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Purdy Lounge: A Loose History

Nathaniel Sandler

Purdy Lounge. Photo: Thomas Boardman

The lava lamps mold the room. Pumping to the beat almost like a sentient central nervous system, they feed off the spirit of the place. Happiness, sadness, light, darkness, and beautiful hideousness grinding friendships into late nights and turn late nights toward the imaginary. The massive 8-bit Street Fighter paintings remind us it’s all a game. Put a quarter in. HADOUKEN.

Since the year two thousand, the Purdy Lounge on Miami Beach has been nurturing tumultuous booze-inspired nights under the honest guise of bar democracy. No cover, no bullshit, the slogan goes, and it doesn’t matter what you look like or who you pray to. You’re in. Just don’t mess with the unbridled drunken status quo by fighting or by being too creepy. Fifteen years later, each and every changing part is still smoothly gliding under the needle of two well-mixed vinyl records, shifting but never stopping the party.

During Art Basel 2014, a street artist named Zeem Rock hid out in the bathroom until after closing time (5 am) and then painted the bar’s walls in a black skeletal pattern. The things you need to take away from this story are 1) that it weirdly looks better in there now, 2) that it’s completely gross someone hid out in the bathrooms and that the bathrooms are completely gross, and 3) that the staff and management had no idea this was happening at the time. It was not a PR stunt because they just don’t do that kind of thing and never have. They’ve never had to.

But these stories are what keep Purdy going. Early on, the whole staff would sometimes end the night singing Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam,” and if it was your first night working at Purdy, you’d be forced to take a bar mat shot—a mix of all the leftover liquid from whatever spilled throughout the night.

Three years ago, I saw a beautiful, leggy woman walk out of the Lounge, with all the sexed-up attitude a typical beautiful, leggy woman on Miami Beach might put out there. She found the place not to her liking, not classy enough or whatever, and when the always-informative doorman mentioned that if she left she’d have to wait in line again, she said, “Yeah right, like I’d ever go back in there.”

Not a half-second later, her lord-knows-how-expensive heels gave out and her face ended up in the gutter, nose almost touching the weird, unclassified sludge of Sunset Harbor’s king tide sewage potion. The mystical karma of the Purdy Lounge reared itself. She sat up, eventually fine, but embarrassed. And probably regretted shaking her holier-than-thou stick at a place she didn’t fully understand. It’s possible she remembers the moment, as I do, or maybe she forgot it instantly. We’ll never know.

Think about that gutter, though, outside Purdy. Sunset Harbor is the neighborhood litmus test for Miami Beach to determine whether or not the whole damned city ends up under water. The smells over there are different, stronger, and the sludge has a tendency to slowly rust out the bottom of your Benz and cling to your $85 yoga pants. With ease, the neighborhood recently gentrified out whatever industrial processes Miami Beach needed twenty-five years ago in favor of retail and entertainment establishments. Sunset Harbor now has an identity. But maybe it’s just really a huge sponge, soaking up Miami Beach, and occasionally squeezing it out.

“Bars are like living organisms, they never stop changing,” says Dan Binkiewicz, part-owner and face of the Lounge. If you get Dan talking, he can speak in aphorisms, one-line truths of a drink mixed equal parts Buddha and Loki. After an acceptable truth-bomb direct from Binkipedia (a fact that can definitely be laughingly corrected over a beer or shot), he smiles, “Miami is such an ever-evolving town, people come and people go, but the more we stay the same the more we get better.”

Dan is full of stories of the bar. Maybe he’ll mention that the Lounge quickly realized, early in its history, that everything in the bathrooms had to be “Purdy-proofed,” or ruggedized—essentially: made to be weight-bearing. Sex in the Lounge has happened since day one in corners, bathrooms, and sometimes—quite weirdly—out in the open.

Perhaps the most charming aspect of the bar is that people meet and fall in love there, sometimes for one sloppy night, but other times for eternity. While “researching” this story, I spoke with a couple who had met, had their first kiss, and got engaged there; I myself have presided over the matrimonial ceremonies of another love forged at the Purdy. It’s a place where people have no choice but to let their guards down, and that’s why they’re there. There’s a collective agreement to not give a goddamned shit about whatever mattered earlier or what will matter tomorrow.

“Purdy Lounge is everyone’s guilty pleasure,” says John Lermayer, respected veteran Miami bartender and Purdy regular. Asking the regulars what they think of when they think Purdy, the answer I got back from most was “home.” It’s not quite Cheers, because the volume is deafening, and basically no one has good comedic timing; it’s Miami Beach’s version of “where everybody knows your name,” but then forgets it when the next club banger from Icue and Boe comes on.

“One thing about the Purdy Lounge everyone should know is that Dan and everyone there genuinely want everyone to be having fun and enjoying themselves. It’s not just about the money,” says Paige Diehl, a bartender with five-plus years at the tattooed helm of Purdy Lounge. People come to see Paige. They may not know he name, but they come to see the pretty girl with the tats, just like they did the former bartender Cary, the crazy guy with the mustache. They are the party, and we are the party, each and every part of Miami that comes in. Classes and races mix with the only goal of finding that light in the maelstrom, whether bad or good. The Purdy Lounge is an egalitarian temple of horrible decision-making, and, as Dan reminds us, “bad decisions make good stories.”

But his decision to open this bar with his partners and friends next to a park he had keg parties at was made for the fond memories, the roots. They fought for the name Purdy Avenue, when the city tried to change it, with a sense of history. They wanted to be the antithesis of South Beach, no velvet ropes, no European doormen. And at the end of the night, sometimes you jump in the bay.

I imagine all good vortices have a moment in which, when caught in the whirling rush, you see a bright light. It’s not death, but could be the pinnacle of any feeling, any love, any hate, any lust, and any emotion you need at the time. Purdy Lounge is a vortex on the water, sinking alive, and while the neighborhood changes around it, the bar remains the same––defiant and democratic, slightly buzzed, or in the righteous turbulence of annihilation.

Nathanial Sandler is a writer, director of BookleggersLibrary, and halfway decent with nunchucks.

Note: This author is a friend of the owners, patrons, and staff of the bar he describes. However, no attempt at bias is made. Everything in this article is 100 percent true. It was also written mostly or entirely drunk.