Miami Beach's popularity is a double-edged sword for locals and budget-minded travelers who find themselves priced out of tony hotels and expensive bars and restaurants. Lately, however, there's been a renaissance of affordable places that offer good service and products at a reasonable cost. Most, like the Freehand Miami, don't boast spas and gyms but still have high-quality food and beverage options, clean rooms, and the beach a short stroll away.
The AC Hotel Miami Beach opened last week at 2912 Collins Ave. The 150-room hotel by Marriott shares a parent company with the Miami Beach Edition directly across the street, but AC's lack of an ice-skating rink, celebrity-chef-driven restaurants, and direct ocean views brings down the price. However, the hotel brand's flagship property in the States does come with certain amenities, including a gym, breakfast at AC Kitchen, and a great bar.
The property tapped Jennifer Massolo to create a cocktail program for its AC Lounge that would cater to visitors and locals. Massolo, founder of the Liquid Projects and the Craft Spirits & Beer Festival, also designed the property's food-and-lifestyle program. A glance at the rows of bottles on AC Lounge's shelves shows few of the big names you'd expect to see at a hotel bar. Massolo explains, "I always like to support artisan distillers. I'm proud of this bar because, while there are standard spirits that are part of the AC Hotels portfolio, they gave me the ability to bring in some quality craft spirits."
Her choice of spirits for the bar was surprisingly well received. "I just made a utopian list of what I would love to see. We decided we were going to go deep on gin, with some interesting expressions, and would also have a solid whiskey selection, because they're popular in Spain, Latin America, and here in the U.S."
Massolo also wanted to feature vermouth by the glass. Though popular as an apéritif in Europe, the fortified wine isn't as trendy in the States. "I really thought I was going to get the ax on that one," she quips, "but surprisingly, the hotel's management embraced the idea."
The bar maven, who will host her own tasting room at this year's Tales of the Cocktail, also likes the idea of low-alcohol drinks to start an evening. "People can be overwhelmed with the cocktail culture. If you start with a boozy drink, then go on to dinner with a bottle of wine, that can be too much for some people. A vermouth cocktail starts the evening on a lighter note." Massolo is also thinking about serving guests vermouth as a welcome drink.
Gin and tonics get the respect they deserve at AC Lounge. Massolo says these cocktails are simple yet elegant and suit the Miami climate. "It's appropriate to have more refreshing drinks here." Cocktails featuring gins from both sides of the pond (the United States and the United Kingdom) are represented, with each selection featuring a two-ounce pour of gin accompanied by a bottle or can of tonic water and appropriate herbal, floral, or citrus garnishes. The Wild West ($11) is made with barrel-aged Ransom Old Tom gin and Q tonic. Other drinks include the London Broil, a classic made with Beefeater and Schweppes tonic ($11); and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, with Scottish Hendrick's gin and Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic ($11).
Specialty cocktails are named for various aspects of Miami culture and geography. The Stiltsville ($10), named for the group of wooden houses in Biscayne Bay and inspired by the French 75 and Death in the Afternoon, is made with Cocchi Americano, sparkling wine, lemon juice, and an absinthe rinse. It's highly drinkable, with a seductive and slightly dangerous edge.
A bottled 1850 Sazerac by Fluid Dynamics ($15/$30) is the perfect size to take back to your room if you're staying at the hotel. Alternately, you can share one at the bar or take it onto the hotel's terrace.
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The cocktails, executed by head bartender Ashley Beauregard, are well priced from $10 to $12 each. The bar is open from 6 to 11 on weeknights and 6 p.m. to midnight on weekends. Reduced valet parking is available to customers. AC Lounge also offers a good selection of hot and cold tapas, including smoked trout dip ($9), avocado toast ($6), merguez sausage with spiced lentils ($13), and herb-rubbed roast chicken ($13).