Everything's Coming up Cocktails

By Jennifer M. Wood | October 15, 2013
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Craft cocktails at the Living Room Bar, South Florida
Living Room Bar. Photo: Andres Aravena

If you surveyed South Florida's cocktail scene simply by taking a stroll down Ocean Drive, you might believe that it's overrun with oversized margarita glasses stuffed with two bottles of Corona. But Miami's growing legion of master mixologists are helping to elevate the region's growing reputation as a culinary cocktail hotspot.

The Cafeina Effect

Among the city's most exciting drink lists are the inventive concoctions that Cafeina Wynwood Lounge has been mixing up since opening its doors in 2009. The hybrid bar/restaurant/performance space/art gallery promises its cocktails – including the signature Turron Elixir, a mix of espresso beans and Disaronno Amaretto – are "made with love."

On South Beach, Cafeina's former bartender Peter Edan is cooking up a menu of well-balanced libations to complement an organic menu of small plates at Mister Wolfe, a pop-up bar occupying BONDST's former space in the Townhouse hotel. Tipplers will find a solid mix of fermented foundations, including the Jack Daniels Honey Bunny (with fresh blackberries and locally sourced honey) and the Wolfe Bite (made with aged rum, fresh mango, passion fruit and jalapeño).

Keeping It Local

The outside world may want to believe that an ice-cold caipirinha is the key to drinking like a local, but the truth hits closer to home. South Florida's subtropical climate means that there's fresh fruit to be blended, muddled and experimented with all year long – a fact Albert Trummer has come to appreciate since opening Drogerie in South Beach's Albion Hotel in June.

"It's similar to Los Angeles, where you can get a lot of fruits and vegetables the whole year round," Trummer says of his penchant for using only the freshest ingredients at his apothecary-themed bar. Here he utilizes his culinary background and medicinal knowledge to create a menu of handcrafted elixirs, such as Opium Essence or House Botanicals, to cure whatever ails you. Among the menu's fermented prescriptions are stress relievers – gin and tonic with herbal bitters, herbs and cucumber – and painkillers – a margarita with fresh lime and agave nectar flambéed with Saigon cinnamon, served with a Himalayan salt rim. "I'm creating my recipes based on the fantastic herbs that I'm getting here in Miami and creating everything fresh," says the Austria-born Trummer, who's worked with fine dining superstars like Daniel Boulud. "I get fresh dragonfruit all the time [and] fresh sugar cane. So things that I didn't have in New York, I have here year-round, which makes my life a little easier."

Pop-Ups Go Permanent

Following on the heels of The Broken Shaker, a James Beard Award nominated pop-up bar that turned permanent at the Freehand hostel, Radio Bar – SoFi's first pop-up, which can be easily identified by its 600-foot radio tower – became a permanent fixture in April, when Menin Hotels took over the space.

"Local, eclectic and uninhibited," is how lead bartender Teddy Collins describes Radio Bar, but we'd add "welcoming" to that list. With its life-size Jenga, pool table, popcorn machine and a snack bar menu that includes hot dogs and nachos, the venue is intentionally understated. But its cocktails – all handcrafted – are decidedly sophisticated. "We offer specialty cocktails featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients, housemade syrups and unique pairings," says Collins, who cites the Commander (tequila, orange, chili, lime and Mandarine Napoléon) and Miami Sunshine (vodka, lemon, fresh mint and black tea ice cubes) as two customer favorites. "They are simple in the number of ingredients but complex in flavor by the treatment of each ingredient. We like to respect and maintain the tradition of craft cocktails – taste, balance and presentation are key."

Craft Cocktails A-Changin'

Food & Wine may have named the Living Room one of the "50 Best Bars in America," but that doesn't mean its proprietors are resting on their laurels. In late September, the lounge changed up its menu – as it does every season – finding inspiration in the herbs, essential oils, edible flowers and organic produce it sources from Verde Gardens in Homestead.

The Living Room also introduced Barmen Features, signature drinks created by the venue's international team of cocktail designers, such as JC Caballero's Rambler, a mix of aged rum, muddled blueberries, fresh basil, lemon and plum bitters. "We really wanted to highlight the talents and cultural diversity of our creative barmen," says Jarred Grant, director of beverage and nightlife at KNR Hospitality Group, which operates Living Room. "Each comes from a different part of the world and [brings] a unique style and cultural influence to their cocktails."

Everything Old Is New Again

Michelle Bernstein may be a pioneer of the Miami dining scene, having opened Michy's on the then-ungentrified Upper East Side in 2006, but her cocktail program – launched in August – is entirely new.

"We have always thought about moving Michy's to another location and at that time getting a full liquor license," explains general manager Nick Paton of the restaurant's late arrival to the cocktail party. "But we really like the neighborhood and how it has evolved over the years, so we decided: why leave now?"

Designed with the help of The Regent Cocktail Club's Julio Cabrera, who created Bernstein's cocktail menu at the now-shuttered Sra. Martinez, "Our concept was to make really good classic martinis and cocktails, in some cases with a personalized Michy's twist," says Paton. His favorite? The Flame of Love, a mix of vodka and dry sherry poured into a sherry-coated martini glass, which pays tribute to The Rat Pack's beverage of choice. "Like our wine program, our spirits are focused on small production, handcrafted companies," says Paton.

We'll drink to that!

where to drink

The Broken Shaker
Freehand Miami
2727 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach

Cafeina Wynwood Lounge
297 NW 23 St., Miami

Drogerie Miami
Albion Hotel
1650 James Ave., Miami Beach

Living Room Bar
W South Beach
2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach

6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Mister Wolfe Townhouse
150 20th St., Miami Beach

Radio Bar
814 1st St., Miami Beach

Article from Edible South Florida at http://ediblesouthflorida.ediblecommunities.com/drink/south-floridas-craft-cocktail-scene
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