People are used to waiting in lines behind velvet ropes to barge into Miami’s hippest bars and clubs. But when the Miami Heat are playing for an NBA title, the trendiest place to be is a fish-themed bar and grill.
Nearly two hours before Game 1 of Thursday night’s finals began, most of the wood paneled booths and bar stools at the Flanigan’s in Kendall were filled with Heat fans, many of them wearing the No. 22 jersey of the team’s star forward Jimmy butler. (The restaurant is one of more than 20 Flanigan’s in South Florida.)
Dozens of other unhappy fans lined up for the entrance even after the hostesses told them they would wait about three hours to get in, longer than the game itself. A father and son ate takeout in the back of their pickup truck while watching the game on one of the restaurant’s TV screens outside, visible from the parking lot.
“The energy and enthusiasm is electric,” says Kelly Connor, 59. Her husband had arrived hours earlier to secure a table for her and their teenage daughter. “It’s the next best thing to being with the game.”
Also in the restaurant every seat had a view of a flat screen TV, some between life size Atlantic blue marlins. All broadcast the game.
But the generous daily specials are also a draw for this restaurant, which Joe (Big Daddy) Flanigan started in 1959 as Big Daddy’s, a chain of liquor stores and lounges. Although he died in 2005, his face still graces the green plastic cups and the restaurant’s signs.
In the 1980s, when the company went bankrupt, it added restaurants to the business, said Abel Sanchez, a local historian. The pivot occurred when interest in sports increased in Miami.
“They’ve been gold ever since,” Mr. Sanchez said.
On Monday, when the Heat won the Eastern Conference Finals, the chain sold more than 50,000 wings.
That’s Erick Morales’ favorite item when he comes here. He recently moved to Atlanta, but since returning to Miami for vacation three weeks ago, he’s been to the restaurant at least eight times, where he and his friends manage to consume about 50 wings. He also chose the restaurant for his high school graduation dinner in 2010.
“This is Miami’s hidden gem,” shouted Mr. Morales, 31, as the crowd cheered as the Heat scored. But the fans’ enthusiasm didn’t stop the Heat from losing to the Denver Nuggets 104-93. As soon as the game was done, the TV channels were changed and the soundtrack switched to salsa music.