Although it’s possible to enjoy a “South Beach” club experience anywhere from Scranton to Spokane, the only place where those high-priced drinks, billowing linens, rooftop bars, and plush surroundings truly make sense is in the ultralounges in and around the Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive area.
It’s here that the global elite—and those aspiring to emulate the global elite—come to party in clubs that are as swank and sumptuous as they are tropical and decadent. Of course, the roster of “it” places in Miami Beach is reshuffled on a regular basis, and the club that had three-block-long lines a few months ago may well be straining for attention today.
But if you want to get a taste of what partying and dancing in South Beach is like, you’ll have no shortage of opportunities.
Despite popular perceptions (and the insulated insistence of SoBe regulars), there’s more to nightlife in Miami than clubbing along Collins—a whole lot more. In fact, central Miami has several fantastic nightspots, most of which are decidedly more low-key and welcoming than the velvet ropes and shiny shirts of South Beach.
The rooftop lounge at the Hotel Gansevoort, Plunge (2377 Collins Ave., 305/604-1000), is appropriately pricey and stylish, with an emphasis on budget-busting bottle service and poolside canoodling.
Celebrity DJs can be found spinning in lavishly decorated clubs like Louis (2325 Collins Ave., 305/531-4600) and the Heathrow Lounge (681 Washington Ave., 305/534-7614), while the vibe at South Beach legends like Nikki Beach (1 Ocean Dr., 305/538-1231) and B.E.D. (929 Washington Ave., 305/532-9070) is all indulgent luxury, complete with beds to lounge on while indulging in high-priced drinks and surprisingly decent food.
For something a little more down-to-earth, the Love Hate Lounge (421 Washington Ave., 305/695-8616) is run by two of the stars of TV’s Miami Ink, and the tattooed vibe of the owners is reflected in the atmosphere and decor; there are usually DJs spinning, but there’s a large bar and comfortable seating.
Of course, not everyone wants to spend the night (and early morning) dancing, and although it doesn’t have a reputation as a live music haven, Miami Beach does have a few decent venues to see bands perform. Although the Florida Room (1685 Collins Ave., 305/674-6152) at the Delano Hotel primarily serves as an upscale piano lounge with a regular roster of DJs coming through, a recently launched live music series has brought artists like the Roots, Matisyahu, and others in for exclusive and intimate live sets.
The Cozy Bar (518 South Pointe Dr., 305/532-2699) is another piano bar that occasionally hosts full bands. Jazz fans will want to head for the upstairs bar at the Van Dyke Cafe (846 Lincoln Rd., 305/534-3600), which hosts nightly performances by musicians playing everything from Latin jazz and bebop to blues and smooth jazz.
There are also quite a few bars in Miami Beach where the main attraction is, well, the bar. Neighborhood bars like Purdy Lounge (1811 Sunset Harbor Dr., 305/531-4622) and Club Deuce (222 14th St., 305/531-6200) eschew glamour and rope lines for inexpensive drinks and a no-bull atmosphere, and the cozy hotel basement that houses Beaches Bar & Grill (4299 Collins Ave., 305/672-1910) may be the only place on Miami Beach where you can queue up Merle Haggard on the jukebox.
Pub lovers should check out the expansive Irish-themed Playwright Pub (1265 Washington Ave., 305/534-0667), which has plenty of room to spread out and multiple TVs on which to watch the big game—especially if that big game involves an Irish soccer team.
The best bar in South Beach, though, is probably Abbey Brewing Co. (1115 16th St., 305/538-8110), a tiny hallway of pure beer heaven; in addition to a wide range of European craft beers and American microbrews, the Abbey also serves up its own selection of award-winning beers. The staff know their beer, and although the space can turn from cozy to cramped pretty quickly, there’s a feeling of knowing camaraderie among the hopheads gathered here.
One of the best dingy punk-rock bars in the entire southeastern United States is Churchill’s Pub (5501 NE 2nd Ave., 305/757-1807). Despite its location on one of the rougher edges of the Little Haiti neighborhood, Churchill’s is routinely packed with regulars and music fans who flock to hear punk, garage rock, metal, and even jazz artists in a super-friendly dive-bar atmosphere.
Hipsters who enjoy progressive electronica and dancing but wouldn’t be caught dead in South Beach (or couldn’t get past the bouncers) head for the raucous and friendly PS14 (28 NE 14th St., 305/358-3600), while the blues and barbecue at Tobacco Road (626 S. Miami Ave., 305/374-1198) is another big draw for Miami music lovers.
There are a number of friendly neighborhood bars in the area as well, like the comfortable vibe at Transit Lounge (729 SW 1st Ave., 305/377-4628), where you can either play board games or watch local bands on stage, or the Design District’s W Wine Bistro (3622 NE 2nd Ave., 305/576-7775), which doubles as an intimate wine bar and a cozy French bistro.
Believe it or not, it is possible to find a place to dance in Miami that isn’t on South Beach. Downtown, the Vagabond (30 NE 14th St., 305/379-0509) sometimes sports some serious lines out front, but once inside, the mixture of funk, hip-hop, and rock booming out of the PA makes for a good time; Little Havana’s Hoy Como Ayer (2212 SW 8th St., 305/541-2631) unsurprisingly dishes up hot Latin pop and salsa to a packed dance floor.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition