By Kyle Teal
With its 63-year-old wooden bar and old church pews converted to booths, The Bar in downtown Coral Gables has a lived-in, historic feel. One of the pub’s mixologists has watched the community grow, pouring drinks for lawyers who were once the children of parents she served decades ago. Like its name, The Bar is simple and direct. Its loud blue walls and mid-western feel attracts young-to-middle-aged professionals grabbing cocktails or lunch during the week and enjoying all-out parties with live music on Saturday nights.
Grinning servers make chit-chat with familiar regulars still dry-cleaned and business-casual. Manager Domingo Murillo says he only hires charming bartenders. Even the intimidating bouncer - a Viking-meets-professional-wrestler type with a bushy, black beard - is an affable guy. According to Murillo, when the current owners bought the dive in the mid-90s, it was struggling. They purchased a liquor license and changed the name from Hofbrau Pub and Grill, and in 1997, The Bar finally gained a steady stream of regulars posting up for a stiff one.
The staffers are loyal in an industry that suffers high turn-over rates. Lunch manager Chandler Rivera has worked there for 29 years; her mother started at the bar in 1969. Chandler followed the family tradition in 1981, back when the bar was open 24 hours a day. “I remember when the Gables was nothing,” she said. “And then, all of the sudden, everyone started coming in. I’m telling you, the people who come in here are great.”
Local attorney John Leon, 36, and Etain Connor were sipping cocktails for happy hour one Thursday evening. “It’s a place where everybody knows your name, but nobody knows your name,” Connor said thoughtfully. “So, you can be yourself.”
Deals are offered throughout the week: Monday is two-for-one; Tuesday is $6 Jäger shots with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (dubbed “Po Boy’s Special); Wednesday night is $2 shot night; Thursday offers an extra ounce of liquor; Friday ladies drink free from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, hospitality workers get discounts. A fifteen percent tip charge is added to each bill, because the hotels near Miami International Airport bring over a lot of foreign drinkers unaccustomed to tipping, Murillo said.
The Bar extends a solid draught selection and a list of 50 bottled beers. Each month, a new kind of beer keg is rolled into the mix. The most popular draught is Stella Artois and the best-selling liquors are vodka and scotch. The booze, coupled with a dark atmosphere and red lights, can make the patrons even more attractive, according to staff – there’s a story of an impatient couple caught in a compromising position together in the tiny bathroom. Aside from that adventure, and the occasional table dancers, the crowds are less the crazed-college-spring breakers and more the interns and sales associates swirling scotch. Board games such as Checkers, Monopoly, Uno and Jenga are available for customers to play after they chow down on fresh burgers, southwestern egg rolls, crispy chicken tenders or any of the other decent pub grub on the menu.
A checkered floor, classic advertisements, and a stained-glass window that still displays its old name add to the classic theme. Hundreds of old beer bottles from around the world line the shelves above the booths. Menu options are chalked on a blackboard above the bar’s counter, a jukebox plays more than 10,000 songs and the game is on TVs in each corner. Live bands perform inside on Saturday nights and DJs spin on Thursdays and Fridays.
The owners of The Bar also own the Purdy Lounge on South Beach, an area that seems a million worlds away when you’re drinking cans of PBR and playing Jenga with friends.
“We open at 5 [p.m.] on the weekends because now, the Gables has a little bit of a nightlife,” Rivera said. “It’s not South Beach, but we don’t want it to be South Beach—you know what I mean? We’re regular people.”
The Bar in Coral Gables is known for its loyal customers, solid specials and weekend live music. Photo: Alex Van Clief.