Little Havana - Flagami

This bar is one of Miami’s new chill spots. Neighbors say it’s driving them nuts

Casa Florida cafe and bar in Little Havana near the Miami River. The cafe is a magnet for noise in a working-class residential neighborhood. Every weekend, nearby residents say the loud music keeps them awake late into the night.
Casa Florida cafe and bar in Little Havana near the Miami River. The cafe is a magnet for noise in a working-class residential neighborhood. Every weekend, nearby residents say the loud music keeps them awake late into the night.

The Casa Florida bar and grill is one of Miami’s new chill spots. It’s outdoors, nestled near the trendily ascendant Miami River and next to Roam Miami’s co-living quarters. You can eat inside a remodeled 1965 bus, order cocktails at a repurposed shipping container, and play barefoot bocce or ping pong in the moonlight.

“Everything I create — the food, the drinks, the music — when you do it right, people feel it,” said co-founder Eduardo Sanchez, who has also run a restaurant in hipsterville Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

For chatting, laughing Casa Florida patrons, it is done right. But for the people who live in the surrounding working-class Little Havana neighborhood, it is all wrong.

They would like to be heard, if that is possible above the din of annoying music they say often plays past Casa Florida’s closing times of 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and midnight on Sunday. It’s another example of a conflict cropping up in a Miami neighborhood where one person’s entertainment is another person’s headache. And nothing wrecks quality of life as gratingly as noise.

“The music doesn’t let us sleep,” said Magela Morell, who lives across the street. She was holding her 2-year-old daughter. “We have a baby. A lot of us work on weekends and we have to get up in the morning.”

Agreed her neighbor Jairo Narvaez: “It is loud and it goes as late as 3 a.m. They need to turn down the volume.”

Alberto Lop, who lives in the same block as Casa Florida, said he has complained several times to the city of Miami’s code enforcement department but officers only showed up once, in the afternoon. He also complained to a café manager “who was not polite with me,” Lop said.

“Every week they disturb our life,” Lop said. “The music and the talking and the party is very loud. This neighborhood used to be quiet.”

Rising rent and high demand for real estate in the area have put Little Havana businesses in jeopardy.

Add to the noise the piggish behavior of customers.

“They are peeing in the street and on our sidewalk,” said Maynor Lopez, a father of three.

Maria Herrera said the people who invade her neighborhood are just plain rude.

“I was with my little girl and some guy pissed right in front of us,” she said. “They’re drunk and inconsiderate. They leave their beer bottles everywhere.”

Marijuana and cigar smoke wafts into residents’ apartments.

“They’re smoking pot and you can smell it, and that’s not good for kids,” said Narvaez’s son, Alexander.

The traffic is a nuisance, too. On Friday, a monster Ford truck idled with a deafening rumble in the street before parking awkwardly in a space where it didn’t fit, half on the sidewalk. Kids had to get off their scooters and go around it. Last week, somebody ran into the rolling security gate of an apartment building nearby and broke it, so that it cannot be closed.

“We get it from both sides because the music at the Wharf is so loud we can clearly hear the lyrics,” said Narvaez’s daughter, Arely, mentioning the pop-up outdoor eatery and event space on the other side of the Miami River that was the subject of previous noise complaints but has been making an effort to tone things down.

Casa Florida, at 437 SW Second St., is currently situated in the backyard of what used to be the Miami River Hotel, which had the oldest recorded hotel license in Miami, dating back to 1898, according to its owners. For awhile, it was used as a film set for telenovelas. Now, co-founders Sanchez and Gaston Gonzalez want to renovate the house and put a restaurant inside.

“We’re not selling beer or cocktails or food — to me, we’re selling an experience,” Gonzalez says on the Casa Florida website. “This is a place to relax, enjoy the day, be able to talk to someone, enjoy the breeze.”

But the problem is that Casa Florida is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It has the proper food and liquor licensing but it is disturbing the peace, neighbors say. Is coexistence possible?

Carlos de la Fuente, a consultant to the partners who has considerable restaurant experience, said Casa Florida is in compliance with Miami’s noise ordinance and is striving to be a good neighbor.

“We have made a point not to be a nuisance,” he said. “We are not a nightclub and don’t want to be a nightclub. We offer a crafted cocktail experience. We add value to the neighborhood. We have a permit until 2 a.m. but we close at 1 a.m. We plan to set up the main dining room in the house so we can close the outdoor portion earlier.”

De la Fuente said much of the noise drifts across the river from the Wharf. Casa Florida has taken noise mitigation measures and plays music with low beats per minute “because there’s a study by Cornell University showing that the lower the BPM, the higher the length of stay,” he said.

As for unruly or sloppy patrons, de la Fuente promised better monitoring at the entrance gate of the property — and the number of guests admitted is limited, he said.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg gray area as to who was here first given the history of this hotel, but we don’t want to turn a blind eye to anything,” he said. “When somebody blocked a driveway, I volunteered to call the police.”

Compatibility is essential, said de la Fuente. He’s working hard on it. He invited residents to come by for a discussion.

“In order for any business to be successful, you have to get along with your neighbors,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned in this business is that it’s better to be nice.”