BY JARED TEMPLETON
“I’m just f#*$ing fed up with everything going on. It’s becoming more trouble than it’s worth. You see that sweet ass minivan out there? Its an ‘01 Sienna. I can’t afford a new car. You know why? I own Cool Cats.” – Cliff Bernard, Bar Owner & Local Startender.
If you don’t know Cliff Bernard or you don’t know Cool Cats Lounge, well shame on you, you’re missing out. Cliff’s hole-in-the-wall bar sits nestled in The Village Exchange, a tiny cluster of shops right off Palmetto Bay Road, and is one of the first you’ll run into as you make your way over the Cross Island towards the south end. This true locals joint caters to islanders trying to escape the carnival and shoot the shit over a cold one.
I sat down with Cliff and spoke with him about his establishment. “This is what they say about the bar business. I’ve been in it for a long time. If you can stay open for a year, you can stay open for 5. If you can stay open for 5, sell it!” Cliff told me this as he was working one of his other jobs, the one that he is known best for, bartending at Tiki Hut.
Cool Cats opened its doors almost 5 years ago. When it came on to the scene it was an instant success, especially amongst the food and beverage crowd. The bar had live music a few times week that featured a number of local acts, and was also booking nationally touring acts like Morning Fatty and the Bastard Suns. On nights without live music, patrons could play songs on the Jukebox, which was free on Saturday nights.
But the warm, friendly vibe that once welcomed customers gradually transformed into one that was darker and seedier. This transition scared off a lot of regulars, who are the bread and butter for smaller local spots like Cool Cats, and replaced them with a rowdier, late night crowd.
The rowdiness eventually reached a fever pitch in November 2016 when an argument involving two men resulted in a shooting in the back alley of the bar. As a result, Cool Cats was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the shooting victim. “It’s like, if that drug-dealer that got shot can sue me, I want to sue the other drug-dealer who pulled out the gun for being a bad shot. It ain’t my problem. If you’re selling dope, you might get shot. End of story. But apparently it’s my fault ‘cause I own a bar. I don’t know. I don’t make the laws, I just go to jail if I break ‘em” Cliff said.
Although the suit was subsequently dismissed on March 6, 2018 at the voluntary request of the plaintiff, it has cost the late night lounge, Cliff, and his co-owners much financial and emotional hardship over the last 16 months. For now, Cool Cats’ doors are open and this reporter will still be stopping in for a beer and to shoot the shit with Cliff. But as they say, when it rains, it pours. Follow swampfirerecords.com and look out for the summer issue of The Southender for the second chapter of the Cool Cats saga.