"It was a working man's bar," Meklas explains. When he died in 2004, Meklas' mother jumped in and ran the place until her own death in 2010. Then it fell to the daughters.

"We had offers, but it's my family's; it's our business," Meklas says, pausing to pull from her beer. "I like it. That's why I fought to keep it."

The Wayside has added some 21st-century bells and whistles. Flat-screen TVs are now mounted on the walls. The tap handles for Magic Hat and 312 now join Budweiser and Bud Light — to the grumbles of some regulars. The bar recently won a community redevelopment grant from the city that will pay for new paint, awnings, and windows in January. Otherwise, Meklas is pretty committed to keeping the status quo hammered in place. For now, that includes the dollar beers.

VFW Post 3559 is a longtime outpost of affordable drinking on South Beach, but — alas — it doesn't offer $1 draft beer. The Bud that bartender Debbie Brooks is offering goes for $2.25.
Jacob Katel
VFW Post 3559 is a longtime outpost of affordable drinking on South Beach, but — alas — it doesn't offer $1 draft beer. The Bud that bartender Debbie Brooks is offering goes for $2.25.
Like any good American dive, however, the VFW offers darts and photos of random people on the wall.
Jacob Katel
Like any good American dive, however, the VFW offers darts and photos of random people on the wall.

Finally, after weeks of watching barkeeps laugh off my Washingtons, here I've crossed the finish line. But honestly, I'm pretty beat from the mileage I've logged on the quest.

They say the more time you spend in dive bars, the more you start looking like someone who spends time in dive bars. Field Lesson Number Three: This is true. Cigarettes — you start smoking them, if only to have something to do. The skin on your face seems to hang off your skull more than usual. A sticky feeling settles between your fingers, impervious to all scrubbing. And you realize, after knocking off enough beers in enough bars, that this whole drinking lifestyle is slowly circling the drain.

I'm the youngest guy here — by around 20 years. That's how it's been at every dive I've crawled into. People just don't drink like they did. The cold one after work isn't routine; it's the exception.

Blame it on the tectonic shifts of The Way We Live Now. Bar culture is beelining away from cheap drinks to big-budget cocktails and craft brews. Younger generations prefer Molly and club beats. A cold funeral wind seems to blow off the dives still standing. These places, and the people inside — once they go, they're gone. Which is a real downer, because South Florida's dive-bar scene is about as unique a culture as the region's ever birthed.

I'm visited with a terrifying vision of the future: Eventually, marauding armies of steroid-bulky, real-estate-hungry Miami bros will sack places like the Lamp Light, the Deuce, Grady's. Russian Mafiosos will pave over the land for small foreign-car dealerships. The $12 Appletini will become an acceptable order. Any remaining of us working folk will be forced to drink Ice House alone at home, shut away like slave labor in Metropolis.

I imagine myself, 60 years hence, dandling towheaded great-grandkids on my knee, spinning tales of The Draft, musty dives, and a home away from home... and then the children turn and say: "But we want dollar drafts, Grandpappy. We want them too." And I'll weep.

But this wasn't the time to blow funeral taps for cheap drinking. It was the time to have another beer — while we can. As I order another, Meklas hints that the clock may be running out even on the Wayside's dollar-beer special.

"[The distributors] went up on the kegs, just in the last couple of weeks." But that holy dollar draft, she says, "we're trying to keep it."

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6 comments
SedonaSherpa
SedonaSherpa

Airport prices for beer on SoBe?  Plus parking hassles?


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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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