The Down and Dirty on South Beach Dive Bars
If you come to Miami on vacation, or even if you just moved here, and are a fan of the nightlife there is only one place to go: South Beach. You know, that little Island choc-full of world class dance clubs. Clubs so exclusive and hard to get in to that they have lines stretching for blocks, even when there is no one inside. And once you get in you are surrounded by beautiful people and pounding music and $15 cocktails. The sex permeates the air suffocating you in its sultry cloud of sweat and musk. People are gyrating on each other, making out, touching, grabbing, removing clothes. All to an entrancing electronic beat. No, none of these people are on drugs. Not at all.
But then the lights come on and that girl or guy you were all over all night suddenly disappears, or even worse is ugly without strobe lights and alcohol. You and your friends go home as the sun is coming up over the MacArthur Causeway. You are tired, sweaty, and worst of all broke. Not only did you throw down for a cover charge, but your bar tab was $250. $250 that you didn’t have. If you are on vacation, this is all well and good as you can write it off as part of the expense of your trip. If you just moved here, well, you’d be remiss if you didn’t go to these types of clubs since they really don’t have anything like them back in Toledo. But after your umpteenth night of waiting outside begging some drag-queen door man for the privilege to pay $40 just to walk in the door, or your 10th night of being grinded on by some South American douchebag who thinks just because he has money he can put his hands wherever he wants, you realize that the clubs get a little old. Or maybe you just get old.
Either way, you need an alternative. Somewhere you can go and get wasted and not spend every dollar you have. And that, friends, is where the plethora of South Beach Dive Bars comes in. Yes, believe it or not there are nightlife options in South Beach that do not include monosyllabic lounges who make you feel like a cheapskate if you aren’t willing to throw down $400 for a bottle of Grey Goose that costs $29.99 at Walgreens. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still South Beach, so you’re still going to end up spending more on a night out than you would in a normal place. But if you don’t like to dance, or scream over a booming speaker, and you like wearing gym clothes when you go out, there are many spots in the Beach that will welcome you with open arms (see pictures).
Located next to local favorite restaurant Big Pink and across the street from the lavish Opium and the ostentatious Prive, Ted’s Hideaway gives you perhaps the best cross-section of patrons of any bar on the Beach. It is located at the far south end of the island, and as a result there are a good number of people inside who are at the far south end of their lives. Not old people mind you, just folks who are not exactly the cream of the societal crop. A lot of people go to South Beach to be seen; people go to Ted’s so that nobody sees them.
In addition to the end-of-their-rope crowd, you also get a healthy amount of club goers either on their way to or on their way out of Opium, Prive, Nikki Beach and Peal. Meaning you may have a trucker in a ripped T-Shirt and soiled jeans nursing a Bud Light right next to a model in a $500 shirt. Throw in a healthy amount of good natured locals who treat Ted’s as their neighborhood bar, and you have one of the most eclectic drinking spots in Miami.
The staff can best be described as “Hooters in Black,” as all Ted’s bartenders are female and, shall we say, well-endowed. But this does not keep the female patrons away. Ted’s smells like a bar, and the food is about on par with what you would find in the freezer section of a convenience store in a bad neighborhood. The bathrooms are adorned with signs stating that persons caught using illegal substances will be removed from the premises. Not prosecuted, or even arrested, mind you, just removed. And they also politely remind you that only one person may occupy a stall at any given time. For better or for worse, this is part of what gives Ted’s its unmistakable character and sets it apart from many of its more upscale neighbors.
Because of its location, Lost Weekend attracts an interesting mix of service industry workers and tourists. Generally tourists who don’t like clubs and are in desperate search of a bar like the ones back home. It makes for an intriguing population in the bar, as you have the most bitter of locals with the most sunburned and cheerful of tourists. Or maybe just tourists who said, “This place blows. Where’s the nearest dive bar?” And Voila! Right as they are walking back to their hotel in disgust after waiting in line for an hour at Cameo, there’s Lost Weekend.
The bar features pool and foosball if you want to do something other than just drink. It is also connected to Blue, which is a bit more of a lounge and as such a review will not be included in this report. The service is always excellent as they staff enough bartenders for the crowd and the actual bar is pretty big. The restrooms, however, are very small. So be prepared to wait a little bit if you decide to break the seal.
MAC’S CLUB DEUCE
“The Deuce” is a bar with an attitude, and as such doesn’t really attract a lot of tourists. The bartenders are no-nonsense and unless you’re a regular aren’t going to bother chatting with you. But they work fast and make good drinks, which is all anyone who would frequent this place should care about anyway. The bar itself takes up over half the building as it winds its way around. The mirror-covered walls are only broken up by some big-screen TV’s, and the back of the bar is filled with some unseemly characters you may want to avoid.
No one would describe The Deuce as “clean,” whether they are talking about its physical appearance, its moral stature or the people who populate it on a regular basis. But what it is is classic. You go, you drink, you drink some more and you stumble home. The service is always good, even if it’s not overly friendly. If you came here to drink and not to socialize then The Deuce will make you feel right at home.
