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Lost Restaurants of Greater Miami—A Sneak Peek!


By Seth H. Bramson

Ladies and Gentlemen, I must start this column with an apology to you—our dear readers—and Mr. Berkwitt. While I acknowledge being behind on my submissions I must plead “guilty with an explanation.”

As some of you might have been aware, I have been working arduously on our newest book, LOST RESTAURANTS of GREATER MIAMI and because of deadlines I got a bit behind in terms of other obligations. Simply put, “stuff happens” and what happened was that I had to get the book into Arcadia and The History Press by day before yesterday, which, happily to report, I did.

Before I share the Introduction with you, I do want to make a couple of comments regarding several other Greater Miami books which were published either by Arcadia and The History Press or other publishers.

Simply put—and you may feel free to argue this your heart’s content, (and, yes and simply put, anybody can write about anything or any place without fulfilling the four qualifications noted below—you cannot write about Miami Beach (or the Jewish community on Miami Beach or in Greater Miami)—unless you fulfill what I refer to as “the four qualifications:” you had to grow up on, live on, go to school on and/or work on Miami Beach. Otherwise, as the late, great Neil Rogers would have said—as he often did—you are nothing but a front-running phony.

I won’t name said front-running phonies, folks, not because I am worried about defamation suits (I’m not accusing them of crimes just of being total and complete phonies, like plagiarizing Posner) but—seriously—they do not deserve to have their names written on this great website!

“So, Seth,” you are asking, “who fulfills the four qualifications?” And, folks, truth be told there are only four of us: yes, me (yuh think 73 years living in Greater Miami as of last August might qualify me?); Alex Daoud (we are aware of Alex’s transgressions, but his book, “Sins of South Beach” is not only totally factual but he fulfills the four qualifications); and the great Mickey Wolfson and his co-author, Michele Oka Donner. All three of those are wonderful books and I commend them to you highly.

But what about Seth? No big deal. Only America’s single most-published Florida history book: of my32 books, 6 ½ are histories of Miami Beach and its northern suburbs; the other ½ is “L’Chaim! The History of the Jewish Community of Greater Miami.” As for the rest, please feel free to go to amazon.com. Don’t click on books and don’t click on authors. Just put my name on the home page search line, hit enter and watch what comes up.

Keep in mind that writing local history is what I do: as America’s senior collector of FEC Railway, Florida transportation memorabilia, Miami memorabilia and Floridiana, it’s not hard for me to write local history, especially since our collection of Miami memorabilia and Floridiana is the largest in private hands in the country.

Now, dear friends, the promised introduction for LOST RESTAURANTS of GREATER MIAMI:

“Today, as these words are being written, Miami-Dade County (Greater Miami) has several thousand food and beverage, bar and/or night club licenses in operation. Stretching from the Broward County line on the north to the Monroe County line on the south and west to the Collier County line, the county today encompasses more than 2200 square miles. One could almost spend a lifetime eating his or her way through the kaleidoscopic array in what is today considered one of the greatest “food towns” in America. But this is now, and this book is about then, an incredible history with an equally incredible range of food and beverage offerings and opportunities beginning as early as (or perhaps a bit earlier than) December 31, 1896 when the great and fabled Henry Flagler-owned Royal Palm Hotel opened on the north bank of the Miami River.

Invited guests supped sumptuously on a magnificent dinner, prepared especially for the hotel’s opening, that only five months after the City of Miami, the first incorporated municipality in today’s Miami-Dade County, sprang into existence.

While there were various individuals and families scattered throughout the county, from far south Dade to Coconut Grove, along the banks of the aforementioned Miami River and north to Arch Creek and Fulford (later North Miami and North Miami Beach) there appears to be no documented record of any formal food serving operations prior to the opening of the Royal Palm. It is possible, however, that Captain and Mrs. William Fulford did provide room and board for a modest fee in the 1890s at the Biscayne House of Refuge on what would become Miami Beach in 1915 while Commodore and Mrs. Ralph M. Munroe (he the founder of the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club) and the Peacock family, both in Coconut Grove, possibly did so even earlier.

Eventually, and slowly but surely, as the area developed, hardy restaurant and club pioneers began to open various facilities. Because one of the two “mothers of Miami,” Julia Tuttle (Mary Brickell was the other), would not permit the sale of alcohol on her property north of the Miami River, the first known bar or saloon, in what was then called North Miami, owned and operated by W. N. Woods, opened just north of Mrs. Tuttle’s property in what is today’s downtown Miami (what was then 8th Street, today’s Northeast/Northwest Fourth Street) sometime in the mid-to-late 1890s.

The story of Joe and Jennie Weiss and their son, Jessie, coming to Ocean Beach (later Miami Beach) in early 1913 is South Florida legend. They went to work at Smith’s Casino for five years (until 1918), after which the Weiss’s opened Joe’s Restaurant (“Shore Dinners a Specialty”), and today Joe’s (now suffixed with “Stone Crab”) Restaurant is the oldest eating place in South Florida and second oldest in the state. While this book will note the dining (or eating!) facilities in the Ocean Beach/Miami Beach bathing casinos, Joe’s cannot be covered because, along with The Forge, the lineal descendant of Andy Somma’s Old Forge Restaurant (also on Miami Beach), those two, along with Frankie’s on Bird Road and Southwest 92nd Avenue, Shorty’s and Captain’s Table, both on South Dixie Highway on the mainland side, of all the great and original Miami-Dade County restaurants, are among the very, very few still in operation.

As the various cities came into existence, Miami, noted above, Homestead in 1913, Miami Beach as a town in 1915 and then a city in 1917, were followed by a plethora of development and municipal incorporations during the great Florida boom of the 1920s, ranging from such as Country Club Estates (Miami Springs) to Opa Locka, Hialeah, the aforementioned North Miami (originally as the Town of Miami Shores) and North Miami Beach, and then, into the 1930s, such as Surfside and others came into existence. Continuing into the 1990s, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach and several more incorporated with Miami Lakes (2000), Palmetto Bay (2002), Doral and Miami Gardens (2003), and Cutler Bay (2005) following.

With incorporation came growth although, certainly, many of the previously unincorporated areas had substantial population bases and because of that those areas already had a good few restaurants, bars and clubs.

The reader is asked to recognize that, with the literally thousands of operations that have come and gone in Greater Miami it is simply not possible to picture or even write about each and every one. Your author, though, does believe that this book contains an excellent sampling not only of the various kinds and types of food and beverage enterprises and the facilities which housed them, but, and in addition, a well-considered geographic distribution so that the reader understands that a strong effort has been made to encompass the entire county.
Hopefully, this book will be only the hors d’oeuvre, after which more volumes specific to given cities, particularly Miami and Miami Beach, can follow.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, grab your favorite beverage, have a seat, enjoy a sandwich or a slice of pizza or a piece or two of sushi, sit back, relax, reminisce and refresh your memory of the great times, the great places and the great friends whose company you enjoyed in and at the equally-great but now lost restaurants of Greater Miami.”

So, my friend, there you have it. The book is at the publisher and the images were shipped yesterday. I don’t know how many pages there will be but I can tell you that there are 121 photos, distributed countywide. If your favorite spot does not appear in this volume, hopefully it will in the next. I don’t have any idea of publication date but will certainly let you know when the time comes.

Meantime, take care of yourselves and remember not to throw out any of your Miami memorabilia, which I will certainly convert to cash for you!

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