Mary's Coin Laundry and Cafeteria opened in 1982 as a simple wash house. It had been converted from a plant nursery and Bahamian-style wooden shack that had been around for 55 years. Then, Victor Sanchez, a construction worker and son-in-law of the Mary for whom the place is named, noticed that young people prefer to wash their clothes at night.
So he added a coffee window to entice customers. Through the years, the building has grown and the coffee window has become a cafeteria. Around 2001, the joint began 24-hour service, and today it's a beacon for late-night grub in the city of Miami. It attracts everyone from cops to drunks and viejitos to kids and early risers. Short Order was there at 5:20 this morning to check out the place.
We arrived to three Miami Police cruisers (out of frame) surrounding the place, but not for crime; the officers were downing coffee and pastelitos. Owner Victor told us: "The cops usually come here to kill time and finish their shift, usually around 2 a.m. and 5 a.m." Maybe the end of a long day on the job explains one of their bad attitudes. We said, "Excuse me, sir. You mind if I ask you a question?" A tall, Hispanic, salt-and-pepper flat-topped, Zippo-flicking cop with teeth like broken brown and yellow dishware replied, "Actually, yeah, I do mind."
So we walked away with our medium cup of café con leche ($1.75) and waited for our medianoche sandwich ($4.50).
Others were friendlier, though. We sat in a plastic chair at an umbrellaed table next to an old Cuban dude with an empty colada cup. He said he's been coming to Mary's "for about 30 years." Nowadays, he heads there early in the morning when he can't sleep. He waits out the sunrise till he can go and hang out with the other old-timers in front of Winn-Dixie.
We also met Glenn Wedderburn, who calls himself "master doctor born to plaster." He's a friendly, name-checking regular with a smile and a hello for every patron and employee.
Wedderburn, a Jamaican native who moved to Miami in 1980, said, "I have been coming here since 1985, and I remember when it wasn't nothing but a little wash house with a little window for the coffee. I live in the Grove, and I come here every day. I used to come in and buy five coladas and take them over to Shell Lumber. Everybody knows me here -- I got a smile for everybody. I come here for the coffee and the people."
Mary's Coin Laundry and Cafeteria won our 2010 award for Best Place to Do Your Laundry, Get Dinner, and Grab Coffee. If you're looking for the real Miami, this is it.
Mary's Coin Laundry
2542 SW 27th Ave., Miami