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Custom Cocktailing in the W Hotel's Living Room

Gabriel Orta in action at W's The Living Room.
Gabriel Orta in action at W's The Living Room.
Lesley Elliott

The Living Room at SoBe's W Hotel claims to offer any patron the cocktail of their dreams courtesy of a team of mixologists who are dedicated to making your evening of alcohol consumption a personalized experience. Named as one of Food & Wine Magazine's "50 Best Bars in America," the beverage program is directed by KNR Restaurant Group who manages these things for the W Hotel, and hired the cool kids at Bar Lab to help develop the cocktails.

Bar Lab is also about to open the city's first pop-up shop for consumption (well, the first post-prohibition) and happens to be the creator of our favorite company motto, "we mix shit up." All drinks are $16, no matter what they concoct (okay, if you ask for something aged or rare, you will have to pay extra, of course).

They do drink alchemy behind the bar, creating a range of infusions and flavored bitters using everything from grapefruit to lavender. While the menu does boast interesting creations such as a "Smokey Artichoke" with Mezcal, sweet vermouth, Cynar amaro and tobacco bitters, and a champagne cocktail called the "Chemista," topped with cucumber foam, the real reason we are here is to taste something beyond the ordinary, something made especially just for us.

We sat down at the bar and placed ourselves in the hands of Gabriel

Orta, co-founder of Bar Lab, who truly loves his job and is fearless

when it comes to ingredients. When he returned from the kitchen with a

bunch of veggies in his arms, we honed in on some beautiful arugula,

which he matched up with our chosen cocktail star, fennel, for a most

refreshing and surprising drink we downed in record time. When liquor

tastes good it goes down fast, and this went really, really fast. Beer

bong fast.


We challenged him with the task of making five different drinks, each with a unique flavor profile. Gabriel said that he "can use anything for drinks, it's all about balance." First came flames, then came shaking, muddling, it went on and on. What emerged was one fantastic cocktail after another, and one seriously regrettable hangover the next day. Worth every sip of it.

First up, we asked for something classic, but with a twist. A pre-dinner cocktail, made with bourbon, a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. What developed was a drink combining Buffalo Trade bourbon, amaro, rosemary-sage honey, and Chartreuse. He burned the herbs first to release the oils, and the amazing smell hit us long before the drink did.

Our first chosen "course" was savory, thus he presented a cocktail made with gin as a base, muddled arugula and fennel, celery bitters, lemon juice, and one barspoon of maraschino liquor. We thought that would have killed the drink, but it tempered the fennel beautifully.

Next came spicy. Red and yellow bell peppers, Milagro tequila, aperol, lime juice, and Moroccan harissa bitters. The crushed ice felt so snow cone happy. Gabriel mixed up some agave syrup with jalapeno peppers on the spot.

Dessert was a big issue, because we wanted something not too sweet. So out came a cup of coffee, dark and spiced rums, Velvet Falernum, coconut cream and egg white, a frothy layered cake cocktail sprinkled with nutmeg.

Lastly, we went for kitsch, and asked Gabriel to make us a Miami themed drink. Think bright red Ferrari on Ocean Drive (no traffic), model in the driver's seat (or passenger's if you prefer, your fantasy, your choice) with a dose of South Beach glamour to it. Thus we present the hottest drink in town, starts with gin and dry vemouth, mixes in raspberry syrup and lemon juice, with a blend of citrus bitters and floating red rose petals.

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