Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Rhythm & Blues” Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Led Zeppelin, Since Ive Been Loving You, Album: Led Zeppelin III 1970

The Greatest Led Zeppelin Blues Song might be their most melancholy of all. Released in 1970 on their third record, “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” as so many blues songs do, tells the tale of a hard-working man and a up-to-no-good cheating woman who has caused him to “lose his worried mind.” Minus an intro lick borrowed from the Yardbirds’ song “New York City Blues,” it’s a wholly original composition that features some of the best guitar work Page ever laid down – as well as some of the most bombastic vocals Robert Plant was ever able to belt out. For the musicianship, the minor-key swing and the downright depressing content it is undoubtedly the best blues number in Zeppelin’s vast back catalog.A seven-and-a-half minute blues number with some electric piano played by Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones, this was a live favorite for the band. They started working on the song during the sessions for Led Zeppelin II, but was bumped for “Whole Lotta Love.” By the time they recorded it for Led Zeppelin III, they had worked out the song in live performances, but according to Jimmy Page, it was still the hardest track to record for the album. The guitarist says they were getting very self-critical around this time.

Before this song was committed to tape, Led Zeppelin performed it at their famous January 9, 1970 concert at Royal Albert Hall in London. The show was filmed and recorded, but the keyboards didn’t make it into the mix on this track, so the song was not included on the 2003 DVD Led Zeppelin, which featured footage from the show.

This is a very difficult song to sing, and it showed off Robert Plant’s vocal range quite well. He said in a 2003 interview with Mojo: “The musical progression at the end of each verse – the chord choice – is not a natural place to go. And it’s that lift up there that’s so regal and so emotional. I don’t know whether that was born from the loins of JP or JPJ, but I know that when we reached that point in the song you could get a lump in the throat from being in the middle of it.”

This was recorded live in the studio with very little overdubbing. If you listen carefully, you can hear the squeak of John Bonham’s drum pedal.

Jimmy Page did his guitar solo in one take. Engineer Terry Manning called it “The best rock guitar solo of all time.”Plant used a sample from this on his solo track “White, Clean, and Neat.”

Just before their Physical Grafitti tour, Jimmy Page broke the tip of his left ring finger in a door-slamming incident. They went on with the tour but they had to drop this and “Dazed And Confused” from the set lists as he couldn’t play them until his finger healed.

The riff in the beginning is taken from “New York City Blues” by The Yardbirds – Jimmy Page was not a member of that band yet when the group wrote that song.

The track was recorded live (except for the vocals part and a few overdubs) at Island Studios in London. This features John Paul Jones on both bass pedal and organ. Interestingly, Jimmy Page’s famous solo was recorded in a studio in Memphis, whereas the whole album was recorded in Headley Grange and in Island Studios.

Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Rhythm & Blues” Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit Album: The Billie Holiday Story 1939

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Billie Holiday. Although her voice was small and raspy, she interpreted songs from Tin Pan Alley with a rhythmic and melodic inventiveness that transformed the tunes into highly personal expressions.

She made her first recordings at the age of 18 in 1933 and her last in 1959 shortly before her death. In between those years she changed the art of jazz and pop singing. She influenced everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra to contemporary singers Madeleine Peyroux and Norah Jones.

Strange fruit was written by a white, Jewish schoolteacher and union activist from New York City named Abel Meeropol, who was outraged after seeing a photograph of a horrific lynching in a civil-rights magazine. The photo was a shot of two black men hanging from a tree after they had been lynched in Marion, Indiana on August 7, 1930. The two men are the “Strange Fruit.”

The original title was “Bitter Fruit,” and the song started as a poem Meeropol wrote. The poem was published in the January 1937 issue of a union publication called The New York Teacher. After putting music to it, the song was performed regularly at various left-wing gatherings. Meeropol’s wife and friends from the local teachers’ union would sing it, but it was also performed by a black vocalist named Laura Duncan, who once performed it at Madison Square Garden.

This was performed by a quartet of black singers during an antifascist fundraiser at a show put on by Robert Gordon, who was also working on the floor show at a club called Cafe Society. Billie Holiday had just quit Artie Shaw’s band and was the featured attraction at the club, and Gordon brought the song to her attention and suggested she sing it. Holiday played to an integrated audience at the Cafe Society, and her version popularized the song.

