Gramps, the laid-back watering hole that opened last December in Wynwood with a night of old school gator wrestling and quickly emerged as hipster central, home to the scruffy-faced, the cleverly inked and the plaid-shirted, is most notable for everything it’s not.
It’s not a place where goons in black suits guard velvet ropes, allowing them to part only for the gym-sculpted and the Gucci-clad. It’s not a place where you have to cough up a car payment for a bottle of vodka and a place to sit. It’s not a place where patrons are so impressed with themselves they can’t muster a simple hello to the person at the next bar stool. It’s not — well, it’s so not South Beach.
“The magical time on South Beach was the early 1990s. But then everything became so saturated and ridiculous,” says Gramps owner Adam Gersten, 36, a native of the 305 whose family has deep roots in the city.
His father, David Gersten, and his father’s father, Joseph Gersten Sr., were both Dade circuit judges. His uncle, Joe Gersten, was a county commissioner who colorfully fled the country in 1993, after prosecutors decided they wanted to chat with him about his baby blue Mercedes and allegations that it was stolen not from his home as he had claimed, but while he was carrying on with a hooker at a crack house off Biscayne Boulevard.
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“Uncle Joe. I haven’t talked to him since he left. [For Australia, where he reportedly still lives.] What’s really cool is that in a couple of days I’m going to have hanging in the bar an original drawing by [Miami Herald editorial cartoonist] Jim Morin. It’s from the ’90s and it has Uncle Joe running, with a Mercedes chasing him,” says Adam, who revels in all things related to Miami’s history, even his uncle’s memorable hijinks.
The younger Gersten’s maternal grandfather, Irving Miller, a local developer who initiated him into the world of boating and drinking, is the inspiration for the name of the bar, at 176 NW 24th St.
Gersten envisioned Gramps as something of a throwback roadhouse. The signage out front boasts a simple Old Florida aesthetic: “Air conditioning. Cold Beer. Cocktails.”
Inside, DJs and live bands play classic rock, college rock, some house beats, a bit of hip-hop, whatever gets the crowds grooving. A domestic beer will set you back about four bucks. And the gravel-covered lot adjacent to the place spills over with a cross-section of local artists, creative professionals, indie music lovers. Yes, you’ll probably want to bust out your vintage kicks and nerd glasses to hang here.
But there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, says Gersten, who graduated from St. Thomas University’s law school and practiced full time for a few years before venturing into the bar business.
“I wanted to open a place that celebrated the city and celebrated a connection to the past, but that didn’t feel fake or forced,” he says. “And I knew Wynwood was the perfect place for Gramps because it’s so central and because there is such a creative spirit in the neighborhood. There is commerce happening, more art galleries opening, more residential projects about to come online. And everybody is engaged. We’re all really working together to try to build something.”
Gramps, in a former factory space that turned out the sewing tables used by the surrounding, now fading garment industry, is pretty no-frills, unless you want to count the popcorn machine and the jukebox. By way of décor, there are some posters for movies set in South Florida: Miami Connection, Prowlers of the Everglades, Miami Blues. And there are a few rustic tables inside, each featuring Miami memorabilia under clear epoxy. One was the creative work of filmmakers Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben, the duo behind 2006’s cult fave Cocaine Cowboys, a documentary about Miami’s smuggling blues and bloodbaths. Another table features a collage of old ads that would make any 305 enthusiast nostalgic: Miami Jai-Ali, Burdine’s, the Mutiny Hotel, Don Carter’s Kendall Lanes, Frankie’s Pizza.
Gersten, who is not beyond admitting he’ll sometimes crank Crockett’s Theme from Miami Vice as he drives around the city, pines for the old days when a guy could still pull his boat up to now-defunct Jimbo’s on Virginia Key and knock back some ice cold beers under palm trees, the occasion blue heron sailing by.
“I grew up in a 1930s house on Sunset Island 2. There was a house across the street where they filmed a couple of episodes of Miami Vice. Later drug dealers bought it. After they got caught, it became a witness protection house. When I was a kid, my parents gave me a little black-and-white, hand-me-down TV and on a UHF channel I could pick up the drug dealers’ security cameras.”
Gersten doesn’t plan to give up the bar business anytime soon, but he is toying with developing another career alongside it. He says he’s thinking about running for public office one of these days.
Does he worry that voters with long enough memories will consider the Gersten name too tarnished by Uncle Joe?
“My family’s involvement in Miami is much bigger than my uncle. And I’m not him. That’s part of an old Miami story that we all get to joke about now. He provided a lot of entertainment. How can you not love the famous political scandals of Miami …?
“If the right opportunity came up at the right time, yes I would run. I would love to bring my passion for the city to bettering the city and to being part of the leadership of the city.”