Watering holes come and go in South Florida—blame it on South Beach’s snowbird population or Coral Gables’ college crowds. Yet locals know that the oldest bars in Miami are really the places to go when you’re in the mood for a drink, not the nearest Miami club. The reason? The pubs that prevail are an anomaly—quirky, charming and each boasting a unique backstory. And while some bars have had the occasional name swap, sale or facelift (it is Miami, after all) the location itself has stood the test of time.
Miami's oldest bars
The “Sort of English Pub” on the outskirts of Little Haiti has been showcasing live music and harboring misfits since 1979. On Mondays, when most of us are lamenting the start of a new work week, Churchill’s regulars line up for its signature Miami Jazz Jam on the main stage. On the same night, Theatre de Underground gathers for an open-mic session on the back patio. Each night after that is a toss-up. You might get a punk band performing while a soccer match plays on TV or find yourself at the pool table competing against a group of metal heads on tour. Churchill’s is dark, a little sketchy and quite possibly the only bar in Miami where teens (the venue is open to those 18 and older) and baby boomers can congregate in mutual appreciation without feeling out of place.
The late Mac Klein bought “The Deuce” in 1963, adding his name to the now iconic Miami Beach marquee of what was previously Club Deuce, which opened in 1926. Klein went to work at his beloved bar every day until his passing in 2016, but his legacy lives on in the famous dive. It’s been featured in episodes of Miami Vice and declared one of the best dives (and his favorite) by Anthony Bourdain. Despite all its fanfare, the Deuce remains practically unchanged—same décor, smoky smell and no-frills attitude.
These days, the Coconut Grove bar stocks more than 100 whiskeys and 70 beer varieties, but its modern incarnation owes its existence to tea. Ralph Monroe built the building in 1921 to be used as a social club called the Tea Chest. It was sold two years later and operated as La Casita Tea Room for decades, allegedly serving liquor in tea cups during Prohibition. The establishment became Taurus when it sold again in 1969. Taurus remains a neighborhood haunt, though the fine china has been swapped out for pints and secret dealings for trivia nights and stand-up comedy shows.
This Coral Gables watering hole is well into its 70s (it was established in 1946), but you couldn’t tell its age by the crowd. Bar regulars are your typical millennial and Gen-Xers the area is known for, especially during happy hour when crowds stand shoulder to shoulder just to take advantage of two-for-one drink specials—and free drinks for ladies on Fridays. Despite its size, the Bar has become the neighborhood’s prime destination for holidays (expect lines out the door on St. Patrick’s Day!) and weeknight live music.
Tavern is a Coconut Grove institution that dates back to 1956. Though its mid-century beginnings have little to do with the crowd that frequents it, so don’t expect dapper, Don Draper types to be knocking them alongside you. It’s small and narrow and covered in wood. Tavern is where you go to watch college sports, play darts and drink beer out of plastic cups (ah, the good old days). University of Miami fans and students have it especially good here: pours double during games and showing your UM game ticket stub gets you a free drink.
Affectionately nicknamed “Bougie’s,” South Miami’s Bougainvillea’s Old Florida Tavern is the youngest bar of this batch, opening in 2000. It owes its old-timey, bohemian feel to the wooden cottage it inhabits, which dates to the 1920s. Nearby University of Miami students and locals love the chill hangout in part for its live music performances, ranging from reggae to rock. Bougie’s came close to closing in 2010 but support from locals kept it in business and continuing to thrive.
After more than 60 years in business, Duffy’s can pretty much do whatever it wants and remain in business, including refusing credit card payments. Yep, the 62-year-old bar only accepts cash—no exceptions. It even has an ATM machine on the premises should you forget your wad of bills for a long night of drinking. The walls are as quirky as the bar itself and are covered in old license plates, banners, neon signs, posters and newspaper clippings. A chandelier made from repurposed Grey Goose and Bud Light bottles hangs in the center.
Karaoke has a haven in Seven Seas, the Coral Gables dive that’s been kicking it for more than three decades. Guests can grab a mic and belt it out three days a week—and don’t be surprised if the crowd sings along, too. Seven Seas opens at 9am on weekdays, welcoming anyone who needs an early morning pick-me-up and a bit of fun and foolery. As one staff member notes “dysfunctional people need love too,” which Seven Seas is more than willing to provide.
Sandbar Lounge has been North Beach’s favorite go-to since 1992. Its décor is reflective of the area’s beachy, locals-only vibe: the center bar is surrounded by sand and accented by bright, multi-colored beach chairs. Surfboards and pool tables add to the atmosphere. Things may get a little rowdy during sporting events, but other than that, expect a chill environment and nice people.
While not quite literally a hole in the wall, this popular pub down south is one of the area’s best-kept secrets. The original opened in 1989 (three more sprouted since around Miami) and has remained a favorite of locals, who frequent the bar in part for its killer daily specials. Mondays are $5 Guinness nights while Tuesdays are the day for tacos. Happy hour is a misnomer at Hole because it practically lasts all day, from 11am until 6pm on weekdays. College football fans be forewarned: Hole is Miami Hurricanes’ territory, although everyone is always welcome.