Will Purdy Lounge Be Forced to Close Early?

Will Purdy Lounge Be Forced to Close Early?
Illustration by Pete Ryan

The bay off South Beach's Sunset Harbour glitters with the reflection of city lights. Onshore, Purdy Avenue is empty save for a few glossy cars with quiet, expensive motors and the occasional scurrying cockroach. It's midnight on a Friday, and the only people around are the three security guards stationed outside Purdy Lounge. Arms crossed, they stand next to a black-and-white sign posted out front that implores, "Quiet Please, Neighbors Are Sleeping."

Inside the infamous South Beach neighborhood bar known as "Dirty Purdy," the night hasn't begun for anyone except a gaggle of bachelorettes wearing brightly colored floral dresses who tentatively step onto the lit Plexiglas dance floor. One of them bobs along to the music as another tugs at her cardigan. Two tourists from Chicago sit on the sidelines in new leather chairs while sipping $12 drinks. The bar is cold enough to tinge your phone with condensation.

Around 1:30 a.m., people begin to trickle into the not-quite dance club, not-quite dive bar, where the party will rage till 5 a.m. Soon the place is hot enough to make you sweat, packed with a mix of Miamians: two FIU coeds who came to check out the bar's "ratchet" reputation, a truck driver from Kendall with a roach tucked behind his ear, and a small man who would only give his name as "Zombie," nursing a drink in the backroom. He says he used to DJ.

"When you want Miami, you come here," says Aron Epstein, a former Purdy general manager. "You're getting the real Miami, the people, the music, the vibe."

But Miami Beach and Sunset Harbour are changing. Since the bar opened in 2000, the neighborhood has morphed from a wasteland of tow yards and gas stations into one of the most exclusive areas on the island. Now, residents at the Sunset Harbour Condominiums — the 24-story complex kitty-corner from Purdy Lounge where units sell for more than $1 million — say the beloved bar is no longer compatible with the area. It's just too damn loud.

For nearly a decade, Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association president Sara de los Reyes and other residents have demanded the city commission roll back Purdy's closing time from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. "The neighborhood has changed," de los Reyes says. "The Purdy Lounge shouldn't be there."

For years, their complaints fell on deaf ears. Then, last summer, gunfire was heard outside the bar. In late May 2017, Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola proposed ending Sunset Harbour booze sales at 2 a.m. — legislation that would affect Purdy Lounge, the only bar in the neighborhood that closes at 5. Over the next few months, commissioners demanded Purdy's owners find a way to quiet the throngs of patrons in the early morning.

But Dan Binkiewicz, the baseball-cap-wearing 45-year-old founder and owner who looks like a tan Jimmy Fallon, told commissioners the early closing would be the end of Purdy. "You're killing our business," he said.

Though Arriola backed off, condo residents aren't retreating. "I'm still gonna continue to push this," de los Reyes says. "We're gonna continue."

For now, Purdy parties on. "I once had a friend tell me — I remember and I wrote it down — that 'Purdy is like the friend of yours who you always tell to grow up but who never changes,'" Binkiewicz says. "'But when you're both old, you realize he was right to stay the same the whole time.'"

click to enlarge Purdy installed a rainbow light-up dance floor in 2016. - PHOTO BY KARLI EVANS / ALLSEEINGMEDIA.COM
Purdy installed a rainbow light-up dance floor in 2016.
Photo by Karli Evans / AllSeeingMedia.com

By the time Dan Binkiewicz burst through the door of Purdy Lounge the morning of December 1, 2014, the damage had been done. A baffled office manager had called Binkiewicz a few hours earlier: He said a rogue artist had holed up in the bathroom overnight and graffiti-bombed the bar. The two back corners, which had been blank white a day earlier, were covered in skeletal slashes of black paint.

"I was like, Oh my God." Binkiewicz says, burying his head in his hands. "It was everywhere. All I could say for a half-hour was 'Holy shit.'"

