The cranes, the billowing dust, the high-rise skeletons towering over the new Downtown Miami were a harbinger of the fate of Miami’s “oldest bar”, the iconic Tobacco Road.  The quirky two-story 99-year-old building outlasted Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War I and II, major hurricanes and other upheavals, is going to be demolished.  It did not survive Brickell’s $1.05 billion development project, or the opportunity to be sold for $12.5 million when it needed major repairs and was slowing down in revenue.

It hosted its last party, served its last cocktail, and showcased its last local gig before it was permanently closed for business on October 26. Thousands gathered from Saturday night to the early hours of Sunday for its “Last Call” party, but for some, it was best described as a lively wake. The cause of the bar’s death: gentrification.

The Road has gone through a series of changes in its lifetime. It was constructed near the Miami River in 1915, a year after Dade County voted for its own local prohibition, and five years before the nation would do the same. Yet it oddly came with a 1912 liquor license, which rumor has it was lost by a mayor in a bet.

A bakery soon opened, and its second floor became a well-known speakeasy since the building was a place to obtain illegal alcohol at the time. In 1925, it was a place housewives sent Thanksgiving turkeys to be cooked for a dollar and a real estate office on the side. In 1926, a hurricane hit Miami and brought the Depression three years before the rest of the nation would feel it, and in the late 20s to early 30s, it was a gambling den and the rumored hideout of Al Capone.

Nineteen-thirty-eight was the first time it became a bar, known as “Southside”, the previous name of the Brickell area.  But the bar was bombed and placed under new ownership in 1942, and rechristened “Charlie’s Tobacco Road”, after a novel and popular 1930s Broadway play. The live music venue and gay bar was targeted by Miami Police and shut down.

In 1977, it was re-opened as “Tobacco Road”. In 1981 it became both a play house and jazz club. But business wasn’t good, and in 1982, it was given to a real-estate broker, current partner Michael Latterner, who, unable to sell the property, ended up buying it.  With the help of Patrick Gleber and Kevin Rusk, the trio made history.  Gleber never expected the bar to last as long as it did. “This place took my youth. I was 22 years old when I got this bar. Kevin and I. Kevin was 23.”

At the wake party, patrons were saying their final goodbyes to what had become a hub of music and casual food and fun. Like Danielle Mora, who said the Road was a fun spot filled with meaningful memories.  For Dona and Andrew McLachlan, who have been coming to the Road for 11 years, it wasn’t just about the decent priced drinks, the current band playing or the openness of the crowd, it was the magic of Tobacco Road. “It’s going to take a long time before you can bring 100 years of history into the new building,” said Andrew McLachlan. His wife, Dona, would have preferred for the building to be preserved: “They’re not going to leave anything behind, just concrete,” she lamented.  But Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, another faithful patron, said it was too late because the property was already sold.

A teary eyed Gleber, was in the parking lot area listening to the comments and drinking a beer.  “Miami is Miami, and this is part of Miami. Be it good or be it bad, it’s who we are. We knock down stuff. Grow new stuff. Make new stuff. It’s okay,” he said as he leaned harder on a table, looking up and around him. “That’s the city I love.”

Tobacco Road, 626 S Miami Ave, Downtown Miami, 305-374-1198

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