If you're in Miami and you're looking for an authentic drinking experience that makes the pretentious bars on South Beach look like the posing joints that they really are, head over to the Tobacco Road blues bar and restaurant at 626 South Miami Ave in Downtown Miami.
History of Tobacco Road
Tobacco Road is what every good American bar should be; a combination of history, real people and good beer. 'The Road', as it's known to locals, has the oldest existing liquor licence in the history of Dade County (the county that contains Miami) - the licence was granted back in 1912. During Prohibition it was a speakeasy and gambling hall where alcohol was served in things like teapots and cups, and was one of Al Capone's hangouts. During World War II a judge revoked all of its licences due to 'lewd, wanton and lascivious' behaviour, an image that continued right up until the early 1980s in the form of regular raids by the police.
However the Road managed to survive everything from gangsters and the Depression to hurricanes and attempts by the city of Miami to shut it down. In 1982 it got a new lease of life when the new owners repositioned it as a blues bar, just as the nearby Brickell Avenue started to fill up with high-rise offices, hotels and businesses. It's now a considerably successful place that hasn't lost any of its old charm.
Tobacco Road Today
Step inside the bar and give your eyes a couple of minutes to adjust. Yes, Tobacco Road is dark, moody and welcoming in the same way that a warm fire is on a cold, rainy day. There are two floors, each with a little stage for performers, and out back is a beer garden with tables and chairs shaded by a huge oak tree - the perfect spot for warm evening drinking sessions.
The beer is good, and if you're a little tired of the clinical taste of America's more famous beers, order a pint of Sam Adams which, although called a 'lager', is closer to a pint of English bitter than to Budweiser. The range of food is typically American, with burgers, steaks, various types of chicken, plus nachos, burritos and other familiar inhabitants of southern USA cuisine; cynics tainted by the globalism of McDonald's will be pleased to note that the fries at Tobacco Road are slices of genuine potato, fried with their skins intact. The prices are very reasonable indeed.
Hanging on the walls at the back you'll see flyers from the acts who've graced the tiny and intimate stage at the Road. There are names like John Lee Hooker, Matt Guitar Murphy, 'Diamond Teeth' Mary McClain and The Stompers, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and most nights there's live music to entertain you while you drink. On Fridays and Saturdays they'll card you at the door, so make sure you have photo ID with you to prove you're 21 or over... otherwise you'll have to slink in on another night and put on your fake gravelly voice to get served.
The Road might have a dodgy plastic tiled floor, the chairs might be a bit cheap, the lighting might be dark and some of the locals might have seen better days, but that's the whole point. It's open until 5am - by which time you might well have been lucky enough to see some genuine drunkard action, especially on a Sunday night - and it's highly recommended for a real slice of American bar life. It makes those USA theme bars around the world look like the pale imitations they really are.