Thursday, October 04, 2012

The way we were...South Beach's 'Bucket of Blood' closes - 1986

Tommy's Deck Bar, 627 Fifth St. (1980)
Photograph by Walter Smalling via the Library of Congress.

September, 1986: Tommy's Deck Bar, South Beach's "most dangerous bar," closes.


Sunday, September 21, 1986
by IRENE LACHER, Herald Staff Writer

Tommy's Deck Bar, a draw for drug dealers and prostitutes that was once dubbed "the neighborhood bucket of blood" by its owner, was due to close at dawn today.

Bernie Toll, who owns the controversial bar, at 627 Fifth St., said he decided to shut it down because police were preparing to have his liquor license pulled.

"Rather than have them go through all this unnecessary, embarrassing type of legal actions, I felt that it was in the best interest of the neighborhood and my best interest to walk out clean."

Police have answered 168 calls at Tommy's this year alone. Complaints from neighbors prompted undercover officers to compile evidence of drug deals there, police say. And when Patrol Maj. Jack Mackie and Mayor Alex Daoud inspected the bar on Thursday, Daoud called Toll, who promptly announced he would close the bar .

"Basically the biggest problem was drug dealing," Mackie said. "That was the straw that broke the camel's back."

"It's long overdue," Daoud said. "That place has been an absolute cesspool for crime and criminal activity. I'm hoping we'll start closing down a lot more of these bars ."

On Friday afternoon, a handful of regulars drank at the faded Art Deco bar whose walls were designed to resemble a luxurious cruise ship. An owner who boxed at Madison Square Garden lent his name to the nearly 50-year-old bar , which once played host to such lights as Jimmy Durante and Dean Martin.

Customers idling over beers said they'd miss Tommy's, which evolved into one of the most dangerous bars in town.

"The bums will be depressed," said Diane Donlon. "I'm depressed myself. The poor misfits, where are they going to go?"

But even Tommy's biggest boosters acknowledged that the place turned into a nest for hookers and drug dealers at night.

"You wouldn't want to tangle with the people who come in here at night," Donlon said. "Real scumbags."

Said Toll: "I bought it because redevelopment was going through and I wanted to own a bar down in redevelopment. And then redevelopment went into the toilet and slowly my bar became the toilet. If I cleaned out my bar I would have no customers."

Despite it all, Toll waxed nostalgic about the bar he bought nine years ago.

"Years ago I had some pretty nice skid row characters there who were very pleasant. I shouldn't say skid row. Damon Runyon- type characters. It was fun, the bragging and lying that went on because every customer was either an ex-ballplayer or an entrepreneur or a corporate executive.

"But, in actual fact, they were all working stiffs who used to fantasize. I used to chuckle to myself that they were really nice people. They either died or moved on."

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