Raising the Bar
As we settle into a beautiful breakfast with Mauricio Lacayo in the heart of Santiago de Cuba at the Hotel Casa Granda, it dawns on us: there’s no better place, no better time and no better person to talk bars than right here and right now. Over medianoches and café con leche we learn his story.
Though raised in Miami Lakes, “Mo,” as he’s known in the industry, originally hails from Nicaragua, his father’s home country. En la Isla, however, it’s his mother’s Cuban heritage he identifies with. That and his hometown of Miami, where he attended Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High and studied architecture at Florida International University.
A lucky encounter got the emerging designer pegged to build the famed Living Room, the most revered nightclub in the heyday of the Miami Beach’s nightlife scene. One project led to multiple contracts with Liquid, Crobar (in Miami Beach, New York City and Chicago), Shadow Lounge and, most recently, Tootsie’s and E11even. Mo’s know-how of nightclub and bar design has made him a go-to when an investor or operator wants something special: the element of surprise. While Mo doesn’t shy away from high-octane venues and large-scale projects, his passion lies elsewhere. “I love the adventure of finding unexpected and extraordinary locations to create bars that preserve and push forward cocktail culture,” he says.
One such place, Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Co. in Miami Beach, just so happened to be named Best New American Bar at the country’s most prestigious cocktail convention, Tales of the Cocktail 2016, and Spirited Miami’s Bar of the Year. In collaboration with Purdy mastermind Dan Binkiewicz and bar legend John Lermayer, Mo had a heavy hand in the blueprint for this Miami Beach gem for locals, tourists and industry alike. His vision goes beyond aesthetics and deep into the intricacies of guest interactions.
Lighting is his biggest obsession and something he’s mastered after years of experience. It’s the “one thing that goes unnoticed, but that can alter the entire customer experience,” Mo says. Lighting is always progressing and changing throughout the evening. For patrons, it has to be perfectly moody – too dark, they go home early; too bright and it’s obnoxious.
To balance his love for bars and the cocktail life, Mo has decided to go even deeper down the watering hole. He’s become a partner in some of the bars he architects, namely what he considers to be his baby, The Bend. Nestled in Miami Lakes where he grew up, the neighborhood bar had fallen victim to illegal drugs and gambling and was eventually shut down by local police. “This was our local watering hole,” he says. “We had to do something.” He and his business partner, Landy Lamas, bought the dual-use property (one part bar, one part liquor store). Preserving what they deemed important to the community, they kept the property intact, only mixing things up with craft cocktails and a retro vibe. Today, The Bend Liquor Lounge is popular with locals because of the proper potables and unpretentious feel. Sam Weiner, head bartender, leads the beverage menu made up of fresh ingredients, infusions and in-house edible garnishes.
To put the dual property to good use, Mo and Landy conceptualized a vintage drinking den aptly dubbed The Flip Side opening in a few months. Here, patrons can fill their growlers with beers brewed in the 305 and lose track of time over cocktails and the 1950s maps adorning the walls. Even every piece of furniture is antique and from Miami. The best part? He’s only getting started. “Wait till you see what I am working on next,” he says, unable to disclose any more at this moment – before taking a sip of his café con leche. “Is it time for a daiquiri yet?”