At first, the fact that the artist had eluded security and spent hours in the bar while it was closed seemed worrisome. But former Purdy general manager Aron Epstein says that "Art Basel terrorism" is exactly the kind of thing that regularly happens at Purdy Lounge, where similar antics have become legend. So they kept the art — which they later found was done by Zeem Rock, a Kendall-born graffiti artist who grew up going to Purdy — for two years.

"That's Purdy lore," Epstein says. "Weird things like that happen to us all the time."

A native of Miami Beach, Binkiewicz grew up in the late '80s surfing, playing water polo, and running late to school after staying out till the wee hours with friends. He wanted to run a bar or eatery from the age of 11, when he spent the summer working as a busboy at a family friend's restaurant (even though he was fired for not being "motivated enough").

Binkiewicz started Purdy Lounge in 2000 with John Donovan, a New York transplant who co-owns several bars with Binkiewicz (including the Bar in Coral Gables and Blackbird Ordinary). Though they're co-owners, Binkiewicz considers Purdy his "baby" because it was the first place he opened with his own vision.

"That parking lot across the street is where we would have keg parties when we were in high school," Binkiewicz says. "When the realtor showed me this place, I was like, That's a good omen. I was here when I was young."

Binkiewicz filled Purdy with mismatched vintage couches he found while cruising Miami thrift shops in his pickup truck. He decorated the walls with idiosyncratic knickknacks, from masks he bought backpacking in Vietnam to lava lamps and animal figurines. Then there was a pony mask that was hung from a column — the "Pona Lisa," so named because its eyes would seemingly follow you everywhere.

"The greatness of this place was that you could come in here a million times and every single time see something for the first time — just something really weird and kind of fantastic," Epstein says. "You're just like, 'Holy crap, has that always been there?' And, yeah, that's always been here."

At Purdy, you didn't have to buy a bottle or a drink or even pay a cover. Everything the bar did was guided by its slogan: "No cover, no attitude, no bullshit.

Everything the bar did was guided by its slogan: "No cover, no attitude, no bullshit."

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Politico Magazine senior writer Michael Grunwald had a first date with Cristina Dominguez at Purdy. It was December 2004, and the then-bookish 34-year-old Washington Post reporter was living in Miami Beach while writing his book The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise. He'd spotted Dominguez, a stunning, 27-year-old attorney, at an Art Basel party, but he was "too much of a wuss" to ask for her number. Later he mentioned Dominguez to a mutual friend. She called him on a Monday afternoon and asked if he had plans that night.

"I kind of stammered because I didn't want to look uncool," Grunwald says. "I was like, 'Uh, I don't know.' She's like, 'Well, it's reggae night at Purdy.' I had no idea what the Purdy was. I was not that cool. I barely knew what reggae was."

But he quickly fell for the bar — and for Dominguez. They married two years later and now live with their two children in Coconut Grove. "[Purdy] was a great place to hang out," Grunwald recalls. "It wasn't like wild, loud music. It was just cool music. We talked; we got along great... That was pretty much it after that."

For Ben Potts, a 34-year-old bartender who co-owns Beaker & Gray in Wynwood, Purdy was a "rite of passage." His first time at the bar was in 2005 after he had just turned 21. He remembers being awed by the smoke-filled place. "The bathrooms didn't even have regular walls," Potts recalls. "They had thick plastic cladding so people wouldn't graffiti on them. I was like, Man, this place is so cool."

Potts loved Purdy so much that when he returned to Miami from college in 2007, he quit his day job in finance to work at the bar. One night about a year and a half later, a friend told him she had shrooms in her car. By then, the bar had become a second home to Potts, who would often sleep on the couch in the backroom or even under a staircase in the alley. If the trip turned bad, Potts knew his co-workers would understand — so he took the shrooms. Once the psilocybin hit, Potts remembers walking through the bar, his "eyes wide open" in disbelief as he took in all the people and, specifically, the Christmas lights that were hung from the ceiling. "I remember being like, Oh my God, the lights — everything," he says. "It felt purple. The whole place just felt purple."

