Of all the bartenders on South Beach, Angelo Vieira is by far the most serious. It's a Friday night and he's sloshing and rattling steel shakers filled with gin, lemon juice, crème de violet, and maraschino liqueur. To prepare a drink, he wields jiggers, strainers, bar spoons, and funny-shaped ice cubes. He's fast. He's unsmiling.
And he's wearing a tux.
Three ladies sashay into the Regent Cocktail Club. "What's the best drink here?" asks one, sounding a bit like she has Instagram on the mind. Vieira pours his yellow-tinged potion into a vintage glass and responds, "Our menu changes every day."
In any other bar, he would seem curt. But not here. The Regent is among the best cocktail lounges in Miami. It's helmed by professional mixologists who've spent decades behind the bar. This is not where you come to be seen. This is where you come to listen to jazz, sip old-fashioneds, and get drunk on a bygone feel.
In the past few years, Miami has become a cocktail town, a city where bartenders have earned celebrity equal to that of chefs. So here are the best places to find a smile, which is really just another word for a good drink.
You wouldn't expect to find exceptional cocktails at the Corner, an old-fashioned bar that's set in a rundown part of downtown. It's surrounded by shuttered shops and empty lots. From the outside, the only signs of revelry are its crammed sidewalk tables and the accompanying din.
You could visit this tiny, dark bar for its smoked sausages, croque-madame sandwiches, beers, and wine. But it's the handcrafted drinks that set the Corner apart from other neighborhood bars. Order the Sazerac -- a classic libation made with Bulleit rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, and a touch of absinthe. Or try something new. The Lazy Tuk Tuk ($13) tastes like a Thai version of eggnog -- it's a creamy beverage that's laced with house-made coconut milk, chai syrup, and Diplomático rum.
The Corner's Tacubaya is a floral, spicy drink featuring hibiscus water, tequila, green Chartreuse, and habanero peppers. It's as playful as the bar where it's made. "This isn't an exclusive atmosphere where everyone has to respect the cocktail and be superserious about it," owner Chris MacLeod says. "We're just a fun neighborhood bar."
The punch ($7) is delicate and bright, infused with cinnamon, citrus, and rum. Flavors change daily at the Broken Shaker, a bar that recently received a nomination from the James Beard Foundation. In the summer, you might sip a punch spiked with gin, tangerine, and Chartreuse -- an age-old French liqueur made by Carthusian monks. But this holiday-inspired recipe feels just right on a warm December night.
Located inside Miami Beach's Freehand Hotel, the Broken Shaker occupies a vast poolside patio, one that's equipped with mismatched chairs, old-school board games, and blazing tiki lamps. "It's not pretentious," explains Gabriel Orta, who runs the place alongside partner Elad Zvi. Together, the two make up Bar Lab -- a successful consulting mixology company that caters to hotels, restaurants, and bars.
The Broken Shaker launched as a pop-up in 2012 and soon became a permanent fixture. It's the most heralded bar in town. Orta and Zvi are the golden boys of mixology. And the handcrafted drinks cost less than $11.
Stop by on the weekend and you might spot Orta and Zvi. But they might not be behind the bar. Often, they're hobnobbing with the cool crowd. "In the 1800s, bartenders were as respected as lawyers, but that changed during Prohibition. Now mixologists are making a comeback," Orta says.
It's a Tuesday night at the Cypress Room, and Robert Montero is mixing a drink called the Calle Ocho. It's a fussy little thing -- a Florida-inspired elixir splashed with rum, egg whites, lime, organic hibiscus liqueur, and raw coconut water. "You didn't have breakfast?" Montero jokes, dropping the white into a shaker.
Since opening in March, the Cypress Room in the Design District has been a throwback to fine dining. It's owned by Michael Schwartz, Miami's most respected restaurateur. So some folks visit the posh restaurant for its eponymous burger ($24), a messy concoction made with chuck beef, dry-aged trimmings, onion marmalade, and tangy cheese. But cocktail lovers skip the fare. They opt for the eight-seat bar instead.
Drinks range from aperitifs to classics and specialties. But the aged concoctions are the most unique. Behind the mahogany counter, Ryan Goodspeed, the restaurant group's beverage director, has arranged five 5-gallon American oak barrels. These tubs hold mellow blends of liquors, wines, and infusions -- each filled with more than $700 of booze, aged for a minimum of three months at a time.
The Bonnie and Clyde ($16) mashes Hendrick's Gin with blood orange liqueur and Cocchi Americano -- an aperitif wine from Asti, Italy. The drink washes down as smoothly as syrup. "We were the first in Miami to barrel-age drinks in these quantities," Goodspeed says.
The Cypress Room wasn't only the first. Today, it boasts the most ambitious restaurant cocktail program in town.
Collins Avenue pulses to the beat of David Guetta, but at the Regent Cocktail Club, you'll hear only John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald. Located inside the Gale Hotel, this old-fangled bar looks like a 1920s saloon, the kind you've seen in black-and-white photographs.
Here, cocktails ($14) change daily. Barmen -- dressed in starched shirts, bow ties, and sharp vests -- proffer drinks such as negronis, daiquiris, and Manhattans. Try the Japanese cocktail -- a mix of cognac, bitters, and an almond-scented orgeat syrup.
The Regent boasts veteran mixologists including Vieira and Julio Cabrera, whom Bombay Sapphire recently named "Most Imaginative Bartender" in the nation. "Our focus is technical and all about the details," Cabrera explains.
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It's also about image. In Miami, no other place fulfills such nostalgia for times past. Which is why it's so nice to sit at the bar, put down your phone, and just drink a smile.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.