THE ABBEY BREWING COMPANY
A tiny green neon sign reading “Bar” hangs outside, making it look kind of sad and depressing for the uninformed. The bar itself is tiny, as when the place is filed with more than 35 people it becomes uncomfortable. The booths stay true to the monastic theme of the bar and are hard, straight wood-backed benches. So standing is probably your second best option to sitting at the bar. As for entertainment, you get a couple of TV’s and a dart board that is right next to the front door, causing quite the traffic jam as one tries to walk in. But you don’t go to The Abbey for amenities, you go there for the beer.
The menu features a wide variety of beers both made by The Abbey and imported. If you are the type who is into trying things like Apricot Ales at exotic India Pale Ales, then this is the place for you. In the fall, their seasonal Pumpkin Beer is the best I have ever had, almost like drinking a pumpkin pie with ice cream. For the more alcohol inclined, they also feature a beer that is 12% alcohol which actually does not taste like paint thinner. Their on-tap and bottled selection varies, and the menu is not always up to date so be sure to ask the bartender. But if you are willing to overlook the aesthetic discrepancies, The Abbey truly has the best beer in Miami.
ROOM, INC. (The Room)
This all being said, the Room is home to the most impressive collection of imported beers on the beach. They have a big chalkboard overhead that breaks them down by country and style, giving you the opportunity to do a world tour of drinking if you like. And, surprisingly, the prices are about on par with what you would pay for imports in places not fueled by tourist trap dollars. You may wait a little while due to the amount of space (they can’t fit more than 2 people behind the bar) and the ever-present crowds. But the beer is worth it.
I am hard-pressed to really call this a “dive” bar as it is clean and the clientele tends to be a little more sophisticated. They are drinking imports, after all. But it is not a high-end spot either, just a small, crowded bar with really good beer. And, as seems to be a running theme with these bars, a single stall bathroom. So you may want to drink slowly lest you spend the whole night waiting in line. If you wanted to do that, you’d still be outside Prive, right?
Probably the only British-style Pub in South Beach, Free Spirits features British Tabloids lining the walls and live music on a regular basis. They have a good selection of beers, though not up to the level of The Abbey or The Room, and a full liquor bar as well. Another interesting feature: the bar has a variety of board games you can play at your table or at the bar. While this is becoming increasingly popular at many drinking establishments, it is not wholly common in the Beach. The British theme is entertaining, but I’ve found the food here to actually be a little better than it is in the real Britain. Which is not saying a whole lot.
The crowd is a mix of locals, folks from the nearby hotels, and kids pre-drinking before going over to the clubs around the corner. So, like many dive bars in the Beach, you will see just about anyone in there. The service is surprisingly friendly, as the bartenders tend to know a lot of the crowd and treat most guests as if they were already regulars.
The Playwright is more of an Irish Pub than a dive, but it still has reasonably priced drinks and a dressed-down atmosphere. They offer live music on occasion and feature traditional Irish food that is not bad, but not the best. As far as bars on this list go, The Playwright will likely have the most tourists, which can be good and bad. Good if you actually ARE a tourist, or are trying to meet one. Bad if you are a hardened local who wants to avoid them like the plague. But this is definitely not a “Tourist bar,” like The Clevelander. A lot of locals, especially people who work on the Beach, go here as well as visitors.
The service is good, as the mostly-male staff seems to be popular with the female clientele. Its larger-size permits The Playwright to offer bathrooms that have more than one stall, a bonus if you are planning on a night of binge drinking. But it isn’t the sort of “leave-me-alone-I’m-drinking” bar that the true alcoholics crave. It’s just a more-social scene that is not a high-end club or lounge.
Finnegan’s Way is not noted as a nightlife spot, but does great business for brunch and sporting events. Its beachside location makes it one of the more unique places to watch football on Sundays (or Saturdays) and features a large menu and reasonable drink prices. They have a plethora of TV’s and Finnegan’s is hard to get into on a weekend day during football season. I don’t know that I would go here for a night out, as it is on the northern part of Ocean and therefore not a really bustling spot. But for a more-relaxed atmosphere that may actually lead you to believe there is more to South Beach than tourist traps, it can make for an enjoyable experience.
There is also a Finnegan’s Too on Lincoln Road, which is mildly affiliated with this Finnegan’s. They are also big for sporting events and may be a little livelier on the weekend thanks to their better-traveled location.
So if you are not really a “South Beach” person, but happen to find yourself hankering for an adult beverage between 1st and 21st Streets, there are plenty of places you can go and feel right at home. Whether it is an Irish Pub, a brewery or a true dive bar, there will be somewhere you can go and drink without having to buy an entire new outfit for the occasion. Or even bathe if you don’t want too. While Miami will always be portrayed as glamorous, upscale and exclusive, with the right guidance you can avoid that Travel Channel atmosphere and have a nice, relaxing, intoxicating night out without having to leave the Beach.
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