Potts tripped till the end of the night. As the bartenders sat in a circle counting their money on the dance floor, he felt "this very strong sense of family," he says. "These guys really take care of me... This is what family is all about."

In 2011, Purdy threw a zoo-themed anniversary party. Before the night began, Binkiewicz, who came dressed as the zookeeper, parked his hoodless red Jeep out front. In the driver's seat, he buckled a six-foot decorative giraffe named Juicy that he kept at home. "It was towering out," Binkiewicz says.

He instructed one of the security guards to keep an eye on the defenseless Juicy. "I guess [the guard] went to the bathroom and someone grabbed it," Binkiewicz recalls. "When the guard came back, it was gone."

In a vain effort to recover Juicy, Binkiewicz and his staff posted "missing" flyers all over town: "Have you seen Juicy the Giraffe?" they read. Though the stuffed animal never turned up, the staff bought him a new one. He named it Juicy's Revenge.

A year and a half ago, a pixelated painting of the Street Fighter character Dhalsim — a yoga master who has the power to stretch his body and conjure fire — was stolen from the bar. It was one in a series of four paintings that had been donated by a regular in 2007. It was heavy and five feet high. Binkiewicz and Epstein were stumped. "I'm just like, how in the world did that get through our door?" Epstein says. "How do you walk out of the place with that?"

After they posted on Facebook about the stolen painting, Epstein says, more than 600 people rallied to search for it. But no one was successful. Then one night a few months later, Binkiewicz was having drinks with his staff. One of them asked him: How many of those Street Fighters did you have? Binkiewicz, exasperated by the fruitless search, responded that he originally had four. "She was like, 'Well, I've been crashing at somebody's pad, and I think I have your fourth,'" he says. "I got heated. I was like, 'What!? You know where it is?'"

The painting was stolen back. It now hangs behind the DJ's turnable.

Over the years, Sunset Harbour has transformed into one of the Beach's most popular neighborhoods. Warehouses gave way to yoga studios, hip restaurants, and high-end boutiques. Purdy was the holdout.

"It's 18 years old, so a lot of people have grown up with it," Epstein says. "It's either the first bar you ever went to or just the bar you always go to. People feel an ownership."

In 2016, Purdy traded its worn, beer-stained, vintage couches for swanky new leather seats. Zeem's inspired graffiti was replaced by wood-paneled walls. Smoking was banned, and the bar lost the "Dirty Purdy" moniker. But despite the redesign, its spirit of egalitarianism and cheap drinks remained.

"It's kind of like Cheers," co-owner John Donovan told a Miami Beach gathering recently. "And, you know, that's always what we wanted... a good neighborhood bar."

click to enlarge Dan Binkiewicz, the owner of Purdy, doesn't want Miami Beach's bars to close at 2 a.m. - COURTESY PHOTO
Dan Binkiewicz, the owner of Purdy, doesn't want Miami Beach's bars to close at 2 a.m.
Courtesy photo

On a breezy day in Miami Beach, Sara de los Reyes leans on the railing of her balcony on the ninth floor of the Sunset Harbour North condos and points her chipped, bright-pink-polished nail across the street at Purdy Lounge. Io, her black-and-white purebred Norwegian Forest cat, meows beside her while flicking his excessively fluffy tail.

De los Reyes, who is president of the Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association, says her corner of Miami Beach would be perfect if it weren't for Purdy. "The city made this a fantastic neighborhood," the 62-year-old mixed-media artist says. "We live and we play, and everyone behaves very, very well, except the Purdy Lounge. And it's not the Purdy Lounge; it's the people who go to the Purdy Lounge."

De los Reyes, who moved to the 400-unit condos when they opened in 1998, has fought to make the neighborhood a quiet, walkable district. When Purdy opened across the street from the condo complex in 2000, it joined what was then a mostly gritty, industrial area of garages where the tow trucks were louder than any inebriated patron.

