In Miami, things tend to come and go with a quickness: the buildings, the people, the clubs, everything. While we perceive our city as perpetually brand new, we have more historical anchors than we realize. The first known structure of its kind in North America, The Miami Circle operated during Roman times. As the only Catholic church for hundreds of miles during its early years, Downtown's Gesu Catholic Church was the site to which hundreds of Floridian pilgrims would trek for Christmas mass. And, for us cocktailians, there is Tobacco Road.
The city's oldest bar has seen and been it all. Forced to reinvent itself over and over again by the city's social and historical waves, the Road has worn many masks: speakeasy, entertainment venue, drug haven, strip club, gay bar, restaurant and neighborhood watering hole. Opened in 1912 under a name now lost, Tobacco Road's speakeasy days started before national Prohibition when the county's moral police kick-started the dry spell in 1913. For twenty years, Tobacco Road fronted as a bakery, but through the secret door disguised by a bookshelf was stairway to Prohibition heaven. In the upstairs cabaret room, alcohol poured and Al Capone bet on game after game of roulette.
The repeal of Prohibition did not mean The Road's clandestine years were over. Under new management, The Road surfaced as a gay bar. Its reputation as a haven for female impersonators and male strippers outraged a new generation of Miami moral marchers who had the venue shut down. Continuing under a variety of names, owners and concepts, the Road's reincarnations continued into the early 80s when Governor Bob Graham ordered a drug raid. Its website remarks on those tumultuous times: "The neighborhood was tough, and so was The Road."
Under its new (and current) owners, Tobacco Road stabilized into the venue we know and love. Today, The Road is a live music staple that has seen acts such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and George Clinton. On any given night, its local watering hole appeal draws a crowd as diverse as its history.
This Friday (November 19th) Tobacco Road celebrates the 98th year of its Miami adventure. Join in at 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. for great music, 98 cents drink specials and the sense of Miami pride. Get there before 8 p.m. and admission is free. Otherwise, the $10 admission is still a pretty sweet deal.