My wife and I visited Miami Beach a couple of weeks ago. If it weren’t due to the fact that Kassav was scheduled to perform at the Jackie Gleason Theater, we wouldn’t have even considered submitting ourselves to the stifling mid-July heat and humidity that transforms the normally balmy South Florida air into molten Jell-O.
Frying eggs on the sidewalk? Ha, mere child’s play. We saw two guys grilling brats in mid-air as we drove by Flamingo Park.
Anyway, we checked into our hotel at four pm then wandered down to Ocean Drive to scope things out. For those of you who have never visited South Beach, Ocean Drive is flanked by beachfront Lummus Park to the east and three-story Art Deco hotels, clad in the pastel colors that made Miami Vice famous, to the west. The hotels also house cafés that spill out of their lobbies and onto the sidewalk where umbrellas the size of flying saucers shield diners from the blazing sun. Since the sidewalks are clustered with tables, it only leaves a narrow pathway for pedestrians to amble through in single file. Two can walk abreast if they are anorexic. Severely overweight tourists are forced to use the street.
Most of these cafés also feature gorgeous but aggressive young women with mysterious accents accosting passersby with discount cards for lunch, dinner and 2-for-1 drinks. We had only walked two or three blocks, fending off a half-dozen of these young waifs, when the heat and humidity began to take its toll. We were parched. The constant sight of couples nursing drinks under the shade of billowing umbrellas didn’t help.
And, oh, what drinks!
I knew it was only an illusion created by the clever shape of the glasses (wide as a hubcap but shallow as a thimble) but they still looked like you could bathe a small child in one. As sweat pooled around our feet and soaked into our flip-flops, we decided it was time to dive into one of these enormous margaritas.
We were in luck. The next café had a few empty tables. The girl manning the sidewalk released her grip on a fleeing family of five and greeted us in an English dialect that could only have been acquired from a childhood spent raking dirt on a farm in a former Soviet Socialist Republic that surely ended in -stan.
“Two for table? Dinner?” she asked with a smile as bright as the sun.
“No. Just drinks,” I replied, my lips puckering at the thought of cool lime-infused tequila washing over my taste buds. “The 2-for-1 special.”
“This way,” she said as she led us through a sea of couples enjoying their frozen concoctions. But just before we sat down, I did something I’ve never done in a bar or café.
I asked her how much the drinks were.
I don’t know what drove me to it. I’ve been in lots of bars from Orlando to New York to Chicago to LA. I’ve had $12 dollar martinis off Central Park and $2 bottles of PBR in Portland. I figured South Beach would be at the upper end. Maybe $10 bucks for what must surely be a mostly-fruit-juice margarita. But still. I asked.
"So. How much are the drinks?"
“How much?” our petite hostess echoed, scrunching up her nose as if that sort of question had not been covered in training.
“Yes. For a Margarita.”
“Not counting tax and tip,” she added.
I crunched the numbers in my head. $29 for the drink. 7% sales tax. 2% food and beverage tax. 1% homeless and domestic violence tax on food and beverage. Then the 20% tip that is automatically and inexplicably added to all tabs in South Beach regardless of the service. Some cafés even add a surcharge that goes to their favorite charity.
It came out to almost $40 bucks. Yep. $40 friggin' bucks.
But we were hot. We were in the shade. We were on vacation. And it *was* 2-for-1. We certainly could spare $20 bucks apiece for a large margarita, couldn’t we?
I pulled out a chair and found myself saying, “Okay. We’ll take the 2-for-1 one special. I’ll have one. My wife will have the other.”
“Sorry. No sharing. One drink special per customer. You each have to buy one.”
She waved her hand toward the other restaurants that dotted the boulevard. “Everywhere the same. This is South Beach.”
The calculator in my mind whirred and buzzed. $80 bucks for two orders of margaritas? I looked around at the other tourists enjoying their drinks and wondered if they knew how much their final tab would be.
I shuddered as I heard a couple to my left order a second round. Cha-ching. $160 bucks worth of drinks for those two.
To my right, a Fabio-look-alike leapt to his feet and tossed his chair aside while screaming something that vaguely sounded like Portuguese. The woman with him looked mortified.
I assumed he had just received his tab.
Oh, my. Looks like they'd ordered appetizers, too.
I turned back to our hostess. “No thanks,” I said.
We wound our way back out to the sidewalk and continued our journey south until we spotted a lonely café off the beaten path. A waiter clearing tables out front invited us in for the "mojito drink special."
I smirked. “How much?”
I smiled, grabbed my wife’s hand and wandered into the cool and shade.
Sometimes it pays to ask.
CLASSIC MARGARITA FOR ONE
I know you can buy bottles of margarita mix. In fact, margaritas made from mix are what most of us are accustomed to. It’s what restaurants use. And although it’ll do in a pinch, or if you’re throwing a large party, there’s nothing quite like a margarita made from scratch. Here’s one such recipe. It'll cost a tad more to make it from scratch than from a mix. But be careful, once you taste it, you may never go back to a mix again.
Kosher salt for rimming the glasses
1-1/2 ounces good tequila (blanco, 100% agave nectar)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau (or Triple Sec for a sweeter margarita)
Fresh lime slices for garnish
1. Place the salt in a shallow dish or saucer. Moisten the rim of the glass with a slice of lime then dip into the salt.
2. Fill the glass with ice (crushed is optional). Add tequila, lime juice and Cointreau. Stir until chilled. Garnish with a slice of lime and serve immediately.