It can be difficult to navigate Miami without occasionally ending up in a soulless situation, whether that be a generic hotel with $18 well drinks, or a supposedly authentic cantina hawking the uniquely disgusting South Beach stew of frozen margarita with two light beers dumped into it.Here's a 12-hour itinerary that avoids such pitfalls, complete with Mafioso-worthy dives, bodega snacks, and a late-night expedition into the wild.
The signature starter at Kush is doused in Old Bay seasoning and deep-fried. Yes, it may technically be made of alligator sourced from nearby Cypress Creek Farms, but once you dunk it in spicy mayo, it might as well be chicken. Just eat it—this is, after all, Florida. As owner Matt Kuscher tells it, he added it to the menu "to emphasize what we have that's unique and in our backyard, and what we have is plenty of alligator." Move on to the Key West Conch Salad and tuck into one of the house burgers—slathered in guava jelly or topped with pastrami—to prep for the long night ahead.
ALLIGATOR BITES IN BISCAYNE BAY
More to do nearby: Take a 15-minute ride out to Virginia Key to knock back a cheap beer and take in the full ocean view at the Wetlab, which is perpetually jam-packed with marine biologists (not weird, since it's attached to the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science). Or cruise further into Key Biscayne and sip sangria at Boater's Grill, a locals' hangout tucked deep in the mangroves of the existentially named No Name Harbor.
In 1967, when Mafia lieutenant Thomas "The Enforcer" Altamura decided he'd had enough of his rival, Big Tony Esperti, he stuck a bomb in Happy's Stork Lounge while Esperti was there. The bomb exploded, but Big Tony—a former boxer who was once knocked out by Cassius Clay—emerged unscathed. Fifty years later, there's still a bombed-out vibe inside Happy's and the drinks are as stiff as ever. Don't forget to grab a few to-go purchases at the attached liquor store on the way out.
MOB DEN DRINKS IN MIAMI BEACH
More to do nearby: Shuckers Waterfront Grill is a quick walk across the street. Order the dolphin sandwich (don't fret, it's the local word for mahi mahi) and the special grilled wings. Further east there's On the Rocks, a classic North Beach dive bar which once went for several months without a front door because a car slammed into it.
10 PM–12 AM
Drunk historians tend to argue whether or not Mac's Club Deuce is now the oldest bar in Miami (Bryson's Irish Pub is in the running for this title as well). Either way, on any given night at the Deuce it's not unusual to wind up talking to a guy with an eyepatch, a Keith Richards look-alike, or a full-blown lunatic. Luckily, everyone looks a little balmier in the glow of the neon lights lining the walls, which were installed for the filming of Miami Vice in the 1980s. They don't do special cocktails, but a shot of your personal poison is usually poured closer to two shots.
DIVE BAR CRAWL IN SOUTH BEACH
Purdy Lounge is best described as a dive club. No cover, no bullshit. The series of 8-bit Street Fighter paintings over the DJ booth help set the mood at this extremely loud local favorite. Owner Dan Binkiewicz describes his bar as "a throw-down place where everybody leaves their troubles at the door," and suggests his patrons order a shot and a beer the second they walk in. On Sundays they serve a "Happy Meal" shot and beer for $8. No matter when you show up, you'll want to dance.
DANCING IN SUNSET HARBOUR
More to do nearby: The owner of the true dive Cucu's Nest tends to serenade guests in Turkish fairly frequently on karaoke night. If you show up, do yourself a favor and order an uncomplicated drink or beer, or else you might get a stanky look from the regulars.
Anyone who's gotten liquored up in South Beach and seeks fried chicken to restore order to their broken body inevitably winds up at Krispy Krunchy Chicken, a 24-hour drunk-food haven tucked inside a bodega. At this time of night, when the clubs are emptying, the line is long, rowdy, and worth the wait. It's a classic fried chicken joint, so you'll probably want to get a three-piece with mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese.
BODEGA CHICKEN SHACK IN SOUTH BEACH
Everglades National Park is about an hour and change by car from South Beach to the Everglades, but the Anhinga Trail is worth the trip: The most epic spot to see wildlife is located about a mile or so into the south entrance. Pack a cooler, bug spray, and a designated driver (or splurge on a car service). The sight of gators crawling on top of each other in the early morning is as creepy and bizarre as it is oddly wonderful, not unlike Miami itself. Pro tip: The park gate is generally open and the tender isn't typically on duty in the middle of the night, so it's often possible to skip the $25 entrance fee.
More to do nearby: On the way back into Miami, anything on 11th Street in the 24-hour entertainment district is the move at this hour, most notably The Corner, where you can get a sidecar and a stabilizing grilled cheese. Right across the street is E11even, a 24-hour burlesque club and your best bet to part with whatever cash you have left.
Given all the developers in Miami, greasy spoon diners are falling by the wayside. One of the last remaining holdouts is Jimmy's Eastside Diner, as seen in Moonlight. The film's poster is on the wall, and that's about the only thing that lets you know it's 2017. Throw yourself back in time, when hot coffee included free refills and even the heartiest breakfast rang in under $10.
MOONLIGHT BREAKFAST IN LITTLE RIVER
All photos by Matias Vasquez.