Meeropol made headlines when he adopted the orphan sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their parents were executed for treason in 1953. He also wrote the lyrics to the song “The House I Live In,” which was recorded by Frank Sinatra, as well as “Beloved Comrade,” which was often sung in tributes to Franklin Roosevelt, and “Apples, Peaches, and Cherries,” which was recorded by Peggy Lee. Meeropol died in 1986.

In 1971, Meeropol said, “I wrote ‘Strange Fruit’ because I hate lynching, I hate injustice, and I hate the people who perpetuate it.”

Victims of lynchings were people who were marginalized from society, and most were black men. They were lynched for a variety of reasons, often because they did something to upset a prominent member of the community, who would then organize a mob to track down and kill the victim. Many times, the victims broke no laws but were lynched out of jealousy, hatred or religious difference. In America, lynchings were more common in the South, but could happen anywhere.

In a lynching, people could be hanged, burned, dragged behind cars and killed in a number of different ways. Most lynchings were carried out by small, clandestine groups, but some were public spectacles. The one that inspired this song was in front of about 5,000 people in Marion, Indiana. Extra excursion cars were set up on trains so people could come to watch.In her autobiography, Holiday’s cover of this song made it more mainstream.

Meeropol often had other people put his poems to music, but with this he did it himself.

Columbia Records, Holiday’s label, refused to release this. She had to release it on Commodore Records, a much smaller label.

This was always the last song Holiday played at her concerts. It signaled that the show was over. (Thanks to Gode Davis, director of the film American Lynching for his help with these Songfacts. You can learn more about this song in David Margolick’s book Strange Fruit.

In 1999, Time magazine voted this the Song of the Century. When the song first came out it was denounced by the same magazine as “A piece of musical propaganda.”

Nona Hendryx would often perform this song, adding in parts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Hendryx told us: “It’s a cathartic performance for me to do that song. It’s like healing, and healing’s what happens. And hopefully it can reach the ears and the minds and the hearts of people who are still feeling any bigotry, hatred, racism, to understand that this was a painful time in our history, in our past and in America. And that we need to move on from there.”

Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Rhythm & Blues” edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Aretha Franklin, Think. Album: Aretha Now 1968

Franklin wrote this with Teddy White, who was her husband and manager. In the song, Aretha sings about freedom and respect for women.

Jerry Wexler, who worked with Franklin on many of her hit songs, produced this track at the Atlantic Records recording studios in New York. Members of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section played at the session.

This song was released on May 2, 1968, less than a month after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4. Franklin’s family was close to King, and Aretha attended his funeral. The song’s insistent refrain of “freedom” evoked one of King’s famous quotes: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”

Franklin performed this in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Her career was experiencing a lull at that point, so she was happy to get back into the public eye with the film. A few years later, she was back on top with her hits “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” and “Freeway of Love.”

The Blues Brothers themselves also recorded the song, which was released as the B-side of their 1989 UK single “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.”

“Think” is one of Franklin’s most enduring songs, and one she often performed live. It was the sixth of her 20 #1 singles on the R&B chart.

Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections in America, Levi’s used this in a commercial encouraging people to vote. The spot mostly used the “freedom” part of the song.

Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Rhythm & Blues” Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Robert Johnson Crossroad Blues Album: Crossroad Blues 1936

Musician Robert Johnson was born on May 8, 1911, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. A singer and guitarist, Johnson is considered to be one of the greatest blues performers of all time. But this recognition came to him largely after his death. During his brief career, Johnson traveled around, playing wherever he could.

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Johnson had a tremendous desire to become a great blues musician. He was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The Devil played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This story of a deal with the Devil at the crossroads mirrors the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.

The legendary crossroads at Clarksdale, Mississippi

Cross Road Blues” (also known as “Crossroads“) is a blues song written and recorded by American blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936. Johnson performed it as a solo piece with his vocal and acoustic slide guitar in the Delta blues-style. The song has become part of the Robert Johnson mythology as referring to the place where he supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical talents, although the lyrics do not contain any specific references.

Bluesman Elmore James revived the song with recordings in 1954 and 1960–1961. English guitarist Eric Clapton with Cream popularized the song as “Crossroads” in the late 1960s. Their blues rock interpretation inspired many cover versions and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included it as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. Rolling Stone placed it at number three on the magazine’s list of the “Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” in recognition of Clapton’s guitar work.

Studio portrait ( 1935), one of only two verified photographs of Johnson

Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Rhythm & Blues” Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Shining Star By Earth, Wind And Fire. Album: Thats The Way Of The World. 1975

Written by group members Maurice White, Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey, this was a #1 hit on both the R&B and Hot 100 charts. While many hits of the disco era were fun but meaningless, Earth, Wind & Fire considered all their songs meaningful, and this one projects a positive message in a turbulent time. To get a better idea, check out this quote from Maurice White from a 1975 Blues & Soul interview:

“There are certain disciplines we apply to our life in respect of diet and living, the way we live. There are certain aspects which have to be kept clean, things that relate directly to the Creator. By adopting a totally positive approach to our life, we can reflect this in our music – we won’t allow it to reflect any negative vibes or thoughts. All our music is ‘up’ in the sense that it is intended to bring people to that state. It is truly gratifying to know that we are finally getting to people, they are accepting us.”

Want to get deeper into White’s vibe? Check out the book The Greatest Salesman In The World, which he had Allee Willis read before she collaborated with the group.

That’s The Way Of The World was the soundtrack to a movie of the same name starring a young Harvey Keitel as a record producer and Earth, Wind & Fire as the group he worked with. The movie was a colossal flop, but the album was a huge hit, capturing the sound of the band’s successful stage show on vinyl and going to #1 on the album charts, making EW&F the first R&B group to top the US album and Pop charts at the same time. The album was the biggest seller for Columbia Records in 1975, and helped prove that black bands could sell albums, not just singles – something Maurice White took a lot of pride in.

The failure of the movie didn’t drag down the band thanks in part to Maurice White refusing to let the album be labeled a soundtrack. When the film was re-issued in America, it was with a new title: Shining Star.

Earth, Wind & Fire wrote and recorded the That’s The Way Of The World album in Nederland, Colorado, which is outside of Boulder. Maurice White says he came up with the idea for this song after taking a walk one night and seeing a shining star in the sky. He took the phrase and directed it toward a positive message for the lyrics.

This won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

This has been used in a variety of movies and TV shows. Among them: Glee, Seinfeld (used in a classic scene where Elaine tries to dance), Austin Powers in Goldmember, My Name Is Earl, and Muppets from Space.

A New Jersey vocal group called The Manhattans recorded a completely different song called “Shining Star” on their 1980 album After Midnight, taking it to #5 in the United States. Their “Star” won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.

The Christian Metal band Stryper recorded this for their 1990 album Against the Law and made a video for it. They brought in a young go-getter named Randy Jackson to play bass on the track. Stryper lead singer Michael Sweet told us why they brought in the future American Idol judge: “Tim Gaines played on that album, and that was the one song that we were looking for a certain style – we wanted a particular style that Tim at the time just didn’t really play. It’d be like me playing jazz; if you don’t play that style, you don’t play that style. And we had mentioned this to Tom and Tom had mentioned it to us, as well, how great it would be get this guy, Randy Jackson, on the song. And I knew about him from Journey at the time, because he played with Journey. And Tom had worked with him on some records and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this guy would tear this up.’ So sure enough, we called him, flew him in, and he laid that song down in a couple of hours, and just really brought a lot to it. If you can just imagine the song without that bass, it wouldn’t be the same. He really brought it to a new level.”

Psychedelic Lunch

Tobacco Road

Tobacco Road was widely considered to be Miami’s oldest bar with property records showing business operations as far back as 1915.

Tobacco Road will be sorely missed. It was the best and oldest dive bar in Miami, with some of best BBQ in metro area. A true Miami landmark and treasure. The bar was always crowed with great people, good vibes, amazing drink specials, and yearly events such as the Crawfish Boil and Seafood Festival.

A Brief History of Tobacco Road

Considered Miami’s Oldest Bar, The Road survived several Miami land booms, Al Capone, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the country at War, deadly hurricanes, Mariel Boatlift, race-riots, cocaine cowboys, and the rise and fall and rise of South Beach. The Road had been a speakeasy, gambling den, gay bar, strip joint and blues bar. The two-story structure remained virtually unchanged since its inception in the early 1900s. And while ownership changed, the primary purpose of the establishment – a neighborhood watering hole always remained the same.

Turn of the century – 1930s
The original address was 1812 Avenue D before the city changed its street names in 1920. During its early years, the establishment was a bakery that presumably served as a front for a speakeasy during Prohibition. A secret room hidden behind a bookshelf on the second floor was used to store liquor. While Prohibition was in effect from 1920 – 1930, Dade County was voted to be Dry in 1913. In the 1920s and 30s, the second floor speakeasy was also thought to be used as a gambling den.

1940s-1970s
In the early 1940s it was purchased by an infamous racketeer and bookie from New York who named it Tobacco Road. During this decade, the Road became a nationally known gay bar and the focus of local outrage. It was shut down by the city’s Morals Squad for “lewd, wanton and lascivious behavior” a charge that referred to its female impersonators and male strippers. The military responded by declaring the Road off limits to all its personnel a ban that was lifted in 1986.

In the decades that followed, the bar operated under the names Chicken Roost, Chanticleer Restaurant and Shandiclere. In the 1970s, it was sold to a former Miami police officer, who renamed the bar back to Tobacco Road.

In 1981, Governor Bob Graham ordered a drug raid on Tobacco Road and the bar was again temporarily shut down. In 1982, the bar was sold to its present owners Michael Latterner and Patrick Gleber. The neighborhood was tough and so was the Road. The parking lot was an abandoned field with homeless squatters and a crack house was located across the street.

National blues and jazz acts began playing the bar, including George Clinton The King of Funk, Koko Taylor, The Queen of the Blues, David Bromberg Legendary Songwriter & Performer, John Lee Hooker An American Blues Roots Treasure, Dr. John Personification of New Orleans and Albert Collins Blues Guitar Master.

Tobacco Road gained a new reputation as a popular hangout with downtown professionals, celebrities and tourists.

On the morning of October 26, Tobacco Road had its final last call and turned off the famous neon sign for the final time in its 102 year old location. 

The building has been around since 1912 and has been a bakery, burlesque club, gay club, gambling den and of course a place for live music. Tobacco Road was the only place in Miami where lawyers, politicians and doctors could drink next to bikers, vagrants and drug dealers. 

Tobacco Road was hurting for business the last few years with the construction of Brickell City Centresurrounding the bar and after having the property bought for $12.5 million in 2012 by developer Carlos Mattos. 

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Threatened by health officials in the early 1980s, Tobacco Road was closed for several months to undergo renovations, including the addition of this outdoor patio.

Laura Hirata knew how to pour a Guinness beer. Very slowly. She could also mix cocktails while juggling drink and food orders. Yet the tattooed bartender had an Achilles heel: handling remote controls. “I hate technology,” she mutters while trying to find the Miami Marlins game. “I still have a VCR.”

“I have a couple of porno tapes, but I don’t have a VHS,” a customer declares, quickly adding: “Just kidding!”

A few seats away, the conversation is more somber. “Jimbo’s is gone. It’s history!” one patron groans, referring to the smoked-fish and beer establishment that operated at Virginia Key from 1954 until last year.

People sitting on either side of him rattle off other Magic City bars and hangouts that have shut down in recent years.

“There’s nowhere left!” one man gripes.

“I’m with you,” mumbles a stocky drinker sitting to his left.

The cluster of people at the bar then makes a toast, to Miami’s lost haunts and to the good times they’ve had at Tobacco Road.

Located at 626 S. Miami Ave., Tobacco Road is renowned for its drink specials, comfort food, and live music.

When Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno was appointed U.S. Attorney General in 1993, Tobacco Road was the scene of the celebration. When the cinematic version of Miami Vice was being filmed, actor Colin Farrell frequented Tobacco Road during his off-time. He enjoyed the jalapeño-rich Death Burger, drank with cops who served as consultants for the film, and flirted with a certain female bartender. When celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse is in town, you might catch him playing drums with one of the bands.

Although the famous and influential do enjoy the Road, as longtime patrons call it, so do construction works, waiters, and various local characters. “Most places you go, they tend to attract a certain type of person,” says Mark Weiser, who has booked music acts at Tobacco Road for more than 30 years. “But every kind of person goes to the Road at the same time. It’s pretty cool like that.”

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Road co-owner Patrick Gleber: “When we bought this land, it was as a real estate investment, so it was always for sale.” 

Tobacco Road was not only cool, it was old. On November 17, it will celebrate its 100th anniversary. During much of the 20th Century the bar has operated under different names and owners as a speakeasy, a gambling den, a gay bar, a dive bar, a strip joint, a theater house, and a music club. It has survived prohibition, military boycotts, city-sanctioned homophobia, dramatic demographic changes, police raids, violent crime, urban renewal, and broken friendships.

And along with that long life are plenty of stories. Patrons and owners from the early years are gone, their tales taken with them to the grave. But the past three decades, under the ownership of Patrick Gleber and Kevin Rusk, have produced a long string of memorable moments.

There’s the time a naked man tried to get inside the Road but the doorman wouldn’t let him in. “We have a dress code,” he informed him.

There’s the time when a couple were having sex in the upstairs lounge — right when Rusk’s relatives were visiting the Road.

There’s the time when 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley jumped on stage with a tambourine during a blues performance.

There’s the time when Cindy Crawford was turned away for not having an ID.

There are the times when Jimmy Buffet, Lenny Kravitz, Jefferson Airplane, the Romantics, and other big names in the music world, after watching local acts, decided to join the jam session.

And there are plenty of stories surrounding the late Willie Bell, also known as Dr. Feelgood, a skinny ex-con who poked unruly guests with a finger, was fond of saying “that’s what she said,” and hid a large knife and gun beneath his clothes, either of which he could pull out at the blink of any eye if he felt the bar was threatened.

The Road’s past is certainly colorful. The future, however, is anything but certain: It’s unclear if the place will outlive Brickell’s latest development boom.

Much of the surrounding area has been transformed into the birthing grounds of Brickell CitiCentre, a massive, towering $1 billion project of offices, condos, hotels, and retail being built by Swire Properties, the Hong Kong-based company that developed Brickell Key.

“When Swire announced the project, people came out of the woodwork looking to buy our property,” says Gleber, co-owner of Tobacco Road since 1982.

This past April, Gleber and his partners sold the two-story building for $941,600 to Tobacco Road Property Holdings, Inc. Fabio Faerman, commercial division director for Fortune International Realty, brokered the deal and represents the new owner, but won’t say who controls Tobacco Road Property Holdings.

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Kevin Rusk partnered with Gleber in 1982 as co-owner, but eventually left: “It was a shock that two people I admired would stick a knife in my back.”

However, according to the Daily Business Review, the company is headed by Carlos Mattos, president of Hyundai Colombia Automotriz, who has been investing in land throughout Miami-Dade County.

The 3800-square-foot Tobacco Road parcel was just a small part of a $12.5 million land deal between Tobacco Road Property Holdings and various companies connected to real estate investor Michael Latterner, Gleber, or Rusk. The transaction gave Tobacco Road Property Holdings ownership of 49,950 square feet of land that includes parking lots along SW 7th Street as well as restaurant, retail, and office space. As part of the deal, Tobacco Road and the River Seafood & Oyster Bar, located a few doors south of the Road, can continue operating in their current locations for the next three years.

“When we bought this land, it was as a real estate investment, so it was always for sale,” Gleber says with a sigh.

But the business itself wasn’t — and isn’t — for sale.

Gleber continues to run Tobacco Road, although the restaurant is now a mere tenant. And if the Road is unable to endure at 626 S. Miami Ave., Gleber says he’ll just move it somewhere else. “I think the Road has value, and the name has value,” he says.

