A Pizza-and-Pitchers Alternative To South Beach
By Dana Lerner
It’s just before midnight, and humidity sticks to the skin like adhesive tape. My girlfriends and I pile into an air-conditioned cab as if it’s a circus car. We smooth our frizzed hair and reapply powder and lip gloss to our dewed faces. The night is young.
For weekends in Miami, one has two main nightlife choices: South Beach or Coconut Grove. It’s an easy choice for me. With $30 in my bag, I am looking forward to seeing morning with a drink at hand down in the Grove.
For fun-loving 20-somethings on a budget, the Grove is an alternative to the pricey cover charges of South Beach. College students, working-class folk and local professionals often prefer the more casual scene of Coconut Grove, where the dress code is tank tops, jeans and sandals instead of high heels and collared shirts. You can still enjoy bouncer-guarded bars and clubs, but in the Grove, they are only checking for IDs, not emptying your wallet.
The Grove is located 10 minutes south of downtown Miami on Biscayne Bay, in a neighborhood with Bahamian roots. Bahamian immigrants settled this area in the 1890s, and today is home to an annual Caribbean celebration called the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival. About half of the residents of the Grove are of Bahamian descent, ancestors of the first island seamen settlers. As a former bohemian commune and an artist community, the district hasn’t lost its funky, tranquil vibe.
Streets of Mayfair and Coco Walk are full of high-end boutiques and specialty stores, from ladies apparel to swimsuits and accessory shops. Try Mezzanote (3390 Mary Street, (305) 448-7677) for pastas and seafood, or Café Med (3015 Grand Street, (305) 443-1770) for a creamy Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and crunchy croutons. At the same location is Tutu Tango (305) 529-2222), a tapas restaurant and bar where local artists display their works.
My friend Hillary gets in line behind a cluster of guys from University of Miami, as a handful of tourists pile in behind her. Hilary, who is 23 and from Austin, Texas, says the Grove is her “most preferred place to hang,” and though she is sometimes self-conscious in a crowd, a couple of drinks take care of that. “I even dance here, just like I would in South Beach,” she said. “The difference is the next day I wake up with money left over.”
Hilary, like so many other tourists and Miami locals, starts her night at Monty’s Raw Bar and Outdoor Restaurant (2550 South Bayshore Drive, (305) 858-1431) in the heart of the Grove. Monty’s is a perfect happy hour spot for its two-for-one drink specials and fresh seafood raw bar. Since 1967, Monty’s has been serving at the waters of Miami Beach, where yachts and boats in the marina become the restaurant’s backdrop. Drinks, like “Painkillers,” come in degrees of one, two or three, depending on the number of shots.
Sandbar Grill (3064 Grand Avenue, (305) 444-5270) usually has a line down the block, but it’s worth the wait. You know you’re there when you see a red-and-white lifesaver hanging from the front of a wooden planked building. This “beach-bum” drinking hole has outdoor seating and a bar in the front and back, as well as table service. The bouncers hang out on the bar’s lifeguard stands. Try the Alligator Alley, with banana liquor or a Hurricane, which is a mix of rum and fruit juices. This bar and grill plays mostly Top 40 and hip-hop music, and the dance floor is always full. One in the morning is prime time, and you’re lucky if you can get a seat or get a bartender’s attention.
At Tavern in the Grove (3416 Main Highway, (305) 447-3884) stand shoulder to shoulder with a room full of locals, students and vacationers, all waiting to buy an $8 pitcher of beer, where Bud and Miller drinkers opt for tap, and the bottled drinks are coolers. The crowds can get rowdy and frenzied. The ceiling holds lost articles of clothing, and the wall has photographs full of regulars.
Marty Gottesman, 25, of New York City, always visits the Grove on his annual trip to Miami. “I met my girlfriend of three years at a table in the back of the bar,” he said. “Tavern may look a bit dingy, but it attracts the right people and always brings in a pleasant crowd.”
Around the corner is another hole-in-the-wall establishment, Barracuda (3035 Fuller Street, (305) 448-1144). Here a large pool table and foosball area attract avid drinkers to show their competitive side. There are few tables and booths, but sit around the bar and chat it up with the friendly bartenders who wear T-shirts proclaiming, “Bite me, Barracuda.”
Next place to drop by is Mr. Moe’s Restaurant and Bar (3131 Commodore Plaza, (305) 442-1114) where a late-night crowd orders food and throws back moose juice. Check out a grizzly bear seizing his territory in one alcove, and dark oak tables and chairs which seat you in the great outdoors of a wooden chalet. On Wednesday nights, the staff brings out a bucking bronco you can ride. Moe’s true rustic appeal creates a cool, inviting atmosphere. Pack in your friends and plan to stay into morning.