Cocktails & Spirits

Empire Social Lounge: The New "Sophisticated" Whiskey and Cigar Bar in Downtown Dadeland

Empire Social Lounge, the sister concept to Prime Cigar, is open in Downtown Dadeland.
Empire Social Lounge, the sister concept to Prime Cigar, is open in Downtown Dadeland. Photo by Carlos Gastelbondo
click to enlarge Empire Social Lounge, the sister concept to Prime Cigar, is open in Downtown Dadeland. - PHOTO BY CARLOS GASTELBONDO
Empire Social Lounge, the sister concept to Prime Cigar, is open in Downtown Dadeland.
Photo by Carlos Gastelbondo
A new cigar bar has opened in Downtown Dadeland, featuring more than 170 whiskeys and 500 premium handmade cigar brands. Owing to the ongoing bar restrictions in Miami-Dade County, the establishment's temporary hours are Monday through Saturday from 1 to 10 p.m for retail sales only.

Empire Social Lounge is the newest project from the proprietors of Casa De Montecristo by Prime Cigar & Whiskey Bar. The space was conceived to cater to business executives by day, then transform into a lounge at night.

"Empire Social Lounge is the latest expression of the Prime Cigar and Whiskey brand," managing partner Peter Berntsen tells New Times. "While Prime Cigar Brickell allowed us to service the diverse downtown Miami crowd, our new location will have a more intimate and neighborly feel. We feel that Downtown Dadeland is the perfect neighborhood to introduce Kendall and South Miami locals to our brand."

Berntsen and partners Jason Reznik and Ryan Leeds describe their latest concept as the embodiment of their brand's motto: "sophisticated relaxation." Prime Cigar Boca Raton, their first venture, was well received by  South Florida cigar and whiskey aficionados. That popularity carried over to the duo's second effort, Brickell's Casa de Montecristo.

The success of those two locations led to the creation of Empire Social Lounge, which features a walk-in humidor and, when our current prohibition lifts, a bar stocked with rare and hard-to-find whiskeys, a members' lounge, and a patio.

In designing the new space, the owners commissioned a state-of-the-art air control system. The innovative A/C replaces 100 percent of the air as it runs, providing an environment that will curb the accumulation of smoke once the county permits indoor consumption to resume. (For now, guests can enjoy their cigars al fresco.)

When the bar opens, it will do so with a menu aimed at the and palates of spirits enthusiasts. More than 400 rare, limited-edition, and hard-to-find spirits, wines, and cordials are available. Many — including a wide variety of whiskeys, bourbons, rums, vodkas, gins, tequilas, cordials, and ports— will be offered in 1- to 2.5-ounce servings as well as by the bottle.

That'll be where mixologist Gustavo Martinez, whose hospitality career spans more than ten years as a chef, comes in. A New Times "Best Cocktails" winner at Alter in 2017, Martinez has since made the shortlist of "Best Restaurant Bars — East Coast" at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards in 2018 and staged at award-winning bars including the Aviary in Chicago and Minibar by José Andrés in Washington, D.C.

Under his leadership, the cocktail menu will offer a list of unique libations. Among the highlights: the spirit-forward Hanzo Steel ($14) prepared with Kaiyo peated Japanese whiskey, Monkey Shoulder blended Scotch whisky, a house-made caramelized orange agave, and Angostura chocolate bitters; and the smoky Mez-Groni, a combination of Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Cynar 70, Zucca amaro, and pine ($16).

Empire Social Lounge. 8955 Dadeland Blvd., Miami; 305-209-4987; Monday through Saturday 1 to 10 p.m.
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna