March 5, 2020

From dives to craft cocktails, Miami's best institutions of higher imbibing

Since ancient times, humans have availed themselves of the convivial spirit of bars. In his classic history The Story of Wine, Hugh Johnson writes that the city of Pompeii was home to about 200 wine bars where citizens gathered to drink the product of the soil made fertile by Mount Vesuvius. Centuries later, revolutions were plotted in colonial taverns and pirates traded spoils and information in the dark bars of their time.

To this day, the corner bar is a community meeting place. We repair to our favorite bars to watch the big game, to celebrate a birthday, or simply to enjoy that most aptly named activity, the "happy hour."

In precisely that spirit (see what we did there?), New Times offers a toast to the 50 best Miami bars. Here, listed in alphabetical order, are the places you'll most likely find us bellied up with a beverage in our hand and a drinking buddy or three at our side.

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Ama

Ama
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora
You won't find Ama easily. The speakeasy inside Brad Kilgore's Kaido is so secretive the room is virtually impossible to find without a guide. Once checked in, you're led to a secret double passageway that finally leads to Ama, where you're asked to refrain from taking photos and using social media in the bar. Once inside, you'll find a good selection of Japanese whisky, including rare vintages from decades past, along with a full food and drink menu. Perhaps the most surprising twist is Kaido's take on a pickleback. The drink, usually downed in Brooklyn dive bars as a precursor to a long night of imbibing cheap beer and booze, consists of a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. Here, guests chase Japanese whisky with chilled shiitake broth, which is richer and more complex than a glass of brine, imbuing the shot with an exotic flair. ($$$)
151 NE 41st St., #217, Miami, 33137

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

The Anderson

The Anderson
The Anderson
The building that houses the Anderson has been a bar far longer than most of us have been alive. Restaurateur Ken Lyon has given the space new life with lush outdoor gardens, a tiki bar, and the taco joint El Toro Taco, decorated with wonderful black-and-white photos of people and places in Mexico — all shot by Lyon on his various trips to the country. Between the indoor lounge, the outdoor patios, and the eatery designed to look like a food truck, the Anderson seems more like its own little world than a simple bar and kitchen. New Normal: Lyon has enlarged the Anderson’s outdoor space and installed additional outdoor seating. ($$)
709 NE 79th St., Miami, 33138

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Ball & Chain

Ball & Chain
Courtesy of Ball & Chain
Sitting above a green-and-white-striped awning, the neon sign for the "World Famous Ball & Chain Bar and Lounge" illuminates SW Eighth Street much as it did nearly 80 years ago. Founded in 1935, Ball & Chain was a jazz palace where the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie jammed until the sun came up. The original Ball & Chain closed in 1957, and the neighborhood changed around it. The bar space on Little Havana's Calle Ocho sat unloved for years until current owners Bill Fuller and Zack and Ben Bush brought it back to life. Today guests sip pastelito daiquiris (served with a side of the Cuban pastry) and old-fashioneds prepared with tobacco bitters. The bar pays homage to its roots with almost continuous jazz sets, including impromptu jam sessions by local musicians with dancing that spills onto the street. ($$)
1513 SW Eighth St., Miami, 33135

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Bar Nancy

Bar Nancy
Courtesy of Nancy
Little Havana's Bar Nancy sports rustic, nautical-inspired décor and a healthy selection of craft cocktails. The bar — named for the brigantine Nancy, which transported war supplies during the American Revolution — offers cocktails named after ships or patriotic themes or both. The Abigail Adams is made with Ford’s gin, Giffard crème de pêche, lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and soda; the Stem to Stern consists of apricot-infused Bulleit rye, lemon, apricot jam, and ginger ale. There's live music, and a daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. offers half-priced drinks. ($$)
2007 SW Eighth St., Miami, 33135

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

BarMeli69

BarMeli69
Courtesy of Barmeli69 Greek Bistro & Wine Bar
This tapas and wine bar, located in Miami’s MiMo District, sits alongside a no-tell motel. The location makes BarMeli69 seem all the more like a hidden gem, a personal find, the kind of place you whisper about to your friends, as in, “I just found this great little joint.” Inside, the restaurant feels like one of those wonderful little bistros or tavernas you only see in movies. You really can’t pinpoint the exact country or town; you just know it’s charming. Wines are predominantly from the Mediterranean, including off-the-grid selections from Sardinia and Israel. All the tapas are delicious, but the showstopper is the flaming saganaki; the Greek cheese dish is doused with brandy and set aflame. A friendly, casual vibe, along with good food and drinks at reasonable prices, makes BarMeli69 a great neighborhood joint. New Normal: BarMeli now has a small outdoor patio behind the restaurant. ($$)
6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 33138