"We fought with the city, actually, because the tow trucks used to turn on their lights and make this noise, beep, beep, beep," de los Reyes recalls. After residents called and wrote the city commission, in 2005 Fremont Towing moved several blocks away.

Then there was only one source of noise: the patrons congregating outside Purdy in the early morning, waiting for rides or entry, talking on cell phones, and arguing. De los Reyes and other residents say the clamor is a problem because the condos are home to elderly people and children who need a good night's sleep.

"They don't stand outside and be quiet like in school," says de los Reyes, adding the noise began to wake her up at night around 2008. "You think those people woke up, got dressed, and went to the Purdy Lounge? I don't think so. By the time they get there, they've already had a couple of drinks. What are you gonna do? You can't tell them to shut up. No police are going to tell them to be quiet."

Ken Rosen, who went to high school with Binkiewicz and moved to Sunset Harbour Condominiums in the early 2000s specifically to be closer to the bar, has fond memories of getting kicked out for throwing a salt shaker. But he says the place was too loud even for him. "I was there four nights a week, [and] it was the worst," says Rosen, now 43 years old and no longer living in Sunset Harbour. "You could literally hear the music playing every time they opened the door."

"We live and we play, and everyone behaves very, very well, except the Purdy Lounge."

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In response to complaints, Purdy in 2010 installed double doors to contain the sound. But that wasn't enough, says one resident who has lived in the condos since 2000 and asked not to be named because she has "exchanged words" with Binkiewicz. "I fucking hate it," the brunette says, gripping her iPhone X. "I've been away for a week and it was a pleasure... I really wish they would be closed up. I wish it would turn into a normal restaurant with normal hours."

She says one night the noise outside the bar was so loud she was forced to sleep on the pool deck. She says she's called code enforcement more than 20 times, but "it comes to a point when you realize they're not doing anything."

Since the turn of the decade, neighbors — likely the majority of residents at the condo towers — have made nearly a hundred calls to the city to complain about screaming and shouting outside the bar. Purdy Lounge was fined $250 for noise in 2011. But for the most part, responding officers and inspectors have found the noise isn't a violation because it doesn't meet code's "unreasonably loud" standard.

Despite their constant complaints, residents didn't present a unified front until three years ago, when they voted to form the Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association.

"Since the Purdy Lounge is unable to change their behavior," resident Bruce Backman says, "they should either change their patrons or change their address."

Another fed-up neighbor is 72-year-old Arthur Gowran, a retired lawyer who lives on the 18th floor of Sunset Harbour North from December through May. This past March 29, he was jolted awake at 4:30 a.m. by the sound of people yelling outside. From his balcony, he says, he witnessed a group of about five or six people "carrying on" around a car that was parked "in the middle of the road."

"There was a woman on the roof of a car, and a guy got up there and they started simulating anal intercourse," Gowran says. "And while this was going on, they were screaming — but also the group that they were with was screaming... I attempted to go back to bed."

Gowran says he was awake the rest of the night, the sound of the screams reverberating in his mind. In footage of the incident gathered by residents, you can't see the "simulated anal intercourse," but at the 4:30 a.m. mark, you can hear high-pitched whoops and screams. "That was the most outrageous thing," Gowran says. "But, I mean, there have been many, many other incidents with loud noise and screaming and yelling, throwing bottles, people yelling in the street. This happens all the time."

click to enlarge Purdy began posting these signs last year. - PHOTO BY KARLI EVANS / ALLSEEINGMEDIA.COM
Purdy began posting these signs last year.
Photo by Karli Evans / AllSeeingMedia.com

Last spring, a quiet night in Sunset Harbour was interrupted by the sounds of gunshots. Not much is known other than they came from a man in a car.

Recognizing the moment was ripe, de los Reyes took action, circulating a petition among Sunset Harbour residents that called for Purdy to close at 2 a.m. She collected 190 signatures (about half the residents who live in the condo's 400 units). She believed one unified petition with signatures would be stronger than a spate of emails.

In May 2017, Commissioner Ricky Arriola sponsored a bill that would have amended the neighborhood's alcohol hours to 2 a.m., forcing Purdy to close three hours earlier. "What's happened, not just at Purdy, is these 5 a.m. liquor licenses in densely populated neighborhoods can become incompatible with the area," Arriola tells New Times. "Sunset Harbour has gentrified quite a bit recently."

Rather than vote on the bill, the commission kicked the idea to a neighborhood subcommittee. It met this past March and April. Residents showed videos of the noise and pleaded for the commission to call for a vote on the ordinance.

Binkiewicz is adamant that a 2 a.m. closing time would hurt revenue enough to shut down the bar permanently. He notes that Beach residents rejected plans last November to force Ocean Drive bars to close at 2 a.m. by 64 percent. "We're gonna be the only bar to be closed at 2 a.m.?" he says. "How could that be?"

Juan-Carlos Planas, a lobbyist for the bar, also warned that forcing Purdy to close at 2 a.m. could bring a legal challenge the city can't withstand, because the change would target only one bar.

In the past year, in response to neighbors' complaints, Purdy's owners have posted signs telling patrons to be quiet, installed stanchions to direct customers waiting for rides to the side of the building opposite the condos, and hired off-duty police officers. They even brought on a guard to quiet people and are in the process of obtaining permits to build an awning over the lines outside in hopes it will temper the noise.

"We're gonna be the only bar to be closed at 2 a.m.?" he says. "How could that be?"

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This past June, Arriola suddenly pulled the bill, ending all debate about the noise. "Unless one of my colleagues wants to pick up the issue, I'm satisfied that for the time being, they've been responsive to the concerns of the neighbors," the commissioner says.

Now, Arriola says that for him, the noise was never the problem — it was the one night of gunfire. Because Purdy hasn't had a similar incident since then, he believes the issue is over.

"When businesses can't respect their neighbors, then the commission has to get involved," he says. "But there are many, many people who do support Purdy, and they've been making an effort to reach out to neighbors and be respectful. We're not gonna make everybody happy all of the time."

Purdy lovers reacted to the news in relief. "We've been living in limbo for two years now, and that's no way to live," Binkiewicz says. "I'm a proponent of 5 a.m. I'm a proponent of 'Don't change Miami Beach; stick to what got us here.' People come to Miami Beach for fun."

De los Reyes think it's "terrible" Arriola pulled the plug. "I don't know why he's doing that," she says. "I mean, he has a child. I wish the Purdy Lounge was in front of his townhome so he could hear the noise."

De los Reyes has vowed to keep fighting. "It's been a lot of work for no change," she says while pointing out a security camera that's stationed in the condo's parking garage. "I think they're being protected."

"You had your time," she says almost under her breath. "The neighborhood has changed." As she continues to grumble, two residents in leather biking gear rev their motorcycles and peel out of the parking garage. After the noise dies, de los Reyes announces she's going to write to the mayor again.

Outside Purdy on a recent Saturday at 3 a.m., the neighborhood was quiet except for wisps of laughter and chatter from people walking nearby. The sound of a car door shutting echoed through the darkness. No one was waiting for an Uber, nor was anyone dry-humping on top of a car. The area seemed tame and normal, quieter than many other parts of South Beach.

"I got to fulfill a lifelong dream in so many ways," Binkiewicz says of opening Purdy. "It's really cool when you come here at night and you see a lot of people having a fun time. There could be a thousand magical moments in the night, and you look around and you feel like you've done something good."

Adds Epstein: "I've been in the business for a good 20 years, and I've worked throughout the industry. This place will always be special for me. This is home."

Responds Binkiewicz: "It's home for a lot of people."

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Molly Minta is an intern at the New Times.
Contact: Molly Minta
Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas