Mango’s Tropical Cafe in Miami Beach Celebrates 30th Anniversary
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You will know when you see it – or even hear it. From the parrots sitting on the shoulders of tourists at the entrance, to the colorfully decked bar-top dancers, to the lively murals and the booming reggaeton beats, everyone who has visited South Beach has at least walked past Mango’s Tropical Cafe .
Mango’s is famous for its exotic tropical atmosphere, extravagant dinner shows and lively salsa classes. It reopened last week after a year-long shutdown due to COVID-19 and is resuming its daily dance shows of Cuban conga, Brazilian samba, and other Latin-inspired numbers.
Coincidentally, Mango’s is also celebrating a significant milestone this spring: its 30th anniversary.
Few remember that Mango’s owner David Wallack originally opened the Eastern Sun, a holistic adult facility and hospice that is now the nightclub.
Wallack’s parents, Irving and Florence Wallack, owned the Park Sea and Surf Sea Hotels at 900 Ocean Dr. Born in 1948, he grew up in the inexpensive accommodations with folded towels for guests – a mixture of road travelers, Cuban families on summer break, and wintering snowbirds.
But he had no intention of taking over the family business. After graduating from the University of South Florida twice and then moving into real estate, he earned a degree in political science from the University of Miami and moved to UM law school. An employee of a law firm conducted an inspection of the residential facilities of the adult community. It gave him an idea: the hotel business wasn’t that hot any more – what if he could lead assisted living on his parents’ property? The timing was great – his father was ready to retire anyway, and his parents gave him their blessings.
“I started studying death and dying in 2016,” Wallack told New Times’ Jessica Lipscomb in 2016. “I’ve been really into Eastern philosophy and holistic health, so we created the Eastern Sun, the first holistic health facility for the elderly.”
At a time when the strip was largely abandoned, its facility was full and making a profit. “I thought this was really my whole life,” said Wallack.
But all around him, the pastel paradise in South Beach began to crumble when the drug trade moved in and the Mariel boat lift, filled with Fidel Castro’s offshoots, sometimes literally landed on its shores. Eastern Sun residents were so panicked after a break-in that Wallack agreed to install a gate in the front of the building that still exists today.
“I actually cried when the gates opened,” Wallack told Lipscomb. “There was shooting in the street. The police drove in convoys of four cars. The police did not go alone. Those days were the days of darkness. ”
However, in the late 1980s, the figurative sun reappeared.
New York developer Tony Goldman came to town and began buying up abandoned properties. Thanks to the tireless work of conservationist Barbara Capitman, the Art Deco district had found a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and the city had expanded the sidewalks and turned the area into a mixed-use entertainment district.
Inspired by the success of Goldman and the developer’s friend and business partner Mark Soyka, who opened the News Cafe in 1988, Wallack changed gear again.
He had got used to taking long morning swims right on the beach. Sometime around 1990, in the middle of one of those swimming attempts, he had a revelation.
“I was on my way south and swam, swam, swam when I thought ‘Mango’s Tropical Cafe’,” he told Lipscomb. He envisioned a bar like the one he’d seen in Negril, Jamaica, with live music and a vibe that welcomed everyone – something that wasn’t too “chichi”.
A churrasco steak at Mango.
Photo courtesy of Mango’s Tropical Cafe
“All of a sudden, these great minds and artists had come to Miami Beach,” Wallack says today. “Soon it was the opening of this club or restaurant that went out of business as quickly as they went in. I would go to everyone while listening to Mark and Tony and their dreams for Ocean Drive. I was surrounded by extraordinary artists, people who helped shape Ocean Drive and wanted to create something new and different. ”
Friends and family told him he was crazy about starting a new business – especially out of the volatile market of the 1980s – but he wasn’t dissuaded.
“At the time, I was becoming remarkable in my field, but the idea kept coming back to me,” says Wallack. “Something was gnawing at me artistically. At that point, I was really thinking about doing a commercial upgrade to my building. ”
Wallack moved the hospice to another location and reconfigured the eastern sun into a commercial area with four storefronts, several office spaces above and an open terrace in the middle – the room in which he opened Mangos on March 30, 1991.
The club had stayed true to Wallack’s original vision: a humble Caribbean café with Latin American cuisine and a bar where live bands played rock and reggae. The establishment gained worldwide fame when Cuban musician Miguel Cruz began drawing crowds with his Afro-Latin American jazz. Shortly thereafter, a photo of three bartenders dressed in leopard print spandex dancing to Cruz’s drums on the bar became the icon of South Beach – establishing Mango’s as one of the world’s most telegenic nightclubs of the decade.
While most guests continue to visit Mango’s to dance, many also come to eat and drink. Floribian-style Latin American cuisine is a mix of Caribbean and Mexican dishes, as well as classic American staples. Mango’s is famous for its plate-sized dishes, including a churrasco steak with garlic chimichurri sauce, served over white rice with black beans and sweet plantains. and Chicken al Ajillo, sautéed chicken breast in garlic, white wine and lemon sauce, served with spiced yellow rice, black beans and sweet plantains.
To commemorate the restaurant’s reopening, Mango’s has added several new products including a “Bistro Stacked Burger”, a towering creation that can be ordered as a single, double or triple order and with cheddar cheese, crispy onion strings and Pork belly toppings are bacon and bourbon barbecue sauce ($ 17 to $ 38). Other options include seared southern chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, and a side of coleslaw ($ 19) and seafood paella for two ($ 62).
Perhaps best known are mango oversized tropical-themed cocktails served in souvenir glasses like a 15-ounce hurricane or mojito. Guests are also encouraged to upgrade each drink on the menu to a “grande” (a 45-ounce drink for an additional $ 25) or an additional $ 15 pony for a 32-ounce jumbo martini.
In addition to riffs on mojitos and daiquiris, Mango’s bartenders have created a range of cocktails over the years. A new addition is the “Bomb-Ba” martini (US $ 19), a combination of raspberry vodka, watermelon liqueur, sweet lemon juice, grenadine and lemon soda, topped with a smoke-filled fog bubble for a theater presentation.
Conclusion Wallack, who expanded Mango’s to open a second location in Orlando in 2015: “We thank our loyal and wonderful guests for their love and support during this challenging time and look forward to seeing you all again for many years to come.”
Mango’s tropical cafe. 900 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; 305-673-4422; mangos.com. Open Wednesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5 a.m., Friday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 a.m.
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who has been reporting on the South Florida food scene for the New Times since 2011. She also enjoys drinking beer and writing about the growing craft beer community in the region.