Tobacco Road goes adrift: A Miamian's lament of historic bar's corporate partnership

There’s something ironic about seeing the words “cruise ship” and “historic” in the same sentence. Cruise ships connote conga lines and mass consumption. Historic? That suggests something with more staying power than a week’s worth of rum and Cokes in the eastern Caribbean. 

But there it was, making Miami headlines this week: Historic Miami Bar to Open on a Cruise Ship

Say what? The news was enough to deflate this native Miamian living afar. 

It’s been difficult enough to cope with the fact that Miami’s oldest bar is leaving its longtime digs, closing this weekend after 102 years on South Miami Avenue. But the announcement this week that a Tobacco Road outpost will open on the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape feels like another defeat in a culinary world increasingly full of branded celebrity chefs with their product endorsements and franchise deals. 

You don’t have to live in Miami to hear stories about Tobacco Road: how it made it through Prohibition; about its no-frills vibe and kickass burger; and of course all the great music played there. It’s one of those rare bars where the city’s misanthropes and night owls and scenesters could all feel at home, ages before any hipster warehouse in Wynwood applied for a liquor license.  

While the landmark bar has become an attraction in and of itself (No. 9 out of 103 on TripAdvisor’s recommended nightlife options!), Tobacco Road is the very definition of a dive bar. And, at more than a century old, an authentic one at that. 

And that’s why partnering with a cruise line seems like such an abandonment of Tobacco Road’s identity, an Epcot-ification of a truly unique place. (And if the cruise partnership doesn’t emotionally cheapen the historic brand, Tobacco Road’s newly announced food truck surely will.)  

It’s sad to think that cruisers who have never stepped foot in the real Tobacco Road — maybe not even Miami — will be introduced to the once-great establishment in an artificial environment that seems the very antithesis of what the original bar represented. 

The neon sign may be going to sea, but there will be no regulars at the maritime rendition of Tobacco Road. Instead, there will probably be an Australian crew member playing Jack Johnson songs during sunset happy hour. 

That sounds safe and like it’ll go well with pina coladas. 

But when compared to the downtown Miami original? To what Tobacco Road used to be? 

Feels pretty kitschy and lame. 

Perry Stein is a Miami native and former Miami Herald writer who lives and works in Washington, D.C.