Farewell, My Lovely Nite Cap Lounge Print
Written by Anne K. Swanson, Special to the BT   
November 2017

The last days of a friendly North Miami Beach institution

BNiteCap_1y looks alone, the Nite Cap Lounge wasn’t necessarily an inviting stop. Housed in a squarish low yellow building with no windows to speak of onto the street or parking lot, it was easy to miss in the mostly industrial neighborhood on W. Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach.

Inside, it was actually a bit brighter than expected, and more welcoming. Folks greeted you when you walked in. In fact, it wouldn’t take a person long to get the idea that this was a place where you could stop in for a drink and before you knew it, hours had passed and you’d made new friends.

On a visit in mid-summer, regulars were chatting and bickering by the bar as they watched American Gladiator with Kelly, the blond bartender and manager. Kelly’s also a caretaker of her good friend Cookie, the Nite Cap’s owner.

One addition to the bar in July: a sign announcing Cookie’s imminent retirement and a celebratory bash set for mid-August. The bar was up for sale, too, and would close if no buyer was found.

Elizabeth McAlpine is Cookie, after her maiden name, Cook. She and her husband bought the Nite Cap 25 years ago, and for all that time it remained a true neighborhood bar. The décor included sports memorabilia, Colonial-themed wood paneling, electric beer logos, and a jukebox that blasted ’80s and ’90s rock, especially if Kelly’s boyfriend, Manny, was choosing the songs. Decades of cigarette smoke seemed to hang in the air. Drinks were cheap, the banter easy.

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Cookie, who’s in her late 70s, says that she and her first husband, Dale McAlpine, moved to Miami from Detroit in 1969. Dale came for a job at City Gas and set up their new house while Cookie, who was then 30, followed a few months later. “It was move or get a divorce,” she recalls wryly. She still lives in that house, although she notes it’s much improved.

Miami was a big change for Cookie, who’d never lived far from her large family. She eventually bought a dry-cleaning pickup and delivery service with a friend, and says she cornered the Williams Island market for years.

Dale and Cookie lived near the Nite Cap and soon enough became regular patrons. When they had a chance to buy the bar, they did, on August 12, 1992, and became barkeeps.

In the years after, she says, the bar hosted beach parties, trucking in sand to the parking lot, bringing in live music, and surrounding the building with tiki huts for the day. She and Dale lined the bar’s walls with photos of those raucous parties, and of their regulars. They posted photo memorials to lost friends and dogs, and even to boats. Customers wrote messages and drew pictures on the ceiling tiles.

The Nite Cap had a reputation as a safe bar. A shooting took place there a few years ago, but according to the regulars, the guy got what he deserved and still survived.

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Dale’s health started to fail in 1998, says Cookie, and as he lay in the hospital, he told his friend Robert “Splash” Sidel to look out for her. Eventually, she and Splash started dating. As Cookie tells it, she didn’t know he was married. And Splash’s wife? She wasn’t so pleased either.

When Cookie asked Splash why he didn’t tell her he was married, he replied, “You never asked.” Cookie smiles at that. “He was a smartass,” she says.

One night, she recalls, Splash’s wife followed them to the bar. Splash told Cookie to go on inside, he’d handle things. “He didn’t handle it,” she says.

Splash’s wife followed her into the bar and insisted they talk. We’ll talk outside, said Cookie, saying she didn’t want to disturb her patrons with their private business. Cookie walked the woman to the front door, opened it for her, and, once she was outside, promptly locked it with a curt wave goodbye. Splash and his wife divorced in 2006, and he married Cookie in 2007. Splash died five years later, in 2012.

It wasn’t too much after Splash was gone that a friend put Cookie in touch with Kelly Masalonis. Kelly had been managing the old open-air Pelican restaurant on the pier in Sunny Isles for years, but it was closing and on top of that, her landlord was selling her apartment. If she couldn’t find work or a place to stay, she’d have to move back to New York.

NiteCap_4Cookie had extra room and a tendency to take care of people. Kelly was just going to stay with Cookie until she found a place, but that was over five years ago. A few months after the move, Cookie gave Kelly’s boyfriend, Manny, keys to the house, and the three have formed a quirky, devoted family.

Cookie says she tried to sell the bar, but each inquiry fizzled. The closing celebrations did not. In fact, the parties started weeks before the bar closed. A stage was set up in the parking lot, with rock bands playing late into the night.

The last Sunday before closing, Kelly and Cookie hosted an auction of the items that had covered the walls for years. As the afternoon faded into night, the walls became increasingly bare. Elaine, a longtime bartender, wept in a corner as it hit her that the Nite Cap was no more. As each item disappeared off the wall, it felt like she was losing more than a job, she said.

But the regulars seemed to take pleasure in their mementos of the Nite Cap. The framed American flag that had looked over the pool table for years would go to the American Legion a couple of blocks away. The Legion was already planning on increasing its hours, someone said, to pick up a little of the Nite Cap’s business.

Cookie knows she’ll miss her friends from the lounge. “At the bigger bars, you’re just a customer. Here you’re a person and then you become a friend. That’s the way it has always been.”

 

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