Last call for century-old Miami bar and onetime gambling den

Sat Oct 25, 2014 3:21pm EDT
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Miami's oldest bar, Tobacco Road, a popular watering hole where suit-and-tie-clad lawyers belly up alongside hippies gathering signatures for medical marijuana petitions, is preparing for last call.

The cramped, musty space near Miami's downtown thrived for decades as a gambling den frequented by Al Capone, as well as a strip club and legendary blues bar.

But the iconic bar will pour its final drink on Saturday, marking the end of an era in gentrified Miami where traffic-clogged roads are increasingly shaded by new office towers and high-rise condominiums.

"It's a shame," said Steven Simmons, 45, the owner of a downtown Miami store who's been a regular for 22 years. "The city is losing its identity."

No one, not even its owners, knows precisely when the bar was built. "When we lifted up the floors we saw the foundation was trees with bark still on them," said Patrick Gleber, 55, who purchased the bar with partners for $200,000 in 1982.

Sometime in the 1920s it obtained what is thought to be the area's oldest liquor license, said Paul George, a historian and professor at Miami Dade College.

During World War Two it became a gay bar and was shut down by the Navy for "lewd and lascivious behavior," George said. It reopened in 1948 and until the 1970s was named Chanticleer after a character in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."

"The people then were old, white, Sunday afternoon drunk types," George said.   Continued...

A view of the neon sign belonging to the Tobacco Road bar in Miami, October 23, 2014.  REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity