John Lermayer was a bartender of the world, and Miami's craft cocktail and bar scene wouldn't be what it is today without his knowledge and guidance.
He was found dead in his Miami Beach apartment yesterday evening, and as word began to spread through the bartending community, Facebook profile pages and statuses were updated to recite the words of the iconic neon light that decorates the main wall at Sweet Liberty, reading "Pursue Happiness." Lermayer, who was 45, leaves behind a son.
In 2004, Lermayer left New York's growing cocktail scene and took a chance on Miami Beach. He worked at Skybar at Shore Club. In 2006, he worked with mixologist Willy Shine at the New York cocktail and nightlife destination BED. In 2008, Lermayer was handpicked by Lenny Kravitz to create the cocktails for Florida Room and to resurrect the Delano's old basement bar and lounge. Slowly but surely, the fashionable South Beach crowds that frequented the establishment began trading their vodka-Red Bulls for his carefully concocted libations.
Simultaneously, he was creating a legacy of well-trained bartenders and bar backs who have gone on to become some of the most important mixologists and bar owners in town — and the nation.
When the Florida Room closed, Lermayer teamed up with cantinero-trained Julio Cabrera at the Regent Cocktail Club, which garnered a reputation for well-made drinks in an elegant, speakeasy-style setting.
Making a name for himself as a bon vivant bartender, Lermayer traveled the world extensively as a global brand ambassador, preaching the gospel of classic pre-Prohibition traditions.
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In 2015, he launched what has become the staple of high-volume craft cocktail bars in America when he teamed up with restaurateur David Martinez (of Sr. Martinez, Michy's) and nightlife guru Dan Binkiewicz (Purdy Lounge, Blackbird Ordinary) to open Sweet Liberty. Since then, the South Beach haunt has received numerous accolades, including being listed as number 27 on World's Best Bars (2015) and winning the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for best American High Volume Cocktail Bar (2017). In 2015, New Times named him Best Bartender, and in 2017, New Times profiled him, noting that his profession brought him many opportunities, including slinging drinks at the White House, shaking cocktails under the Northern Lights, and drinking sherry in Spain in a distiller's private gallery "filled with hundreds of Picassos," according to Lermayer himself.
Sweet Liberty partner Binkiewicz called Lermayer more of a brother than a friend and partner. "John was the most wonderful man I know. He was the most positive, loving person. I am shocked. I never thought I'd be saying goodbye."
Lermayer was a gregarious man with a mischievous smile, who was as quick to blurt out an inappropriate joke as he was to celebrate others' victories, large or small, by pouring them a drink from his carefully curated collection of rare and special spirits. To his colleagues, he was a fount of knowledge. To his staff, he was an older brother who would guide them through the trials and tribulations of the atypical life that comes with an industry job. To his patrons, he was a guy who placed the best drink of their lives in front of them.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect year for John Lermayer's move to Miami. It was 2004.