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Miami's Ten Best Bartenders

Julio Cabrera and friends.
Julio Cabrera and friends.
Julio Cabrera via Facebook

Anyone can get behind a bar and mix a drink. For that matter, anyone can walk into a kitchen and prepare a meal. After all, we've all cooked for ourselves at home, haven't we?

But, bartenders, like chefs, have many different levels of expertise.

While the person who pops your Budweiser can at a beach shack might be considered a bartender, there are others for whom building a beautiful cocktail is an art form. These are the people who make pilgrimages to bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and to Oaxaca to study mezcal plants. Their thirst for knowledge about spirits is rivaled only by their passion to make the most delicious cocktail they can.

See also:
- Miami's Top Ten Chefs
- Miami's Ten Coolest Cocktails For The Dog Days of Summer


Miami has come a long way in a short time. As little as five years ago, the best you could get in these parts was a "Goose and Bull" or a frozen blender drink made with corn syrup-laden mix. Now, there's a community of bartenders growing herb gardens, muddling fresh fruit, and using cutting-edge culinary techniques to make sophisticated and delicious creations.

These ten mixologists are the very reason why so many songs and stories were written in -- and about -- bars.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Laine Doss

10. Jaren Rivas
Over at the patio bar at Bloom in Wynwood, Jaren Rivas is holding court. Juggling two shakers, he suggests a bourbon cocktail to a visitor from New York, kibbitzes with two young women at a nearby table, and pours wine at the service bar. But don't think it's all fun, games, and a show at Rivas' bar. Southern Living magazine just called his Tequila Beets cocktail Miami's best nightcap. There's substance behind that flash.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Ben Potts via Facebook

9. Ben Potts
A Miami native, Ben Potts has an MBA from the University of Miami and could probably be a CFO at some Fortune 500 company if he wanted. But what he wants to do is make beautiful cocktails. Blackbird Ordinary in Brickell could be mistaken for any dive bar. But look closer and you'll find a space that grows its own herbs, fruit, and mints to be used in inventive cocktails named after flying creatures. It is there that Potts can finally let his creativity soar.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
societeperrier.com

8. Isaac Grillo
Haven Gastro Lounge. The name itself describes a place that must serve inventive drinks. Isaac Grillo does just that, thinking of the most decadent, inventive, and outrageous libations to pair with chef Todd Erickson's equally imaginative cuisine. Using liquid nitrogen, rare ingredients, and even precious metals, Grillo shakes up some of the most artistic and delicious cocktails in Miami. Last October, he was crowned Miami's Ultimate Bartender at Magic City Casino, beating out seven other master mixologists and winning bragging rights and a $5,000 check in the process. Haven was also named best gastropub in 2012 by Miami New Times.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Hillary Choo via Facebook

7. Hillary Choo
Born in Hollywood, Florida, Hillary Choo tried her hand at milkshake-making and modeling before finding her true talent. After enrolling at a bartending course, Choo started working at SoBe hotel bars and was selected to take part in the prestigious apprentice program at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, where she worked alongside the world's top mixologists. Mixing cocktails at Bar Centro at the SLS Hotel South Beach for the most discerning crowd in Miami (including Jose Andres) has paid off. Choo was named Eater Miami's bartender of the year for 2012 and will be a panelist at the upcoming Atlanta Food and Wine Festival.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Laine Doss

6. Chad Phillips
At Lantao Social Club at the Surfcomber Hotel, a typical discourse between you and bar chef Chad Phillips might include his asking if you like poultry or beets. You might, at first, think, "Who would even think of making duck fat-infused bourbons and beet-infused gins?" Allow yourself to trust the dapper young man in the vest and tie and you'll be rewarded with cocktails that are complex, daring, and delicious. Don't forget to ask Chad about the story behind the drinks, because each cocktail is fashioned after a person or moment in Phillips' life -- proving that all great drinks start with a story..and all great stories start with a drink.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
PB Steak

5. Ashley Danella
A good steak house needs a good cocktail program. After all, are you really going to ask for a diet Coke with your porterhouse? Ashley Danella spearheads the beverage program at PB Steak, the newest and most (dare we say) traditional entry into the Pubbelly lineup of restaurants. But you'll never mistake traditional for boring when you sip Danella's Murdered Out Manhattan or a Negroni made with tequila instead of gin.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Laine Doss

4. Robert Ferrara
Robert Ferrara, Swine Southern Table & Bar's head mixologist, has a plethora of bitters, beakers, glassware, and barrels behind his bar. At a recent visit, Ferrara admits that though he just procured a set of pewter julep cups, he'll probably use them only once a year on Derby Day. But, then a light turns on in his eyes and he decides to plan a special drink menu around the sparkling silver chalices. Ferrara's always experimenting, always trying something new. From barrel-aging negronis to bottling cocktails to re-inventing classic recipes, Ferrara has a drink to match every piece of glassware in his arsenal. And if he doesn't -- he'll invent one.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Robert Montero via Facebook

3. Robert Montero
You have to be quick if you want to catch Rob Montero. One minute he's in New Orleans, shaking his stuff at Tales of the Cocktail. The next, he's in Bordeaux, France, representing the United States in an international cocktail challenge. When you do find the elusive bartender (we suggest looking behind the bar at Michael Schwartz's newly opened Cypress Room), ask him to make you one of his throwback classics. These cocktails, once enjoyed by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, were long forgotten. But Montero is as much a "libation anthropologist" as he is a bartender, and he's only too eager to have drinks like the vieux carre and the crusta rediscovered. Since a remake of The Great Gatsby is set for a May release, we're thinking Montero's nod to the past may just be the next big trend.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Julio Cabrera via Facebook

2. Julio Cabrera
Julio Cabrera is the proverbial "gentleman bartender," making perfect cocktails at the newly opened Regent Cocktail Club at the Gale in South Beach. Although the Regent has been open about two months, it's already the place to get the best Hemingway daiquiri outside of Cuba. That should be the case. After all, Cabrera recently coordinated a field trip to Havana, where a group of Miami mixologists toured rum distilleries and paid homage to Constante Ribalaigua, owner of the iconic El Floridita Bar, at his gravesite in Cemeterio Colon Havana. Dedication and obsession pays off in Cabrera's case with many awards and accolades including winning the USBG Mixing Star USA title in Las Vegas and the Campari Aperitivo Cocktail Competition here in Miami.

Miami's Ten Best Bartenders
Laine Doss

1. Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi
When the two partners in Bar Lab, a beverage consulting company, decided to open Miami's first pop-up cocktail lounge, Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi's fates were forever intertwined. As quickly as it opened, Broken Shaker became the place for chefs and bartenders to go when they wanted a great cocktail. Then, like a perfect spring day, the Broken Shaker was gone all too soon. After a summer of touring with various spirits companies and doing guest bartending gigs, Orta and Zvi returned to Miami to reopen the Broken Shaker -- this time permanently. The Broken Shaker actually seems part bar, part mad scientist laboratory. It's filled with unmarked bottles containing house made bitters, tinctures, and elixirs made with everything from flowers to fruits to smoked fish. Cocktails are made with fresh fruit and herbs plucked straight from the bar's garden and the guys adhere to only two rules of drink making -- make every cocktail with the freshest ingredients and make it perfectly. Gabe Orta was named bartender of the year and Broken Shaker was named best pop-up bar in Miami New Times' Best of 2012.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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Bloom - Closed

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