Mark Weiser believes the bar’s long history adds value to the land and, hence, is sure it won’t be demolished anytime soon. “If I were a developer, it’d be a plus to have the oldest cabaret in Miami on my property,” he says. “So I’m not too worried.”

Indeed the new landlord, who put down another $28.2 million to buy 2.5 acres of nearby vacant land, is reportedly in no rush to demolish anything, content with rental income, which will increase over time, according to Faerman. “The location is incredible,” he says. “Miami Avenue’s going to be a major street that’ll compete with Brickell Avenue.”

ParkPatrol_4

Tobacco Road’s downstairs bar is a home away from home for many, who say they’ll miss it when it finally closes.

ccording to several newspaper reports published since 1982, the business later known as Tobacco Road was opened in 1912. When Dade County went dry and prohibited alcohol a year later, a bakery and sandwich shop served as a front while an illegal speakeasy served liquor on the second floor.

Between the 1920s and 1930s, the second floor also operated as an illicit casino. Among the guests was Al Capone, who lived part-time on Palm Island in Miami Beach.

At least that’s the legend. The farther back one goes, the harder it is to verify elements of Tobacco Road’s past. “I’ve heard stories,” says Paul George, a local historian affiliated with Miami-Dade College. “They’re murky.”

According to county property appraiser’s records, Tobacco Road’s current building was constructed in 1915, although an employee of that department acknowledges that records are sometimes inaccurate for such old buildings.

Gleber and Rusk are convinced that Tobacco Road was founded 100 years ago and operated illegally during the dry years at that very spot. While renovating the bar, they found the secret passageway hidden by a bookshelf that led those in the know from the bakery and sandwich shop to the speakeasy on the second floor.

Locals, including a previous owner and elderly former patrons, have also told them the Road was a speakeasy. Gleber remembers an incident 15 years ago when a “white-haired little old lady” asked to see the upstairs lounge, now called the Cabaret Stage, one last time before she moved from Miami.

Once there, she described what the room looked like in the 1920s, replete with bird cages, roulette wheels, and gambling tables. “She goes: ‘We used to have such a great time here,’” Gleber remembers her saying. “‘We’d gamble and drink when it wasn’t allowed.’”

By the 1940s, the bar was called Tobacco Road. For a period of time it was a gay bar that featured male strippers as part of its entertainment and transvestites as part of its customer base. Jack Bell, a Miami Heraldcolumnist during that decade, wrote that Tobacco Road was as “queer as a nine-dollar bill,” according to a Heraldarticle by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

The rest of the newspaper back then called the place a “filthy hole.” By 1944 the military had banned its personnel from visiting the Road. Later that same year the city’s “morals squad” shut down the bar for “lewdness,” according to the Herald.

It was reopened in 1946 under the name Chanticleer Bar, and probably continued to operate as a gay bar, in spite of Miami leaders’ obsession with eradicating homosexuality in the Magic City. Prodded by the Heraldand the Miami News, whose reporters and editors labeled gays as “sex perverts,” Miami officials launched a series of raids on gay bars in 1954. Among the establishments hit was the “Shanticleer Bar,” according to a Miami Newsarticle, likely a misspelled reference to the Chanticleer.

By the early 1970s, the place was just a neighborhood bar. “I was in there in 1975 when I was a college student,” remembers historian Paul George. “It was a Sunday afternoon. There were hard-core drinkers, lots of smoke in the place, and pinball machines.”

Retired police officer Neil Katzman reclaimed the Tobacco Road moniker when he bought the building in 1977 for $80,000. Much of his efforts were spent renovating the upstairs lounge, which he called the Speakeasy at Tobacco Road. His decorating choices can still be seen: photographs of old Miami, quirky lamps, and a painting of a topless woman.

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Mark Weiser has been booking bands at Tobacco Road for 30 years: “Every kind of person goes to the Road. It’s pretty cool like that.”

Why that painting? “Katzman turned it into a strip bar,” Gleber answers.

“He tried to make it a topless club,” corrects Weiser, who at the time was manager of the Fat Chance Blues Band, which later renamed itself Iko-Iko. “That failed. So they brought us in.”

Katzman turned to blues and jazz for entertainment (along with the occasional stage play), but the environment in Southside, as the area was known, didn’t exactly help business owners.

“It was rows and rows of crack houses,” remembers Jack Pakonis, a bartender at Tobacco Road for 30 years (under Gleber and Rusk), who frequented the Road under Katzman’s ownership after working his shift at a Coconut Grove club. “Unless you were already really drunk, people were afraid to go to that neighborhood.”

Gram Wood Drout says the tough neighborhood actually enabled him to become a professional musician. The wife of the Fat Chance Blues Band’s original lead singer wouldn’t let him work there. “The hours were 11:00 p.m. to 4:00 in the morning, and the Road was notoriously rough,” he remembers. The rest of the band asked Drout, then a budding musician, to take the singer’s place. He did, and remains the lead singer for Iko-Iko.

“We were there right after the Mariel boatlift,” Drout continues. For much of the night, the bar was filled with Mariel refugees, many of whom wanted to try their hand at playing the drums. When things got too crazy inside the bar, Katzman would pull out his shotgun. Says Drout: “It was click click, and he’d just hold it.”

It was law enforcement, not rowdy patrons, who ended Katzman’s reign. Under Gov. Bob Graham’s direct orders, state agents and local cops raided the Road and nine other Miami establishments for drugs in 1981. The charges against Katzman didn’t stick, but he was determined to sell all his properties, so he hired real estate broker Michael Latterner.

“When it came time to sell Tobacco Road, nobody would touch it,” Gleber says. (Katzman, who is supposedly living in Mexico, couldn’t be reached for comment. Latterner also couldn’t be reached by deadline.)

So in 1982, Latterner himself bought the Road’s building for $150,000 and asked Gleber to become his partner in running the bar. At the time, Gleber was a 22-year-old recent graduate of Florida International University’s hospitality program who ran the Vine Wine Bar at The Falls shopping center. As he likes to tell it, Gleber visited the Road for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day, found a rabbit’s foot talisman in the gutter, and heard the song “Tobacco Road” play on the radio while he was driving home. “That was enough for me,” he says.

But Gleber couldn’t do it alone. After being rejected by at least one prospective partner, Gleber turned to Kevin Rusk, a fellow FIU hospitality graduate who also worked at the Vine Wine Bar. As Rusk recounts: “He said something along the lines of, ‘Hey, I’m doing this thing about buying this place. This guy really needs to get rid of it and it’s a horrible rundown bar that’s poorly managed.’”

When Rusk visited the Road, it was love at first sight. “I’m from Baltimore,” he explains. “I know dive bars. I love dive bars. So I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. This is great. Let’s do it!’”

A

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Bluesman Gram Wood Drout: When things got too crazy, the previous owner would pull out his shotgun. “It was click click, and he’d just hold it.”

fter Gleber and Rusk bought a stake in the Road, Rusk pretended to be a trainee bartender in order to figure out how the operation was being run. “There were a lot of seedy things going on,” Rusk recalls.

The senior bartenders, for example, instructed Rusk not to hassle a particular drug dealer, a few prostitutes (several of whom lived in rooming houses across the street) openly solicited customers, and some drink proceeds were kept separate from the cash register.

When Rusk revealed himself as one of the new owners, the old staffers knew it was time to go. “Most of them were gone when they found out we were really making changes,” Rusk says. “They wanted nothing to do with it.”

Besides drug-dealing and sexual activity (“There were some really interesting silhouettes,” Drout recalls), the new owners had to contend with lots of violence. For the first six months, there were so many barroom brawls that Gleber often had to use the brass knuckles and a roll of quarters he carried with him. One person was fatally stabbed in the bar. There were also drive-by shootings outside.

When the health department threatened to intervene, Gleber and Rusk shut down the Road for several months and invested $60,000 renovating the building. They expanded and cleaned up the kitchen (the old Road was content with serving hard-boiled eggs and pretzels), shortened the main bar, changed the seating, and turned a garbage strewn rear lot into an outdoor patio bar.

