The unassuming North Beach sports bar gives little indication that there's live music booming behind its back door. However, walk through it, and you'll stumble upon the courtyard with table tennis and air hockey games at the ready and a vendor selling handmade jewelry, all of which ultimately lead to the venue in the backroom. It's a welcome experience for 19-year-old Julia Illanes, who was attending a live show with music acts ranging from heavy metal to laid-back indie rock.
"I like that it's kind of a walk to get here, and I always like a venue that has an inside and an outside area," Illanes says, "I'm new to this, but I usually go to parties that are similar to this. It's cool that there's a game area where you can release tension, or when you don't want to be listening to a certain band, and you're waiting for another performer, you can just be outside and chill with your friends."
When Tim Wilcox bought Sand Bar + Kitchen in 2017, the room with a medley of skull-shaking speakers and a neon sign reading "Shitter" pointing to the restrooms was just a storage room for the previous bar.
He planned to remodel the storeroom and create a live-music venue to complement the front-facing sports bar. With the hotels across the street, including the Deauville, providing hundreds of potential patrons, the venue should have thrived. After opening in 2018 and a couple of years of momentum, the pandemic battered business. Then, last year, Wilcox watched from outside his restaurant as demolition crews leveled the art deco exterior of the Deauville.
"I don't think you could build a place as nice as this and have so much bad luck in the first four years," Wilcox says.
The Sandbox has played host to all types of entertainment, from burlesque shows to stand-up comedy and open-mic nights. Few events have found consistent scheduling, but with a dwindling number of venues and closures of favorites like Las Rosas and Churchill's Pub, local musicians have tapped into its potential as a live-music venue.
Sebastian Castañeda, guitarist and vocalist for the band Modern Freaks, is surprised it has taken local acts this long to discover the North Beach spot.
"I remember just walking in here for the first time — and there's not a lot of [music venues] in Miami — just seeing this hidden little gem that I'm sure hundreds of people in Miami would love to discover, especially in this underground scene, but hadn't found it yet," Castañeda, says. "Then, recently, I was looking for a venue for my band and thought about this one immediately. After we played that show, this influx of bands started coming and playing here, and I love it."
The sound quality is a point of high praise for musicians passing through. Every corner of the space is equally ear-rattling, partially because of the black-box orientation but also, according to musician Daniel Argota, because of the venue's sound engineer, Sean Gould, who goes by Birdman.
"He's like this older dude, bald, literally looks like a bird, and that's why they call him Birdman, I guess, and his energy was really inviting, and I was chopping it up with him before and after the show. But what I also like about the Sandbox is the acoustics and the treatment in the room," Argota says. "You can really hear what the fuck is going on, and there's no weird boom coming in, there's no bass being collected in a corner, so in terms of the sound system, it's really good."
Coz Canler, the former guitarist for the Romantics who oversees entertainment at the Sandbox, is excited by the spark he sees in the bands he's watched perform at the small Miami Beach venue in the last year. Recently, they've started renting the Sandbox out for band rehearsals.
"If you would have asked me a year ago or so? No, Miami is all just DJs and cover bands — period. But since we started this, it's like, wow, it's awesome, you know. There is that energy, that spirit," Canler says.