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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
August 2018

Miami Shores gets its first downtown wine bar

FWine_1or Kim Flower and Andy Wagner, it started with a chance remark six years ago on their usual Sunday walk through downtown Miami Shores, a block from their house.

“We walked up to NE 2nd Avenue and there was just nothing there,” remembers Wagner.

“We asked each other: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little pub to go to after our walk?’” adds Flower.

Unlike many others who have likely said the same thing, Flower and Wagner took the plunge and bobbed up swimming. On July 10, they opened Flight Wine Lounge and Shop at 9711 NE 2nd Ave., the first such establishment in the village’s 85-year history, and a likely harbinger of things to come. A week later about 50 neighbors, well-wishers, and local worthies jammed into the place for a second opening to sample the wines and artisanal pies.

For now, Flight is open 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and until 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Wagner, a BBC veteran and the drive-time voice of WLRN-FM, Miami’s NPR affiliate, helped operate a base pub while serving in the British army. He’s keeping his day job while working the counter in the evening, he says. Flower, an architectural designer specializing in residential projects, had worked in restaurants and catering. She’s winding down her design business to concentrate on Flight full time.

It’s their first business together, one spurred by a shared passion for wine, food, and travel.

Inside, Flight’s 1200 square feet offer dark walls, barstools, upholstered chairs, and 37 seats arranged for easy conversation and meeting. Among other things, its list of 30 wines includes three-glass “flights” (hence the name) of paired offerings, organic eight-dollar “ArtPies” with names like Mata Hari, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Marie Curie, and plates of pâtés and artisanal cheeses. There’s a partial kitchen; locals supply most of the prepared food.

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“One of our high points was to create a gathering place, a local community,” says Flower. “That was the driving force behind this design. We wanted a place to go to.”

“At last! Good news!” said Shores Councilwoman Alice Burch, echoing others, as she sat down at the bar recently with an Oregon Pinot Noir.

For downtown Miami Shores, Flight’s opening is as clear a signal as any that the stars are finally aligned, now that the sewers are in after a generation of talk. A fresh jolt of energy is prompting new businesses to open and buck each other up. The newly formed Merchants Collective meets every Thursday morning.

Communal Miami Shores events are a village tradition. Plaza 98 is a gathering of businesses on the second Saturday of the month from November through April. Downtown throws itself open for the vast Green Day celebration along NE 2nd Avenue, scheduled for November 3 and organized by the Greater Miami Shores Chamber’s energetic executive director, Megan Gerstel.

Getting those crucial pedestrians year round isn’t so easy, however, with the scarcity of places to hang out, eat, drink, and meet. This is starting to change.

Sewers are one big reason for the improvements. While in the ground since last fall, actual hookups have come gradually. Flight’s sewer just got connected June 28, shortly after the 9999 Building, where Côté Gourmet recently reopened under new owners. Most buildings have yet to connect to the main lines, but more restaurants are about to enter the pipeline, with Mediterranean and Asian fusion restaurants planned for the 9801 Building in early 2019.

Lucio Coffee to Wine -- under the ownership of Barcelona-trained chef Lucio Bueno at 9802 NE 2nd Ave. -- offers Mediterranean cuisine for delivery only, and cheeses, wines, and chocolates. It’s also arranging pop-up chef nights at Flight. Open for 21 months, Lucio is right next to the Miami Theater Center, soon to launch its 2018-19 season and an emerging magnet for community events.

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Flight and Lucio are part of a growing array of niche businesses united by a common theme of local products, sustainability, and quality.

In April, Alexandra Palomino and Raul Parra Orizondo opened Mima Market at 9725 NE 2nd Ave. It’s attracting word-of-mouth buzz through its sandwiches, empanadas, cookies, craft beers, and a growing array of local products.

“It feels like the beginning of something, a reawakening,” Palomino says. “People are coming in to talk, and neighbors are getting to know each other, which bodes well for what we’re trying to do. Our motivation is promotion of downtown and promoting each other’s business. We want to have fun together, too.”

They’re getting support from all quarters, from the chamber to Miami Shores Village Hall.

“There are lots of things the village has done to set the table, and it’s taken a lot of faith,” says Miami Shores Mayor Mac Glinn. “The word has gotten out about us modernizing ordinances for the sale of liquor and wine and beer. It’s going to take the courage of entrepreneurs like Kim and Andy to take the leap. There are still a lot of hurdles to open a restaurant downtown.”

For Flower and Wagner, it has taken resolve, grit, and clear vision. Not only is it their first time at this, it’s also the village’s.

Wagner and Flower got a flat No when mentioning a wine bar in 2014, and Wagner considered opening a sandwich place instead. That started to shift over the next year, with village elections and the decision to install sewers for businesses along NE 2nd Avenue.

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In 2015, Miami Shores Councilman Steve Zelkowitz, a zoning lawyer and managing shareholder of the Miami office of law firm GrayRobinson, resolved to turn the couple’s dream into a permitted use, and embraced their cause. The village now permits sales of spirits in full-service restaurants and sales of craft, but not mass-market beer, and of course wine. Live music is still not permitted.

The couple also discovered that getting things done takes more than a village. NE 2nd Avenue is a county thoroughfare, and outdoor seating on county-owned sidewalks can be problematic. The real sewer hookup is not with the village, but with the county Water and Sewer Authority and the Department of Environmental Resources Management.

Then there’s patience. Construction started in October with an opening scheduled for December, then January, and finally July, once the sewer line was properly connected.

And, of course, there’s money. County impact fees can run $45,000 or more, though Flower and Wagner got a welcome break on this because of parking in the back of the lounge. While Flower and Wagner are reluctant to disclose the cost of opening their business, they say that anyone trying anything similar should expect to spend somewhere in the low six figures and should budget 30 percent more than planned. They also found that grant applications generally require two years of operating experience.

“This is our life savings,” Flower says.

“These are our children,” adds Wagner, gesturing to the wine and the menu.

Both are digging in with passion, good humor, adaptability, creative cost-cutting, and attention to detail. The floor gleams like amber but is simply slab concrete, epoxy, and polish. Look up, and you’ll see holes every three inches in the black fabric air-conditioning ducts to even out circulation and minimize drip.

Ah, but the wine.

“There’s a whole world of wines people don’t know,” Wagner says. “Our most popular wines this week include Pinot Noir from Oregon, and Albariño from Spain, and a surprising blend from Macedonia. It may not be on the wine map, but people have been making wine there for 2000 years.”

Then, too, there’s sustainability.

Says Flower: “We’re proud to offer Salt Water Brewery out of Delray, founded by fishermen. They developed a six-pack ring that’s actually fish food. We went right up to the brewery and tasted their beer. They’re on tap and in cans from us.”

If local, sustainable, and unique -- with just a touch of the offbeat -- seems quaint or singular, Freddie Kaufmann says it is commercially necessary. Kaufmann opened Proper Sausages at 9722 NE 2nd Ave. in 2013, which supplies customers, restaurants, and events with top-quality meats and sandwiches.

“That’s the rule for a food retail business in a neighborhood like this to survive,” Kaufmann says. “You cannot compete with the big-box stores, the Publixes, the Total Wines.”

Todd Leoni, a major Upper Eastside landlord who also lives a block from downtown Shores, is experimenting with art galleries and food courts. Leoni owns the PizzaFiore building on the south side of 96th Street and the two-story, blocklong building just to its north, which he has dubbed Palazzo Leoni.

“Right now, the idea is to see if we’re getting people interested in the food court,” Leoni says. “We’re doing artist spaces. There’s an overflow of artists from the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood who got thrown out, and we’re trying to establish a suitable space for them.”

Just off the main drag at 211 NE 95th St., Ineabelle Soto and her husband, Anderson Martinez, launched Artsy Hive in June 2017, where people of all ages flex their art muscles to make ceramic creations.

“At this location, it can be a challenge to bring people in,” says Soto, just before the 3:00 p.m. rush of parents and kids getting out of summer school. “We get our best results through Instagram and Facebook. We thought it was going to be mostly kids, but we’re finding there’s a need for young adults and seniors to make what works for them. We always tell folks: ‘Take a break from electronics.’ And then you post your creation.”

Sarah Vahan and her sister, Hillary Reyes, bring a similar sense of mission to their plant shop, Pebble and Vine, at 216 NE 98th St. They opened the business in November 2017, with a passion to educate people about the health-giving benefits of indoor plants.

“It’s our goal to make this a vibrant and beautiful and bustling downtown,” says Vahan. “Things are changing, and in three years, I don’t think you’d recognize downtown. All the shops will be full.”

 

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