Miami's Ten Best Bartenders

Anyone can get behind a bar and mix a drink. For that matter, anyone can walk into a kitchen and prepare a meal. We've all cooked for ourselves at home, haven't we? But bartenders, like chefs, have many different levels of expertise.

Though 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. They 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.

See also: Miami's Top Ten Chefs

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 delectable creations.

These ten mixologists are the reason so many songs and stories have been written in -- and about -- bars.

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

10. 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 mint to be used in inventive cocktails named after flying creatures. It is there that Potts can finally let his creativity soar.

9. 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 rare ingredients, and even precious metals, Grillo shakes up some of the most artistic and tasty cocktails in Miami. Grillo was crowned Miami's Ultimate Bartender at Magic City Casino after beating out seven other master mixologists and winning bragging rights and a $5,000. Haven was also named Best Gastropub in 2012 by Miami New Times.

8. Chad Phillips
At the 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 scrumptious. Don't forget to ask Chad about the story behind the drinks, because each cocktail is fashioned after a person or moment in his life -- proving that all great drinks start with a story -- and all great stories start with a drink.

7. Philip Khandehrish

There's a lot of pressure when making libations at the Setai. After all, they have to be as gorgeous and perfect as the surroundings. Philip Khandehrish takes the concept of elegance in a glass to an entirely different level, working with rose petals and rare spirits, infusing fruit with spice. The resulting cocktails are delicious, balanced, and lovely to both admire and drink.

6. Virginia King

It says something when the nation's best Manhattan comes from Miami Beach. But that's exactly what a team of experts (including Chopped's Ted Allen and Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris) said about Virginia King's Manhattan at the Manhattan Experience competition held in (where else?) Manhattan. You could say King is queen of bourbon, but you'd be only half right. The talented bartender is the ruler of all spirits that dare to come before her -- including the best damn Manhattan. See for yourself at the Broken Shaker, where King holds court.

5. Robert Ferrara

Rob Ferrara, head mixologist at Lure Fishbar, is a busy man. From creating an entire line of nautical-themed cocktails to organizing charity events to spreading the gospel of gin, he's a major force on the Miami cocktail scene. Ferrara has a drink to match every piece of glassware in his arsenal. And if he doesn't, he'll invent one.

4. Ashley Danella

Think it's tough creating a cocktail program for a restaurant? How about creating several programs for several restaurants, each one chef-driven? Ashley Danella does just that as the Pubbelly Restaurant Group's bar chef. That name alone should tell you volumes about the task at hand. Every cocktail is meant to pair perfectly with your meal while still holding its own at the bar. Whether it's a potent potable such as the Murdered Out Manhattan at PB Steak or a delicate Lavender Fields at the soon-to-open L'echon Brasserie, your cocktail will be as memorable as your meal.

3. John Lermayer

At last year's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, we received a lot of promotional bottle openers, T-shirts, and coasters. Most were tossed, but one we kept -- a button with a crest that simply says, "Emperor Lermayer." And that he is. John Lermayer has made a worldwide name for himself for his energy, his knowledge, and, most of all, his cocktails. His pedigree is long; he's created beverage programs for some of the best bars, including the Florida Room, Mondrian Soho in New York, and Forty Four at the Royalton hotel in New York. He's sought out as a teacher, mentor, and brand ambassador, but we love him best when he's behind the bar at the Regent Cocktail Club. If Lermayer is emperor, who needs a republic?

2. Julio Cabrera

Julio Cabrera is the proverbial gentleman bartender. His style and presence call to mind the days when cocktail lounges were swank affairs where dapper men and beautiful women came to drink and flirt in a sophisticated manner. Which is why he's such a perfect fit for the Regent Cocktail Club at the Gale South Beach, a place where people dress beautifully and sip classic libations while listening to a sultry songstress. Dedication and obsession pay off in Cabrera's case with many awards and accolades, including the USBG Mixing Star USA title in Las Vegas, the Campari Aperitivo Cocktail Competition title here in Miami, and even the cover of GQ.

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's and Elad Zvi's fates became forever intertwined. As quickly as it opened, the 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 permanently. The Broken Shaker actually seems part bar, part mad scientist's 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 created using fresh fruits 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. But more than creating cocktails, Orta and Zvi created a community of bartenders, showing the best and the brightest in Miami that there's a need for finely crafted cocktails in our city. They started a spark that ignited a flame, putting Miami on the map once and for all as a city in which to get a damn fine drink.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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