15 years of playing at the same shitty clubs, I finally got to record them for a big label."