David and CiCi Rodriguez signed the lease for Union, located in the heart of Calle Ocho (1547 SW Eighth St.), in late 2015. The couple is heavily involved in Miami's craft beer industry. David started with Lokal in Coconut Grove in 2011 and became manager/partner at the Coconut Grove restaurant's Wynwood sibling, Kush. Cici started Miami Brew Bus, which takes beer lovers on brewery tours.
For the husband-and-wife duo, the next logical step was to become business owners. "We just fell into this calling, and David had such great supporters and networks in the beer community," CiCi says.
The idea for Union came several years ago, when the couple went to San Francisco for their honeymoon and visited the City Beer Store, which is a beer bar/store hybrid. They set their sights on bringing the concept to Miami, except without the beer snobbishness and expense found in some of the places they've visited.
"We just want to be a beer bar that's not known for pretentiousness," David says. "We want people to just hang out all night, get food, and then take a six-pack home. We're cool with everyone."
Original plans were for opening in Wynwood, but the couple thought the area was getting "saturated." A first Little Havana location fell through because the pair was unable to obtain a beer/wine license.
Industry friends proved essential. Ball & Chain owner and SW Eighth Street advocate Bill Fuller helped find the current location, and Lokal and Kush owner Matt Kuscher was supportive throughout the process.
Union won't quite be a restaurant, David says, but there is a small kitchen and there will be food. He consulted with the owners of Miami Smokers, who helped inspire the menu. In addition to offering about a half-dozen sandwich options, David plans to include derby fries, a delicacy he picked up from the West Coast. They're basically fries smothered in every food group: pork belly, cheese, banana peppers, etc. "It's like the kitchen sink, and they throw it on fries," David says. "No one's doing that out here."
There will be at least 18 taps, from which David plans to pour the best beers, local and otherwise, he can get his hands on, including beers on nitro, cask ales from a beer engine, and a growler station. Beer cocktails like micheladas and beer sangria are also possible additions. "I want to try to knock out everything and appeal to many sensibilities," he says.
Some of the beers could include ones made in Cuba and possibly stuff from David's personal cellar. Everything about the bar will practically scream "whalez," a term used to indicate hard-to-find beers. Even the store's sign will have a whale on it, a nod to the beer community.
Union will have a Miami dive bar aesthetic, with neon lights, decals, vintage posters, and arcade games like Contra and Mortal Kombat. Domino tables will add a bit of Little Havana vibe.
Located less than a mile from Marlins Park, the store/bar is in prime territory considering all of the tourists and the walkability in that section of Calle Ocho. The opening is planned for this spring, though construction hasn't begun.
The couple is dedicated to doing what it takes to open Union. "I think we make a good combination," David says. "It's a good yin and yang. I know how to appeal to craft beer drinkers, and CiCi knows how to run shit. That's why we make a good team. She knows the nitty-gritty of it. Once it comes to opening the operation, it'll be easy."