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Batch Gastropub Miami

Batch Gastropub Miami
Photo courtesy of Batch Gastropub
There's always a full house at this bustling American gastropub. Equal parts sports bar, lounge, and restaurant, Batch is the place to gather for soccer games, NBA tilts, boxing matches, and gridiron showdowns. The restaurant is also lively after work, when Brickell businesspeople and residents alike pour in for locally sourced pub grub, from lamb burgers to truffle fries, that pairs perfectly with a lengthy drink list offering a wide range of beers, wines, and other creative cocktails. Happy hour — Monday through Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. — is a can't-miss. ($$)
30 SW 12th St., Miami, 33130

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Beaker & Gray

Beaker & Gray
billwisserphoto.com
Sure, Beaker & Gray is a restaurant that serves innovative dishes courtesy of co-owner Brian Nasajon. But you'd be remiss if you dismissed its cocktail program, led by Nasajon's partner, Ben Potts, as a side affair. Beaker & Gray's list of libations is as strong as its food menu; for some patrons, it's a destination in itself. Potts has created an extensive drink menu, including classics such as an elegant Hendrick's and tonic and the establishment's signature drink, the Halliwell, made with Stolichnaya, Cocchi Americano rosa, ginger, strawberry, and mint. ($$)
2637 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 33127

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Blackbird Ordinary

Blackbird Ordinary
Courtesy of Blackbird Ordinary
Is it a dive bar or a club? Upon arriving at Blackbird Ordinary in search of a serious cocktail, you might think you've come to the wrong place. But the keen-eyed customer will spot the live herbs on the tables and the bartenders immersed in their craft. Specialty drinks are named for birds (duh), and, like the winged creatures, each cocktail is a beautiful and rare thing to behold. Whatever you choose, your drink will be assiduously prepared with house-made syrups and fresh fruits and herbs, allowing its combined flavors to take flight. ($$)
729 SW First Ave., Miami, 33130

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Bob's Your Uncle

Bob's Your Uncle
Bob's Your Uncle
The original location of this dive bar is located on New York’s Upper West Side; the Miami Beach outpost was re-created after owner Danielle Savin flew south and decided this was a great place to open a little watering hole. Bob’s Your Uncle is Normandy Isle’s go-to spot to be treated like family (even when you don’t want to be around your own). Whether it’s a classic cocktail, beer on tap, or even a Jell-O shot — everything is served with a smile. The bar's personality extends to the restroom hallway, adorned with photos of famous Bobs throughout history — from De Niro to Saget. Pro tip: Bob's is the perfect place to grab a cold one while waiting for a table at the adjacent sushi restaurant. ($)
928 71st St., Miami Beach, 33141

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Bougainvillea's Old Florida Tavern

Bougainvillea's Old Florida Tavern
Photo by Jessica Gibbs
The best neighborhood bar is the one closest to home, but Bougainvillea's, a snug self-described "old Florida tavern" near the Shops at Sunset Place, is worth the trek. Built inside a '40s-era cottage, it's a fine place to sip wine and contemplate humanity or to down beers with friends. The lights are generally set to dim, there's a fireplace, and some tables are set up outside. And the affectionately nicknamed Bougie's is one of the few neighborhood bars to offer live jazz or blues three or four nights a week. ($)
7221 SW 58th Ave., South Miami, 33143

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Boxelder Craft Beer Market

Boxelder Craft Beer Market
Photo courtesy of Boxelder
There's no denying that Wynwood is the epicenter of Miami's brewing scene. It also stands to reason that the neighborhood is home to a kickass beer bar. But don't go to Boxelder expecting to be handed a hefty binder filled with hoppy offerings. Here you'll find a well-thought-out selection of about two dozen beers you want to drink. The selection rotates, so consult the TV monitors, which list what's available on tap, along with a description, price, alcohol content, and which glass will be used to serve it. The room is always filled with lively chatter about hops and malt. On weekends, keep an eye out for food trucks (a rotating roster), along with burgers courtesy of USBS (United States Burger Service). Kick your feet up and order another. The atmosphere's warm, and the beer's cold. ($$)
2817 NW Second Ave., Miami, 33127