They hired their culinary friends as chefs and cooks and created a decent lunch and dinner menu. Because choices were more limited in downtown Miami back then, Tobacco Road was a hit, especially with Miami’s legal community, in particular with federal prosecutors, whose offices were nearby on the north side of the Miami River. “There weren’t that many restaurants in downtown Miami back then,” Weiser says. “So Tobacco Road became very popular for lunch, or happy hour, or dinner. You had judges and you had lawyers from both sides of important cases.”

When the Road reopened in 1983, it still had to contend with the Florida Department of Transportation, which was ripping apart the street as they built a new Miami Avenue bridge. Several businesses closed down as a result of the disruptive construction.

Among the casualties was Lucky Strike Bar. Established in 1932 at 524 S. Miami Ave., Lucky Strike’s bartenders were fond of first ridiculing anyone ordering a cocktail (even a screwdriver or a Bloody Mary) as a sissy, and then suggesting they order a drink at Tobacco Road. FDOT seized Lucky Strike, demolished it, and built the ramp to the new drawbridge right over it.

The Road had another trick up its sleeve: music. “We tried a lot of different things: reggae, jazz,” Rusk says. “As much as people liked jazz, the jazz people would just sip a glass of wine. But if you get a good blues band, they down glasses of beer at three times the rate.”

Besides bringing Fat Chance Blues Band back to the Road (they left after just three months working under Katzman), Weiser also attracted superstars of the blues world and American roots genre. John Hammond, James Cotton, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, and Albert Collins are just some of the blues giants who have performed at the Road. “That’s really what started to build our reputation all over the world,” Weiser says. Not even the roadblocks that were present during the Miami Avenue bridge’s construction were a deterrent for the blues crowd. “It was part of the fun,” Weiser says. “It almost made it like a secret place.”

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Kitchen window: Gleber and Rusk established Tobacco Road as a restaurant with a bar, rather than the other way around.

Iko-Iko became the Road’s unofficial house band, performing there almost every week for 15 years. But after the mid-1990s, the Road was booking fewer blues acts in favor of other genres like jam bands, rock, and heavy metal. As time went on, Iko-Iko’s appearances became increasingly sporadic. “We play up north in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach,” says Drout, who still performs solo at the Road on Tuesdays. “That’s where our audience moved to.”

In the years that followed, Latterner, Gleber, and Rusk increased their real estate holdings along S. Miami Avenue. Gleber and Rusk also started other restaurant ventures, including Fishbone Grille, which operated in the space now occupied by the River Seafood & Oyster Bar.

But by 1996, Rusk walked away from managing the Road. Rusk, who went on to open the successful Titanic Restaurant and Brewery in Coral Gables, feels he was forced out by Gleber and Latterner. “It was a shock that two people I admired and I thought of as family would stick a knife in my back,” he says today. “I could’ve sued them, but that’s not my thing. I was more hurt than anything else.”

“There was a disagreement about how things should be run,” replies Gleber, who owns a stake in Pegasus Thruster Inc., a company that makes underwater propulsion gear for divers. “Kevin is a talented restaurateur. We just have different theories.”

Still, Rusk plans to make an appearance at the Road during the 100th anniversary, along with many friends. “I love Tobacco Road and everything about it,” Rusk says. “I’d love to see it live for another hundred years, but I’m a realist, and I do understand the business aspect.”

Rusk doubts a developer would be willing to invest the money needed to address the building’s quirks, including cleaning out the asbestos. “It is fine and stable,” he says, “but once you find asbestos in a building, then the cost to repair anything increases.”

Gleber credits Rusk, Weiser, Pakonis, and several other employees and partners, past and present, with making Tobacco Road a success. But he insists the Road isn’t done yet. “We’re constantly working on different ideas,” he says. “It’s always a work in progress. You slow down, you die.”

Historian Paul George, has frequented the Road in recent years, isn’t sure it’ll be the same if it isn’t at 626 S. Miami Ave. “A different building has a different ambiance, I don’t care what they do,” he says. “I hope they’re planning the 100th in a big way because it might not be around much longer.”

 

Tobacco Road’s 100th anniversary took place on November 17 2012.

On October 26, 2014, Tobacco Road closed and was demolished by Thunder Demolition Inc. An estimated 4,000 people came on its last night…

A Tribute to Tobacco Road!