BEST BARTENDER Miami 2002 - Maria Lara - The Roof Top Lounge
It would have been easy to go to South Beach or the Grove with this category, two areas filthy with gin joints and beer halls, all staffed by popular, and always busy, pourers and shakers. But because those who sit and wait also serve, we've decided instead to acknowledge the grunts, those bartenders who are the backbone of South Florida's -- and America's -- saloon industry. Bartenders like Maria Lara, who, day after day, flicks the lights on at the Roof Top Lounge, an eighth-floor hotel bar with a spectacular wraparound view of the Miami and Miami Beach skylines, a pretty little island bar in the middle of the room, and empty chairs. Lots and lots of empty chairs. It's not Maria's fault. The Howard Johnson Hotel in which the bar is located just isn't the kind of place people off the street wander into. Guests are mostly families on vacation or conventioneers with busy schedules. Get the picture? Not exactly the New York City subway at rush hour. But Maria opens the doors most every day at 3:00 p.m. and leaves them open till about 11:00 p.m., later if anybody has a hankering to keep drinking or talking. She mixes a mean Manhattan and, if you ask real nice, she might even let you pop a cassette from your pocket into the house stereo. So to her and to all others like her, we say: Thanks for always leaving a light on.