A battle is brewing between a Miami drink slinger and the pol who wants to keep closing time in Coconut Grove where it is.
"I think it is hypocritical," said John El-Masry, the owner of Mr. Moe's in the heart of the Grove. El-Masry is on a mission and he doesn't mind bending your ear about what he says is an injustice of the highest order.
El-Masry wants his operating hours extended to 5 a.m., which would put his dining and drinking establishment on a level playing field with most of the other late night spots in the City of Miami and surrounding communities.
Ever since the City of Miami slapped a 3 a.m. curfew on bars in the Grove, El-Masry has seen his patrons flee to the downtown entertainment district, the Mary Brickell Village, Midtown, and yes, South Miami.
Another late night club, The Temple, could not compete and is shutdown, its building now for sale.
"I think the Grove has been hurt with a perception issue. The perception is it is not a fun place anymore, it is not a place for young people," El-Masry said. That and the many shuttered store fronts gives the once hip, often imitated Grove a slightly forlorn look.
The 5 a.m. versus the 3 a.m. closing issue is coming to a head. The Grove watering holes used to stay open till 5 until Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff got the closing time pushed back.
"The first two months in office I had a lot of windows in Cocowalk and a lot of windows in Mayfair kicked in," Sarnoff recalled. "We had urine and vomit all over. There was nothing stolen and it was all happening at 5 to 5:30 in the morning."
Now the club owners and landlords are hitting back. "We want the same opportunity as everybody else in Miami," said El-Masry, who claims he is going to "light up" the commission hearing.
Sarnoff worries about the early morning drunks driving through the streets of the Grove, mixing with bikers and pedestrians, during the weekdays kids walking to school. He cites accidents, including Donna Clarit who lost two daughters to a driver that left a Grove Bar just before closing time at 5 a.m.
Sarnoff has statistics that show Grove crime is down about 15 percent since the 3 a.m. curfew started in June of 2008.
What galls El-Masry is that Sarnoff seems to ignore the clubs in downtown and to the north that are all within his district and all stay open until 5 a.m., some even longer into the morning.
"I think it is hypocritical that he is going to carve out a tiny slice of District Two that covers five blocks and that is to curb all the drunk driving in the district," El-Masry fumed.
Sarnoff promises a study of all the clubs and their closing times which ought to send shivers up the backs of some of the trendy Miami club operators. He says that Coconut Grove is unique where the other late-night joints are not located right next to residential areas and schools.
As far as luring the young bar crowd into the Grove being a way to fire up the closed shops and restaurants Sarnoff says it does not compute.
"There is no correlation between how the businesses are doing and having last call at 5 a.m.," Sarnoff said.