In other words, "the cost of a lot of beer now at wholesale prohibits any sane person from selling that for a dollar," says Adam Gersten, owner of hipster watering hole Gramps in Wynwood. "If people are coming in to drink a dollar beer for three hours during happy hour and then leaving, you never really make any money."

It might be time to go undercover. As a tourist. From Sweden.

Besides being a bar owner, the 37-year-old Miami native is PhD-level when it comes to Miami's drinking scene, with insider info on everything from where you can get a Sierra Nevada bottle for two bucks (Mike's) to $1 happy-hour oysters (Monty's). Still, when I quiz him about dollar drafts, he blanks.

"The only places that would be able to do it are places that own their own building," Gersten muses, "have everything paid off, and that have been doing a dollar beer since the '80s."

He joins me on a night of my quest. We figure our best bet in mainland Miami-Dade would be the bars clinging to the University of Miami. With a New Times intern manning the wheel, we safari at happy hour, first hitting Barracuda Bar & Grill on Fuller Street — where the special is $2 for a Coors Light. (Wednesday special: $2 pitchers).

Around the corner, Sand Bar is known to have an infamous panty-dropping penny beer night on Wednesdays. Just shy of 7 p.m., the bar fills with happy hour's first responders — middle-aged men with oven-baked faces and red-starburst eyes, liquor-loud and back-slappy.

I hit the tube-topped, college-aged waitress with my question. She bounces back with what I'll soon get to know as The Look.

Field Lesson Number Two: When you ask someone for a dollar draft, their service-industry smile deflates, and they eye you like you've busted through a loose seam in space-time. "No."

"A dollar beer is like a magical number that people have in their minds as this great deal," Gersten consoles me eventually. "But it's unrealistic in this day and age, like a loaf of bread that's 15 cents."

Over the next few weeks, I worry he might be right. I discover that the high churches of Miami's dive bar scene — from Club Deuce to Mike's to Off the Wagon to the Happy Stork — don't have The Draft. What's worse, that short list is losing members quick. Lush, on 12th Street and Washington in South Beach, had a regular dollar deal until it closed this summer after the landlord raised the rent. The Ukulele Bar up on Biscayne Boulevard near Miami Shores didn't have The Draft, but you could hardly pass happy hour without the bartender slipping you a freebie. It closed in December so the building can be knocked down for a Fiat dealership.

I sink into despair, imaging a future 305 scrubbed clean not only of The Draft but of all dive bars. Now, at each bar I visit, I just ask what I can get for a dollar. It's just me and Mr. Washington, fencing with The Look. Nada. Zip. Nothing.

And then, I hit. One afternoon, the bartender at Lester's in Wynwood gives me a Narragansett tallboy, usually tagged at $2 at happy hour, for a buck.

But it's bittersweet. Turns out, Lester's shutters the next day, another consumer-friendly outlet nuked off the map by the cost of doing business. Almost hopeless now, I ask the bartender if he knows anywhere I could get a dollar draft.

"I have no idea," he answers. "I'm guessing somewhere in Broward."


The Lamp Post Lounge — a two-story building trimmed in evergreen paint — sits in Hollywood, just north of the Miami-Dade/Broward County line, on a run of Federal Highway where you can get your engine cylinders cleaned for $20 easy and still bang a hooker with the change. Looks like the kind of place I might find The Draft.

Inside, a Jesse Ventura look-alike in a Detroit Lions jersey, fresh from Michigan, is shaking his huge head. "But isn't Fort Lauderdale the same thing as Miami? It's just a few miles away."

"Nononononono," the lady corrects, waving her Budweiser bottle and cigarette in the air. She's plowing into the middle of her 50s, with hair the color, consistency, and shape of a dried-out Christmas tree. "They are not the same," she spits. "It's completely different. This is not Miami. Every morning, we get up to hear about who just got shot last night in Miami on the news. That's Miami. It's a different country."

This is a special type of South Florida watering hole: landing pad for snowbirds. Up and down the kidney-shaped bar, the faces all have that pink look from the first kiss of sun. On an NFL Sunday like today, the jerseys are from all over the place: Detroit, New York, San Diego. Women pass cooking tips that are unmistakably Midwestern. ("I always say just throw everything into a Crock-Pot.")

But a draft Bud Light at the Lamp Post rings up at $2.25. Behind the counter, the bartender, Michael, just shakes his head with awe when I ask my now-standard question. "A dollar beer?" he muses. "It's 25 bucks just for a case of beer now."

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6 comments
SedonaSherpa
SedonaSherpa

Airport prices for beer on SoBe?  Plus parking hassles?


NYET

dyl64
dyl64

Wow that was an awesome piece.  As a young undergraduate from FAU Boca Campus I really appreciate all that field work! It's so true - I look at my peers and see them buying expensive ass drinks, dancing to shit beats and molly and all that shit. Anyways keep writing!

gatorbytz
gatorbytz

Thank you Mr. Swenson for this interesting and very well written piece. As I read I could see myself perched on a barstool leaning against the bar with a cold beer in my hand in any and all of the places you described. And, I feel I know all of those dive bar denisons. I are one. Another thing... 70 ain't old and gettin' old only happens when you think and act old. Anyway, thanks.

 
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