At the top of the stairs, amid a melee of laughing guests, Red Rooster partner Derek Fleming is laser-focused.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I have to make sure these are perfect," as he arranges and rearranges a set of beaded wooden curtains that are part room divider/part mood setter. At the end of the room, the bar, upholstered in green Naugahyde, is humming. A beautiful woman sits in an old-fashioned barber's chair, sipping a martini and watching a couple shoot pool. Beyond the beaded curtain, the Deep Fried Funk Band is playing Luthur Vandross' "Never too Much."
Music has finally returned to Clyde Killens' Pool Hall after nearly four decades.
For Fleming and his partners Marcus Samuelsson and Michael Simkins, bringing the Pool Hall to life was more than good business — it was a passion project.
Fleming says that when he first saw the space that housed Killens' pool hall, it was in "complete disrepair." The venue had closed in the early '80s and sat ignored until the Overtown CRA performed some minor repairs so Art Africa Miami could open a pop-up gallery from 2016 to 2018. "They outfitted it with white walls and recessed ceilings, but it had no character at all," Fleming says.
He researched what the pool hall looked like in its heyday and went to work. The idea was never to re-create the space, but rather to take its vibe and bring it into the 21st Century. Fleming bought vintage furnishings and reupholstered them. He paneled the walls with reclaimed wood to give the space a warm, rec-room feel. He decorated the walls with memorabilia (those boxing gloves belonged to Muhammad Ali).
A neon sign from the now-defunct M&G Diner in Harlem was revitalized, its "Old Fashion But Good" slogan now both a hashtag and a backdrop for selfies. "It's like a beacon for the golden era," Fleming says.
Fleming collaged the staircase with photos of the famous and the everyday people of Overtown in the '60s and '70s, along with a neon sign that proclaims it as "the Harlem of the South." He wanted those first steps up to the Pool Hall to make an immediate impact. "It sets the tone of the speakeasy space," he says.
The result is a stylish and refined hodgepodge of comfortable sitting areas, a central bar, and an oversize outdoor patio that looks down onto Red Rooster's courtyard. Fleming didn't want to place the Pool Hall in one single era.
"For me, it's reminiscent of when I grew up in the '70s and '80s, though Overtown's heyday was in the '50s and '60s. This room celebrates the golden era of Overtown, when it was the place to be. It was hip, it was cool, it was a destination for tourists and local Overtowners. It was their social place."
He hopes it becomes the new spot where people come to listen to music and enjoy cocktails.
The Pool Hall offers cocktails created by bar manager Nick Meza. Offerings include the "Swizzle" ($14), a spicy and fruity tall drink made with vodka, strawberry, pink peppercorns, and ginger beer; and the "Harlem Sour" ($15), with bourbon, Cherry Heering, pinot noir, rosemary, and fresh lemon.
Red Rooster chef Tristen Epps serves a concise menu of bar snacks, such as mini cornbreads ($9), pimento cheese ($13), and house-smoked fish dip ($14).
At the opening party, the decades melt together as people who might not have even been born in the '70s dance to vibrant covers of A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and Earth Wind & Fire's "September."
Finally satisfied with the beaded curtain, Fleming takes to the dance floor as Samuelsson, resplendent in a fedora and pink and green sport jacket, glides through the crowd, greeting one and all like old friends.
"People comment that this place has great energy. Part is the design and part is the spirit of the space. I wanted the same feel of what was happening when Ali, Aretha, and Sam Cooke were hanging in the pool hall drinking and listening to music," Fleming says
Though all of this history could have turned Clyde Killens' Pool Hall into a museum of sorts, Fleming wants people to experience it for themselves. "The goal is not to re-create the past, but to bring it into the future," he says. "African-American culture has such a rich foundation in terms of music, art, and food. We can be inspired by our cultural foundations and take them further. This is powerful stuff."
The Pool Hall at Red Rooster Overtown. 920 NW Second Ave, Miami; 305-640-9880; redroosterovertown.com. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.