Raymond Hawkins, Adam Nativ and Adam Mizrahi enjoy their meal at Tobacco Road.
"The Road is open till 5 a.m." proclaim T-shirts you can buy at the bar, and Tobacco Road has been around so long -- since the early part of the 20th century. Still chugging along almost a century later, this charmingly grungy piece of living history still trots out some of the coolest, loudest bands seven days a week. Once pretty much a blues outpost and speakeasy where Prohibition-era drinkers could sate their thirsts, the Road now also features rock, jazz, funk, acoustic and rock en Espanol acts. Worried about drinking on an empty stomach? Rest assured, the kitchen is open until 4 a.m.
Don't let anybody tell you differently (especially those newspapers from the North that like to parachute into our international family squabbles). Don't let the politicos get you down (yep, 'tis the season for that).
This is a helluva town.
We're in the midst of a new Miami-in-the-making, and nowhere is change and innovation more poignant than downtown by the riverbank, where a dining and nightlife district is rising -- fun, food and spirits served before a backdrop of skyscrapers dressed in neon.
The beauty of this metamorphosis from derelict, depressed area to entertainment hub is this: Under the shadows of the new, old jewels thrive as well. And few places can claim more flair and history than Tobacco Road, the city's oldest watering hole and a charming spot to grab a great burger, ribs or steak.
ALWAYS A RAID
Tobacco Road holds the oldest liquor license in Miami-Dade, circa 1912. A speakeasy and gambling establishment during Prohibition, it boasted Al Capone as a regular customer, and B.B. King played the blues. Police raided the place well into the 1980s, and a judge once pulled the license on grounds of ''lewd, wanton and lascivious'' behavior.
In its 21st century incarnation, this quaint little joint is a bit more mellow, even though it still stays open until 5 a.m. every day and closes only two days a year, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving (if no bartender volunteers to work, that is).
But its enduring charm lies in its hippie character -- a palace of rustic.
Inspired by the thought of what some would consider decadent junk food and the promise of a Woodstock-style jam with local bands performing favorites from the '60s (not that we are that old), we pulled out the old blue jeans and checked out the old hangout last Saturday night.
A $7 cover charge got us in the door and into a dimly lighted dining hall with a long dark wood bar. The booths and tables didn't take long to fill up. On three stages upstairs and outside in the patio and the parking lot, the bands played on. Hardly Beatles material, we're talking more like metal rock, hard rock, very loud rock, the stuff that musically gifted middle child plays in a garage band, setting off the motion censors at home.
OK, so we are that old. We quickly sought refuge in the menu.
Tobacco Road does have high-end bar food, but settling for the fancier fare is not always the best route. In that category are the jumbo mushroom caps ($4.75) stuffed with hot Italian sausage, smothered in marinara sauce and topped with flakes of Parmesan. Or was it mozzarella? We did have that first Amstel Light ($3.50) on an empty stomach.
A much better choice: the vegetarian nachos ($4.95). Smothered in cheddar cheese and stuffed with tomato and jalapeño peppers, these weren't ordinary tortilla chips, but a deliciously crispy and lightly fried dough. (If you're queasy about fried food, there might be some comfort in knowing that the restaurant uses only vegetable oil for frying).
For the main event, we went for the meat. (The restaurant has all-you-can-eat-ribs on Monday night at $10.99; 1 ¼-pound Maine lobster, $12.99, Tuesday; a lamb dinner, $10.99, Wednesday; and T-bone steak, $8.99, Thursday).
A six-ounce filet mignon ($10.99) packed quality but was overcooked, nowhere near the medium order. Likewise, the teriyaki marinated kabobs ($7.50), a steak and chicken combo garnished with onions and peppers and served on a bed of rice pilaf.
Best to go for the hamburgers ($6.50 to $7.25) or homemade chili ($2.75 a cup and $4.95 a bowl) -- ground beef, red beans and tomato oozing with cheddar, onions and sliced jalapeños -- a house specialty.
For dessert, we went basic with Key lime pie ($2.95), totally tart but a hit nevertheless.
In fact, the best food in the house is as basic as it gets.
Tobacco Road has a great kitchen, not because of the fancy hand of cooks, but for a basic reason: The fare is fresh.
''All of it is homemade. We make all our own salad dressings. Our hamburgers are hand-pattied top sirloin. Everything is fresh,'' says Alyse Goldberg, day manager the last 11 years.
Fresh like the music, which is live and local, every night.
We checked it out as well, but soaking in sweat from the steam of this summer night, we were more inspired by the crowd, the 20s set from our multicultural rainbow with a few old hippies sprinkled in for a fabulous effect.
It was colorful, pure Miami. The Road has long been a favorite of journalists (it's the hours) -- here's hoping that it keeps the touch of shabby chic underneath the neon. Changing it would be like cleaning up Times Square, a nice gesture for the tourists, but it wouldn't speak the history of us.