The opulent whirl of Miami is full of glitzy nightlife, but there are times when a good simple dive bar—no frills, no fuss, and no attitude—satisfies the nocturnal itch.
Many of Miami’s oldest dive bars are gone, but the city has a new order of artisanal dives, helmed by young hipsters that evoke the romance of the past. The decorative sensibility of yore is being incorporated into a new strain of intelligent, casual spots where a solid, well-crafted cocktail can just as easily be served in a relaxed, informal ambiance. Here are five great Miami dive bars, from old-line classics to fairly sophisticated joints.
1. Mac’s Club Deuce
Mac’s has turned up everywhere from Miami Vice episodes to contemporary fashion spreads, and is the standard-bearer of dive bars. Open since the 1920s, the Deuce has a cheerful neon sign outside; inside, a bathing beauty in neon kicks her heels up. There are, of course, pool tables, a jukebox, and a crowd that ranges from bikers to drag queens. Best of all are the strong, no-nonsense drinks: happy hour is from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., with strong cocktails starting at $5.00.
2. Ted’s Hideway
A kind of low-impact version of a locals-rule bar, with a jaunty sign outside, Ted’s Hideaway has the usual pool tables and sympathetic atmosphere. The front door is generally open, which keeps the place aired-out, and sobering-up food is available from the nearby Big Pink. On weekends, the bar sometimes has a few stray club rats, trendy types who might be having trouble getting into dance clubs with fearsome doormen. Happy hour is from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., with domestic beers priced at $3.50.
3. Lost Weekend
Situated on Espanola Way in South Beach, Lost Weekend is owned by the Sub-Culture Group, which has such on-target establishments as Subculture Coffee and Tryst Bar in Palm Beach County. The Sub-Culture Group has taken the aesthetic form of the dive bar, thrown in some irony, and made Lost Weekend a viable concern for years. The name—which harkens to the 1945 Ray Milland movie about an alcoholic writer, or John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” period in the early 1970s—gets all the hipster details right, including 1980s video games. At happy hour, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the work week, a well vodka and tonic will set you back $3.50.
4. West Miami’s Seven Seas
This classic watering hole maintains its own eccentric standards, including retro touches like a Karaoke night. Outside, there’s a rusted jalopy with a surfboard on the roof as a prop; inside, the décor embraces fish nets, baseball bats, signs that read “Pick Your Poison: Bar Open,” nude mermaid sculptures, and a stuffed Llama head with a pirate hat. Happy hour is from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., with beers at $4.00 a pop.
5. Ball & Chain
In the heart of Little Havana on 8th Street, Ball & Chain is a recasting of old Miami, set in a club space dating to 1935. The building was once home to a jazz club, home to such artists as Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. Outside, a sign with a cocktail glass proclaiming “World Famous Ball & Chain Bar and Lounge” is writ large in neon, ushering in a décor that includes old Chet Baker posters and Dade County pine accents. It’s more retro hepcat cool than a dive bar, and jazz—particularly Latin jazz—is still a staple. Sit back, order a daiquiri, and let old Miami wash over you.
Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin__.