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Uncle Sam's Musicafe Miami

Updated on July 3, 2011
Photo by Steven Kupinski -
Photo by Steven Kupinski -

Uncle Sam's Musicafé, the Coolest South Beach Landmark

A magnet for the truly hip, Uncle Sam’s Musicafé in Miami’s South Beach brings me back to my flower child roots. It’s like going home to a place of incense and peppermints. But, paradoxically, it’s also a place that represents the futuristic present. There are in-house disc jockeys all the time, and visiting DJs spin vinyl on Thursdays. Venerable London DJ John Digweed would be impressed with the collection of import vinyls. You’ll see an august collection of Scarface posters and room-divider,subway-size import posters; wallfulls of vintage lunchboxes; listening stations at every turn; and new and used CDs. And, in addition to all of that, it is THE place in South Beach to find out what’s going on.

I spend hours flipping through magazines— a huge collection of Euro and American music publications. I could purchase one of 80 varieties of incense, makeup with names such as “Bad Girl,” jewelry for every body part, Wacky Wobblers, Bosley Bobblers, Head Knockers, Osborne key chains, black lights, glowsticks, or Mini Mouth Glowsticks. (Do I have a mini mouth? What is a mini mouth?!)

Uncle Sam’s first opened 12 years ago as a restaurant, nightclub, and music store. Marilyn Manson performed early on. (You could still buy a hotel on Ocean Drive for $100G back then.)

I walk in like it’s the first time. Smells nice! I start slinking around. Rows and rows of Hip Hop. Rap. Electronica.Lounge. Dance. Trance. World Beat. Jazz. Classic rock. Mp3. Punk. The vinyls make me feel 19 years old again. Jelly candles! Fashion- page laminated totes.

Today I’m standing at the far corner of the counter with in-house House guru and DJ, Gordon, and proprietor and founder, Donald Vernon. I learn that Uncle Sam’s is part of a coalition of independent record stores around the country. “Record labels work with us,” Gordon says. This is the largest indie record store in Miami and the first to sell used CDs.

Gordon tells me that Uncle Sam’s carries an outrageous selection of whatever is hot and new. I ask how they stay ahead of the curve. Donald replies, “I just get the best people in different genres of music, like Gordon.I don’t know anything about music.” Self-effacement can be charming.

I feel so naive when I ask the store’s manager, Lisa, how the name came about. I’m in awe. How does anybody manage so much stuff?! She tells me that Don originally had planned to paint the store red, white, and blue (still the predominant decor). No one could have imagined how relevant the color scheme would become.


Estrella Eguino, a marketing executive who grew up in Miami, drops in often “to relive the sixties and to keep up with what’s happening and cool,” as well as to purchase bribes and rewards for her three teenagers. Sébastien Pannetier, 21, makes several pilgrimages a year from La Rochelle, France, “in search of the newest and coolest 12-inch vinyls.” I learn that vinyls account for about one-fourth of total sales. Sounds like a leitmotif.

Photo by Steven Kupinski -
Photo by Steven Kupinski -

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