Miami is the Magic City; a land that speaks vice in any language. It’s a world where the alcohol flows nightly until 5 a.m. at least. Indeed, some bars and clubs never close.
But what you might not know is that Miami’s party scene is extraordinarily small. Remove the water and islands from Dade County and you’re left with roughly a five-mile square radius of active nightlife territory. Thrill-seeking vampires will draw a rectangle to show you all the places worth visiting.
Drop your pen at Miami Beach’s highest-grossing megaclub LIV and shoot straight down to the district “South of Fifth” Street. Cut across Biscayne Bay to Downtown Miami and make a sharp right up to Little Haiti. This is the ultimate night owl domain and, while it doesn’t seem much, it packs a mean punch.
Glitz and glamour reign in Miami, but there are cheap drinks and dives if you know where (and when) to look. Hobnob with EDM’s elite or rub sweaty shoulders with DIY punks. Salsa until your feet ache or smoke Ls with rap stars.
Here, we give you the lowdown on the three best areas in Vice City to be at 3 a.m.: a time when other cities around the country are asleep.
South Beach was a dead zone, sometimes known as “God’s Waiting Room.” Basically it was a place where retirees waited for death’s clammy hand. However, in the ’90s, supermodels got wind of the beach city’s cheap rent and started to perfect their Atlantic Ocean poses. Will Smith immortalized the city’s party vibe in 1997 and the rest is history.
Now neon lights from squat Art Deco buildings shine down onto candy-painted cars. Porsches and Mustangs creep 5 miles an hour in the wee hours, blasting reggaeton or hip-hop hits. South Beach is a ballers utopia. Cocktails can start at $16 and velvet ropes beckon as much as they divide.
“I’m active out here,” says Grade-A, a Compton, California, transplant who came to party one day and never left. “I be dealing with these lil’ young ladies… You find different qualities, but that’s the good thing about South Beach, different flavors. You’ll meet mo’fuckers on South Beach that you’ll probably never meet nowhere else in the world because everybody come to South Beach. I love it.”
As the clock strikes three, the party gets started. Any given night is a celebration on Collins Avenue in high-profile megaclubs like Story and Icon and lower-level hotel hideaways including Rec Room, Basement or FDR. One spot in particular draws a colorful crowd: Mangos. The two-story, triple-room restaurant and nightclub is the destination of choice for South Americans on holiday. Ask any stranger in line where they’re from, odds are it’s Chile or Brazil or Argentina. They came for the salsa dancing dinner show, but they stay to dance the bachata and merengue until sunrise.
Painted wooden parrots hang from the high ceiling and bodies whirl in a flurry of hips and feet. Any woman left unattended will soon find herself wrapped by the arms of a man named Oscar from Guatamala who doesn’t so much ask her to dance as tells her to in the form of a question. Bachelorette and birthday parties are common as couples gyrate hip to hip in more private areas upstairs.
You don’t have to go inside any club to find adventure on SoBe. The ocean is across the street calling your name. The moonlight is romantic and the waves are calm. The warm, wet wind blows through the palm trees. It makes for perfect places to sit and watch the world blur by. South Beach is a universe inhabited equally by the old man walking with two half-dressed models on each arm and the woman in an old yellow onesie digging through the trash.
A two-minute drive across The MacArthur or Julia Tuttle causeways brings you downtown. You’ll immediately see a small cluster of skyscrapers and condos that didn’t exist a decade ago. The only people who can afford them are foreign or mostly absent, but many mid-size venues have been paved over to make more of them. However nightlife never dies—especially in Miami. It’s all taken shelter in the shadows on and around Northwest 11th Street, centered squarely between Northeast 1st and North Miami Avenues.
Walk one block and meet the whole world. People are plenty at 3 a.m., though they stumble and slur. Tourists, transplants and locals mingle among one another downtown because it’s cheaper than South Beach while still carrying that Vice City shine. Take E11even—a strip club, megaclub, rooftop lounge and restaurant rolled into one. E11even is a 24/7/365 den of lust and gluttony; It’s SoBe on steroids, but across the street is a different scene.
Space nightclub is a haven for fans of house and techno and is a beacon for international talent, despite the fact that it’s open one night a week. The club’s two stories come to life Saturday after dark. Hip-hop reigns downstairs. Upstairs you’ll find the open-air Terrace where partiers dance until noon Sunday.
Be you grimy shadow dweller or affluent showstopper, all roads eventually lead to The Corner. It’s the exact location where evenings (and good decision making skills) go to die. A place no one wants to be spotted at 5 a.m., though everyone has been. A place where sniffling noses gather to chat loudly in dim lighting or spill from the patio into the strangely busy North Miami Avenue intersection.
“The Corner is a god damn shit show,” one man says with a smile. The guy next to him looks dizzy one minute, and the next starts freestyling…badly. Finally, he just falls into his chair and says “I’m fucked up.”
Here is a hood where tourists never tread. Some residents practice Voodoo or Santeria, which could explain the random roosters and chickens clucking about. Though, it might just be for cheap eggs. The Wynwood Arts District, about a mile south, is too hyped and overpriced for many artists and a lot have taken root here in Little Haiti. Speculators shout “gentrification will come here next,” but not today.
Since 1979, Little Haiti’s been the home of Churchill’s — Miami’s truest-to-form punk rock venue and dive. It’s is an English-style pub that serves cold, cheap beer alongside food that’s fast and surprisingly decent. Most patrons are too busy thrashing to bands that play hard and fast to eat. The floor is littered with old wristbands and cigarette butts. Black denim jackets are covered in patches, but there’s no dress code. Churchill’s opens its doors to literally anyone. Don’t be an asshole, and you’re cool.
“This place is where the weirdos come to congregate,” says Patrick Walsh, a man usually found DJing and promoting parties on the Beach or in Wynwood. However, right now he finds himself “rediscovering” Churchill’s.
“I was here on a Tuesday, it was a punk rock night, then (local personality and DJ) Rat Bastard got on and he just played this kind of music, 130 bpm techno,” he says. “It transitioned from local punk rock to fucking Berghain Berlin techno and everyone was like, ‘I’ll have another drink.’ It was amazing.”
Outside a bearded drag queen cools down from a colorful performance while a death metal band packs a beat-up van with tired smiles.
“The people that come here, I don’t see anywhere else,” Walsh says. “This is their spot, and they’ve cultivated something that’s very unique. The people who don’t go to Churchill’s don’t realize what’s going on [in Miami]. I like the fact that it’s been untainted, but at the same time, I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities to really do some beautiful things.”