This is what we think about when we think about Monty’s in the Grove: Cold drinks. Hot nights. Good times.
Maybe you remember partying there in the 1970s and 1980s (or don’t remember even though you were there - if only those tables could talk). Or perhaps you had lunch there last weekend with your family, letting your kids burn off some energy on the dance floor. Or maybe you grabbed a table at the Friday happy hour before the last Canes game and ate your weight in conch fritters.
This is the point: Everybody in Miami has been to Monty’s, because Monty’s is where Miami goes to feel like we’re in Miami.
Monty’s celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, a remarkable achievement in a place where trendy restaurants and bars vanish as swiftly as an October cold front. Opened in 1969 by Key West native Monty Trainer, the restaurant has survived hurricanes, most recently Hurricane Irma, which damaged the marina. It has served generations of Miami locals and tourists under the giant tiki hut (the ultimate Miami reminder that it’s time to order a drink).
Trainer no longer owns either Monty’s location — there’s also one in South Beach — but that hasn’t stopped customers from piling in. General manager Juan Barretta says he sees people bringing their kids and grandkids to the place they’ve been coming to since the Grove’s wild old days (let’s not forget that Monty’s wasn’t that far from the notorious Mutiny Hotel, aka Hotel Scarface).
What keeps patrons coming back? Barretta thinks it’s the balance between preserving the past while never rejecting new ideas.
“It’s hard to be innovative and improving when you’re a 50-year-old restaurant,” he says. “We have things people love on the menu, and we can’t touch them. But everyone here has a say in the menu. If there’s something they don’t like or something they want to add, we can change some things.”
This is good news for kitchen manager Luis Izquierdo, who has worked at Monty’s for 20 years. He practically grew up at the restaurant, starting at 15 and working through every job from bar back to bus boy. His menu preserves old favorites like the conch fritters — and believe us, they’re fried bites of joy, especially with lemon and the homemade tartar sauce — but still leaves him room to try new things.
His recommendation? Don’t hesitate: Order the jerk chicken.
You might think the food is beside the point at Monty’s, but you’d be wrong. The raw bar is as popular as ever (especially since it’s serving Pacific stone crab claws while here in Miami we’re counting the days to Atlantic stone crab season). Favorites include Bake and Shark, a traditional Trinidadian dish involving sustainable cape shark and fry bread. We can attest to the perfection of the Cajun peel and eat shrimp, too. Simple, messy, perfect with your beer of choice. (We like La Rubia from Wynwood Brewing on tap.)
The Monty’s crowd is diverse in respect to age. Come at happy hour, 4-8 p.m. weeknights, and you’ll find a long line of college or just-out-of college customers pulling out IDs for inspection. That young crowd gives way to families, tourists and older locals on the weekends. There are worse fates than spending your happy retirement years on a bar stool at Monty’s.
Maybe, in the end, that’s what draws us to Monty’s: The things that keep us in Miami despite all the madness. A view of the water. The warm breeze. Sunset. Music. Fried seafood and cold drinks. The eternal promise of Florida.
Can it go on another 50 years? Barretta thinks maybe it can.
“Hurricanes can’t stop Monty’s,” he says. “Time can’t stop Monty’s.”
Where: 2550 S. Bayshore Dr., Coconut Grove
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11:30 am.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Happy hour: 4-8 p.m. Monday-Friday