Pour Us Another One: Hotel Lounge Bars Redefining Cocktail Culture

By | January 01, 2015
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Tea Cocktails from Circa 39's WunderBar
TEA COCKTAILS: Spicy specialties at the new WunderBar at Circa 39. Photo from Circa 39.

Much like in the past, hotel lounge bars redefine the cocktail culture in South Florida.

History repeats itself. This adage usually carries negative connotations. But in this case, we raise our spirited glass and welcome the past with open arms. Consider this column your tippling curriculum as we immerse ourselves in the rapidly growing culture of craft cocktails.

There’s been a shift in how we become pickled, trading our vodka Red Bulls for carefully constructed libations that call for freshly squeezed juices, infused syrups, bitters, hand-plucked herbs, European fortified wines and liqueurs, even spices. But no wheel is reinvented. The fancy infusions can be traced back to the birth of the hotel lounge bar in the late 1800s and early 19th century pre-Prohibition era. Which is why, even though we may not be the gastronomical trailblazers of the country, we’ve adjusted seamlessly.

South Florida was considered trifling wilderness before founding father Henry Flagler took it upon himself to turn the state into the new American Riviera. By building the Florida East Coast Railroad, and expanding it to Key West in 1905, he allowed northerners to flock to our small farming towns to enjoy the warmer climates.

Soon South Florida came to be known as the ultimate vacation and party destination of the United States. It didn’t hurt that our authorities were on the lax side of regulating prohibition and gambling, and it was during this time that the city of Miami came to be known by its moniker, The Magic City. Rumrunners made it their main outpost, and soon day flights to Cuba promoting mojito-filled nights in paradise became a partying must.


One of the longest operating hotel lounge bars is found in the remaining structure of Flagler’s notorious historic Royal Poinciana Hotel, The Breakers in Palm Beach. It’s the perfect setting for the HMF (his initials) lounge – formerly the Florentine Room – where Hollywood elites and socialites rejoiced in glamour and high-spirited parties of its heyday. Today, the revamped cocktail menu offers a selection of seven perfectly crafted classics that pay homage to hotel’s glitzier days.

Unlike regular bars, the hotel lounge caters to a different kind of crowd with transient solitary faces, dim light and soft music. It’s the kind of place where you goes to be alone with your thoughts and find inspiration in people watching. Before the craft cocktail boom, classicists would seek refuge at the Biltmore Bar, inside the Coral Gables National Historic Landmark hotel.

We cannot tell the tale of the cocktail renaissance without mentioning the role of the Delano. During most of the day, the Rose Bar is still the standard for hotel cocktail lounges, but at night it can garner South Beach vibes. Our story happens below deck at Lenny Kravitz’ swanky Florida Room (now FRD). It’s technically not a lounge bar, but it set the stage for the movement. Hailing from New York City, John Lermayer began concocting one of the most important menus in town, as well as training a legacy.


When the Florida Room closed, Lermayer teamed up with Cuban import, cantinero-trained Julio Cabrera, and united two of the town’s most influential tippling cultures with The Regent Cocktail Club, making it the No. 1 spot for craft cocktails. The Gale South Beach lounge sets a cool and classic scene, aided by a nightly rotating menu of five cocktails celebrating a different part of the world. This led the way for an array of hotels on Collins to up the ante and curate bar menus with precision and dedication, headed by leading names in the industry, including dedicated barman Chad Phillips behind the brightly lit, emerald-tiled lounge bar, The Social Club at The Surfcomber. The menu here is as bright and citrusy as its décor.

Another revamped and somewhat overlooked classic is The Martini Bar at The Raleigh, where you’ll find the classic namesake poured in different variations during the monthly jazz nights. And we can’t take this ride without paying a visit to GQ & Bombay Sapphire Miami’s Most Imaginative Bartender of the Year 2014, Philip Khandehrish at The Setai. The Iranian-influenced spiced infused drinks served here are befitting of this oasis. Ask him to make you the cocktail that granted him his title: The Alluring Gem, which uses a shrub made with juniper, coriander and angelica, and a lavender-infused Martini Bianco to enhance the botanicals of the famous gin.

Speaking of botanicals, Albert Trummer’s imagination takes you through a whimsical ride, mixing elixirs and “medicinal” concoctions infused with herbs, flowers and spices at The Shelborne’s recently opened The Drawing Room. Categories include “Stress Relievers,” “Pain Killers,” “Aphrodisiacs,” “Stimulants” and “Pharmaceuticals.”

Tea cocktails at WunderBar
Photo from WunderBar

More highlights: MO Bar + Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental in Brickell Key raises the bar inland with one of the best Ramos Gin Fizzes in town. And we’re thrilled about Cricket Nelson’s comeback, running the bar at the recently refurbished Circa 39. WunderBar has welcoming bright palettes and Key West-style pool, shaded by greens, with a focus on rum. It can only be topped with Nelson’s specialty: tea cocktails, served in kettles with Moroccan-inspired designed pots and cups.

Your homework: stop by any of these locales on your way from work, and begin your journey into the spirited world of craft cocktails.

{ Cocktail Calendar }

Jan. 31 Craft: Spirits & Beer Public Tasting

Mar. 2-7 MiamiWhisk(e)y Mash

April 17-19 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Article from Edible South Florida at http://ediblesouthflorida.ediblecommunities.com/drink/hotel-lounge-bars-redefine-cocktail-culture
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