Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a nostalgic roadhouse in Miami’s hippest district.
LOCATION: Wynwood, Miami
ON THE STAGE: Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Nobunny, DJ Mr Brown
WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): Orange blossom margarita
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): Rosemary’s Baby: gin, Earl Grey tea, lemon juice and burnt rosemary (created by late bartender Louis Salgar)
WHY WE LOVE IT: To the uninitiated, the biggest thing Gramps bar in Miami seems to have going for it is its A/C unit. “AIR CONDITIONING, COLD BEER, COCKTAILS,” reads the stencil across the front of the building. And while the chilly environment indoors is a perk, Gramps’ real draw is its roadhouse-like atmosphere, a sort of casual, old Florida-meets-new Florida vibe that could only have been achieved by someone who has lived through both.
“From the beginning, the concept of the bar was to stay connected to various phases of Miami through the ages,” says Gramps owner Adam Gersten, who grew up on an island off the coast of Miami Beach. (He recalls neighbors dealing drugs and protecting witnesses, basically the stuff of Miami Vice. In fact, an episode of the show was filmed across the street from his childhood home.) “It wasn’t so much that we were trying to make it look like a particular era. We aimed to be comfortable. For people to have space to connect.”
Gramps, named after Gersten’s booze-loving grandfather, is located in a 3,500-square-foot old factory in Wynwood, the city’s arts district. The building has big, glass block windows and an outdoor patio complete with a tiki hut, picnic tables, music stage and retractable awning. Inside, the space is furnished with no-frills tables, booths and a formidable backbar that Gersten and his friends built themselves. Decorations include posters for movies set in the Everglades and other South Florida memorabilia of decades past.
“People have called us a ‘wannabe dive bar,’” Gersten says. “We aren’t that. No one ever aims to be a dive bar. There are bars that are open for 40 years that call themselves dives eventually because their owners get old and they get gross. But they weren’t gross for their first 20 years. They were nice places.”
Gersten and his friends are always building new things and adding to their nice place. “If you’re a regular customer, it almost feels like a little reward every time you come in,” he says. The latest addition is by-the-slice pizza, a new brand created in conjunction with Frank Pinello, owner of Best Pizza in Brooklyn. They named it Pizza Tropical as an homage to the fast-food joint Pollo Tropical.
(Gramps held off on launching the pizza until now because the Zika scare had put such a huge strain on the local economy. “It was a disaster,” he says. “We are climbing out, but it put us in a big hole. There were a lot of other businesses in the neighborhood who were paying [employees] out of pocket.”)
The drinks menu doesn’t stay stagnant either. The bar offers plenty of the cold, domestic beer the Wynwood crowds love, but also sake and refreshing cocktails like orange blossom margaritas. “It’s an extension of us: experimental and forward-thinking,” Gersten says. This is especially true in Miami today, where cocktails are beginning to seep into the club sphere. “All the club guys are trying to get into bars now because people have less money to spend on partying like that. But they’re total cheeseballs. They’re like ‘come to our speakeasy.’ They’re only like 15 years behind.”
But Gersten’s real passion is live music and maintaining Gramps’ identity as a live music venue, a dying breed in the bar world. He gets musicians—everyone from local hip-hop artists to touring feminist punk bands—on stage multiple nights per week. “Sometimes we do things for old white people and sometimes we do things for Jamaican people. Everyone feels like it’s their place,” he says.
Sonny Crockett once said, “no matter how hot it gets, sooner or later there’s a cool breeze coming in.” Just remember: At Gramps, the A/C is always humming.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep