gaslight’s on at the new tobacco road

You might’ve heard, if you live in Miami, that there’s a new bar on South Miami Avenue called Tobacco Road. 

Except it’s not totally new. 

Because Tobacco Road is also the name of a bar that was there, in almost that exact same spot (two doors down, to be exact), for 99 years, until it closed in 2014. 

The original Tobacco Road was a dive bar with cheap food and loyal regulars. 

More Cheers-y than Cheers. 

    The new Tobacco Road is interesting but I’ve only been there three times and, on all three occasions, I walked out brooding on how much it sucks, how expensive and fake it is, how weird it feels to walk through the door, under that same neon sign I staggered past several times in college, and find that a PBR costs $5, an IPA costs $11, and a burger costs $16. 

A side of fries costs $6. 

    It’s lame to complain about a restaurant being expensive. Any eatery in the Brickell area is destined to be expensive. But I wrote a piece a few months ago about how the price of everything in this new Tobacco Road just feels weird in a room located directly next to, and enthusiastically emulating, what was once a legendary dive bar. 

    The reason I ended up scrapping the piece I originally wrote about the new Tobacco Road, and how much I hate it, is because, shortly after I wrote it, I was out on a date with someone who wanted to grab drinks there. 

    So we went for drinks.

    This time, staying there for two hours instead of thirty minutes, I noticed that, at the top of the menu, there’s a sentence in bold red text (bracketed in quotes but without attribution) saying something like, “We know this ain’t the original Tobacco Road, just chill”–suggesting, implicitly, that if you have any complaints about the place (especially if those complaints have to do with branding) then you’re being lame and not understanding the experience. 

    The menu emphasizes that this is a “tribute.” More a reboot than a remake.

    And I bought into it.

    Then today, when I popped into the new Tobacco Road to kill some time before an appointment, I saw that one of the restaurant’s far walls, which I hadn’t noticed before, has some graffiti about how this shit ain’t the real Tobacco Road.

It’s satirizing the kinda hipster who’d come around and say, “Man, this shit is so fake.”

The kinda person, in other words, who remembers Tobacco Road, cared about it, and feels kinda lied to.

    So there’s a running joke at this place.

The joke is that, if you complain about this restaurant, you don’t get it. 

    It suggests that the restaurant, which bills itself as a tribute, is also something of a troll against the sorta people who might take the word “tribute” seriously.

    Purists. Elitists.

    But today when I stepped into Tobacco Road to drink a single PBR for like thirty minutes, I got my bill and saw that I had an extra $1 charge for water. 

    I flagged the server down and said, “Hey, there’s a $1 charge here for water, what’s that?”

    He gave me a blank look. “That’s for the water.”

    See: when you sit down at Tobacco Road, they set an unlabeled glass bottle of water down on the table when they greet you, along with a glass for you to pour that water at leisure. It’s the same thing most restaurants do as a gesture of good faith and welcome.

    So I got bristly. “I didn’t order that water. It wasn’t sealed or anything, you just set it down with a glass and walked away. I thought it was free.”

    The server sank his shoulders like I was being petty. “I can take it off the bill if you want.”

    And, as a bartender myself, I know it’s annoying to take things off a bill. So I told him not to worry about it. 

    But I was pissed!

    Cuz look, here’s how it breaks down:

  1. The first time I went to this new Tobacco Road, I was turned off by how it not only bore no relation to the original Tobacco Road but seemed, in many ways, the literal antithesis. 
  2. With a second visit, I calmed down. I read the menu more carefully and saw that Tobacco Road, despite being named after the original Tobacco Road and emblazoning its walls with tributary material to that original Tobacco Road, isn’t actually tryna be anything like the original Tobacco Road. They told me it was frankly kinda lame of me to even think about mentioning the difference. The menu told me to chill. So I scrapped the piece. I chilled. 
  3. Having chilled, and scrapped the piece about how this new Tobacco Road is nothing like Tobacco Road, I revisited Tobacco Road. And I ordered a beer. Five bucks. Then I got the bill and found that, along with the beer, I’d been charged for something I hadn’t requested.
  4. I mentioned to the server that I was being charged for something I hadn’t requested. The server reacted with the exact same tone one finds emblazoned on the top of the menu, and on that background wall: It’s only a dollar. Just chill. And so I dropped it. I chilled. 

So what I’m hooked on, now, is the restaurant’s fairly explicit interest in making you feel like a tool for being upset with its practices. 

    Does Kush’s “Tobacco Road Tribute” bear little resemblance to the original, while simultaneously capitalizing on the legacy of that original, and implicitly mocking you for complaining about the difference?

    Chill.

    Are they taking one of the cheapest beers on the market and charging $5 for less than a can’s worth?

    Chill.

    Did you get charged ~one dollar~ for something you didn’t actually order?

    Chill.

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