Vice City Party
913 West Lake St., Minneapolis
Meets Go-Go's Bliss: Cool Like Neon, Hot Like Cuties, Silly and Fun As Kids
For $1,250, you can reserve Restaurant Miami's Scarface Lounge on a Saturday night. If you do, the restaurant will provide you with three bottles of Champagne, four bottles of booze, all the mixers you can drink, and, naturally, because we're drinking here, an additional 12 cans of Old English malt liquor. As you sit in your lounge, gazing out at restaurant patrons seated in vintage 1980s booths and perched on glam Don Johnson-looking white leather chairs, you will listen to the Bangles, Boy George, Blondie, Joe Jackson, and every other band you loved, or hated, or didn't know about at all, from the '80s. Servers will bring you 20 appetizers, four exotic fruit platters, and four whole dessert pies, such as a key lime. Valet parking folks will place the cars of you and your guests. You will have the option of getting a poker table set up for your enjoyment. Large televisions within your lounge will play Scarface, or, if you prefer, episodes of Knight Rider or Miami Vice. But nothing else! Not one other thing! As your hundred-plus drinks take hold, you and your 20 to 30 (suggested) guests will no doubt turn your attention from the delights within the Scarface Lounge to the delights without. Happily, every table hosts a neon-edged telephone, a map, and phone numbers for the other tables, allowing you to drunk-dial the likeliest-looking cuties quicker than you can shotgun a can of OE.
They say youth is wasted on the young—but it isn't at Restaurant Miami. We haven't had a restaurant open like this in the Twin Cities in—well, ever, as far as I know. The place is resolutely concept-driven, and that concept is: people born after Watergate thinking about the movie Scarface, the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the television shows Miami Vice and Knight Rider, and drinking super-strong cocktails with other people born after Watergate while listening to Spandau Ballet and the Go-Go's.
Now, I would like you readers to neatly cleave into two camps. Does everything I just typed sound like gibberish? Then buy a bottle of Barolo and enjoy your dotage, old man, because this ain't for you. Even if you went, you couldn't hear yourself over the billion-decibel soundtrack of the Cars, Styx, Toto, Flock of Seagulls, and so forth.
For the rest of you—Woo! Woo-hoo, even! The drinks of the summer of '07 are here, and they are sweet, strong, and occasionally profane and lewd. They all take their names from signature lines from the 1983 film Scarface—for instance, "Her womb is so polluted" is a tangy blend of blackberry vodka, Cointreau, Chambord, and lime juice—kind of like a vodka sour made frivolous with some Jolly Ranchers. "Say hello to my little friend" is a genius of a thing, a piña colada turned into a martini via vanilla vodka, Malibu rum, and a graham cracker-frosted rim—if you think piña colada-scented lip gloss is fun, you will love, love, love it. "Eating, drinking, fucking, sucking, snorting" is a sort of pineapple mojito. "Who the fuck you calling a spic, mang? You white piece of bread, get outta the way of the television" is their fresh-lemon-juice lemon drop. "You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!" is a remarkably easy-drinking, high-octane martini milkshake made with black cherry vodka and Godiva white chocolate liqueur, served with a chocolate-dipped cherry. "You wanna waste my time? Okay. I call my lawyer. He's the best lawyer in Miami. He's such a good lawyer that by tomorrow you gonna be working in Alaska. So dress warm," aside from having the longest drink name in town, is made with Bacardi Razz, and gets funnier to order as the night progresses. Each of these super-strong cocktails costs $8—a bargain considering you are really only going to be able, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, to have two at the very most. Three and you're under the table. Four and you're under the host.
That host is owner Robert Serr, a 32-year-old with a fierce British accent and a scene-maker's sure command of cool. "I was the manager of the VIP room at Escape," he told me when I spoke to him on the phone for this story. "That was the first really important VIP lounge in Minnesota, but I left it. It wasn't really my cup of tea. Then one day I was driving down Lake Street, and I saw the 'for lease' sign in the window, and I knew what it had to be. It was going to be called 'Afterbar,' and it would be the place to go. But the neighborhood group went berserk—there'd be murders, drug deals, you know. The works. Slamming car doors. So we didn't get the license. We can't really call it 'Afterbar' then, right? We almost called it 'No Bar' because they tried to stop me from getting a liquor license at all." But in the end, the god of partying smiled, and the place got its bar.
"Now it's just heaving on the weekends," explained Serr. "A couple weeks ago I had to stand at the door and tell people, 'Sorry, mate, you can't get in. Come back next week.' People dress in '80s outfits; they love it. Last weekend these dudes walked in, '80s outfits, a big bag of powdered sugar, they threw it down on a table. Then they were snorting lines of powdered sugar to give off the ultimate '80s experience. The Scarface Lounge is booked out eight weeks in advance; people get in there and feel really exclusive. People can book out these super expensive packages, they get in there, everything's paid for, go wild. Sometimes people call up, we give it to them for free, we just tell them, 'Make sure you drink a lot.'"