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Broken Shaker

Broken Shaker
Karli Evans
What began in 2012 as a pop-up bar has flourished and matured into one of the most popular spots in Miami Beach. This courtyard oasis, equipped with twinkling lights, table tennis, and mismatched patio furniture, offers a roster of cocktails that change according to the season and available fresh ingredients. Curb your hunger with bites such as Korean chicken tenders and a Cuban sandwich. The creation of Bar Lab's Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi, Broken Shaker has racked up several coveted honors, including Best American Hotel Bar at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards. ($$)
2727 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach, 33140

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Cafe la Trova

Cafe la Trova
Photo by Adam Delgiudice
Between Cuban cantinero Julio Cabrera’s daiquiris and chef Michelle Bernstein’s fare, there’s something uniquely Miami about Cafe La Trova. Bernstein’s comfort food is all-around tempting. She works to meet the foodie fantasies of her guests, whether they’re in search of elaborate dishes or a traditional tres leches dessert. When in doubt, order a round of specialty paella, jamón Serrano, and spinach and feta croquetas, or the chef’s rendition of arroz con pollo — the classic one-pot Cuban-style dish Bernstein puts together with bomba rice and chicken marinated in saffron and beer. But as with all things Magic City, this joint isn’t fueled solely by good food and drink: At any given time of the day, expect guayabera-clad musicians or jazz trumpet players to fill the air with their vibrant tunes, all set against a stage backdropped with the weathered façade of an Old Havana edifice. New Normal: Though Cafe La Trova is offering live music, guests are required to stay in their seats. Chair dancing is encouraged, however. ($$)
971 SW Eighth St., Miami, 33130

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Churchill's Pub

Churchill's Pub
Alexander Oliva
A local institution, Churchill's Pub has hosted more live shows than just about any other venue in town. For more than 40 years, this dive bar has been a haven for the punk and alternative bands that played on its indoor and outdoor stages. Even as it hosted the likes of Marilyn Manson (or that random guy down the street who just wanted to play his music), this grungy drinking den has remained true to itself: Churchill’s has a well-earned reputation for welcoming musicians of all sorts to its stages. Cheap beer, loud music, and a classic bar-food menu are the hallmarks of a beloved dive bar, and Churchill’s offers them all. ($)
5501 NE Second Ave., Miami, 33137

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Clevelander South Beach Hotel and Bar

Clevelander South Beach Hotel and Bar
Photo courtesy of Clevelander South Beach
If you want your burgers and beer served with a side of revelry, the Clevelander is your spot. There's no other place where you can splash in a pool, hang out with body-painted women, and drink $5 Jack Daniel's shots chased by $5 bottles of beer (during football games). Oh, yeah — football. There's that too. Watch the big game on a 20-foot LED screen or more than 40 other monitors throughout the property. ($$)
1020 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach, 33139

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

Copper 29

Copper 29
Photo courtesy of Copper 29
This speakeasy-inspired bar in Coral Gables looks to classic New Orleans watering holes for inspiration. When you walk through the nondescript door, you'll find a lounge area with red leather couches. The space opens to the main room, resplendent with a mahogany bar lined with leather-upholstered stools. Chandeliers and vintage lamps light the space, but the most eye-catching features are the two large walls cascading with devil's ivy that sandwich bookcases holding a curated array of select small-batch spirits not found anywhere else. ($$)
206 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 33134

The 50 Best Miami Bars of 2020

The Corner

The Corner
Photo by Karli Evans
If you "know what it means to miss New Orleans," the Corner is the bar for you. This little speakeasy boasts a bar constructed from 150-year-old repurposed wood and a vibe that's more reminiscent of the Big Easy than the neon lights of Miami. Maybe that's why the Corner's cocktail collection contains so many New Orleans classics. Drinks such as the Vieux Carré and Sazerac are properly prepared, and the Corner's hurricane puts Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter to shame. The fact that you can order a cocktail at the Corner till 5 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends doesn't hurt. ($$)
1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 33136