From what I've seen, they do. In addition to the 20 signature Scarface cocktails, Miami has beers that aren't often seen here, such as Tetley lager, from the owner's native Leeds, and that French favorite, Kronenbourg 1664. Once the patrons get to drinking, they run back and forth from their tables to the street, where they smoke. They kiss, they hug, they run, they smoke, they drink, they phone up neighboring tables, they party hearty. They don't eat much. In the interests of remedying this, I offer my brief thoughts on Miami's food.
Mainly, the restaurant is trying to do way too much, and if you go there when there isn't a crowd, you'll feel like you're in the most expensive unrenovated Embers on earth, and you'll want to die. My diagnosis? The menu is almost entirely Caribbean seafood, and that's just very hard to do well. The first time I went to Restaurant Miami, I had four different seafood dishes that were all deep-fried and served with the same pinkish mayonnaise dipping sauce—but that chef got fired, thank God. The new chef, Quinton Leake, known as Q, has been there about two months. Prior to that, he put in many years in no-nonsense kitchens such as the one at the Lexington in St. Paul. And while his new menu shows promise, it would be twice as good if it were half as long.
The best appetizer is the tamarind calamari ($8)—fried loops of battered squid and crisp fried plantains, which have been basted with a tart tamarind sauce and tossed with a tomato relish, so that the squid takes on an almost Buffalo wing-like sweet, sour, spicy tang: It's unusual, and very good. The shrimp cocktail ($9) is fine, it's simply shrimp with a cocktail sauce improved with mango and other tropical fruit. A half-pineapple hollowed out and filled with mangoes, strawberries, pineapple, and kiwi in a honey and mint dressing ($11), is spectacular when it's fresh—but sometimes it's served long past its prime. One of the restaurant's best offerings is, of all things, the steak salad: Baby greens, small tomatoes, and gorgonzola cheese provide a bed for sliced filet mignon, and it's just a solid, enjoyable composition.
The rest of the menu is kind of a mess, including forgettably bland crab and shrimp cakes ($8) and dry, bland, deep-fried skewers of chicken made with Caribbean ingredients but little flavor or spark ($7). The expensive entrees are even worse. Hardcore halibut ($22.50) was terribly dry, despite the crab and shrimp stuffing and a weirdly sugary lemon-lime beurre blanc. The Bajan prawns ($18) were overcooked and rubbery, but worse, the two sauces on the plate, one a sweet, jam-like raspberry-lime sauce, the other a bright mango sauce, tasted like they lost their way on the road to a cheesecake. Totally '80s tuna ($15) is sushi-grade tuna on a hamburger bun, which sounds okay, but in reality was only like sushi in that it was red and cold; otherwise it was gummy, tasteless, and off-putting.
I sampled most of Miami's entree menu with increasing degrees of dismay. Probably the best one was the plain linguini with red sauce ($12), a simple, spicy version that was good in spite of the waxy Parmesan, which reminded me of the kind that comes in the bag pre-grated. Desserts like the key lime pie ($6) taste nothing but toothache-sweet, reminiscent of a generic Sam's Club-type product. And it would be so easy to succeed here! A burger, a BLT, fries, some kind of pork shoulder or beans and rice—the actual city of Miami is bursting with cheap, tasty, easily done foods, and this Restaurant Miami is so likable that any passable bar food would go over gangbusters. Why, oh why, must you try to reinvent the wheel, Restaurant Miami, when tee-ball would suffice? Oh right, I remember: That is also what it means to be young.
But don't write them off! Despite missteps with the food, Restaurant Miami is adorable and spunky, and once you're in it for 10 minutes you desperately want it to succeed. That sort of charisma is a rarity in restaurants, and often a far better predictor of success than mere correct cooking. In addition, Serr told me that they just got their license to stay open till 2:00 a.m., and the drink-emboldened after-bar crowd is unlikely to suffer bad food quietly. Plus, Robert Serr isn't done with us—he's got big plans for Minneapolis, including another place in the works, in the former 3 Muses and Emma's Restaurant space on Lyndale Avenue near 28th Street.
"It's going to be a 1970s-style disco called Carwash," Serr told me. "It will have two bars made of glass bricks, hostesses on roller skates, tables outside, blaring music—fantastic. We're building a light-up dance floor...it's like a video wall on the floor, and can produce all kinds of lighting effects and video.... The dance floor is going to be incredible, but then it'll be surrounded by couches, lava lamps all going, incredible shag rugs—and the coffee tables are actually fish tanks. Fish tanks! It's going to be absolutely 1970s, totally 1970s; no one has ever done anything like it."
Really? I asked. The '80s, and now the '70s? "But don't be expecting anything 1960s from me," Serr explained. "I don't care about the 1960s. And the 1990s, I'd just like to forget those."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Minneapolis & St. Paul dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.