Cocktails & Spirits

Miami's Ten Best Cocktail Bars

For years, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco were the capitals of the American cocktail scene. While people in those cities were discovering the joy of a good aviation or a perfect Manhattan in the Big Apple or the Big Easy, Miamians were making do with frozen concoctions served from machines. Then a few brave bartenders shirked South Florida convention and began making real cocktails. Soon, Miami was craving hand-shaken daiquiris and creative libations that used tropical fruits, fresh herbs, and handmade bitters. Now, just a few short years later, Miami's bars are world-renowned, with some of the most talented, passionate, and creative men and women working at them. 

How to choose the ten best places to get a cocktail in Miami? For the sake of this list, we ruled out restaurant bars (although there are a few listed that are adjacent to restaurants) and selected places where cocktails are the primary focus of the establishment. From dark, no-frills bars to upscale, swanky lounges, here are the ten best places to get a well-crafted cocktail in Miami.
10. Coyo Taco's Secret Bar
If you think there's a mistake that Coyo Taco made this list, you've never ventured to the back of the Wynwood taco restaurant. It is there that another world exists. A dark, secret room, lit by the glow of a thousand saintly candles, holds Coyo's secret, unnamed bar. There, more than 50 tequilas and mezcals reside. Though there's a DJ, this is not the place for dancing on the bar (or even eating tacos, which are banned in the back bar). It's a place for sipping a fine tequila or a hand-shaken margarita, rimmed with earthy sal de gusano (translated literally, "worm salt"). The main attractions are the PaletaRitas ($13). Locally made paletas in flavors such as cucumber and passionfruit are used to make margaritas, with a slice of the ice pop served in the glass as a bonus. Sip the drink and eat the paleta. You're guaranteed to get a little frisson of chill (and pleasure) in your hot Miami night.
9. The Vagabond Pool Bar
The exquisite renovation of Biscayne Blvd's MiMo classic Vagabond Hotel calls for a toast. And there's no place more fitting than the pool bar at the Vagabond itself. The bar is a retro dream — clean aluminum lines facing a perfect pool setting that's more Palm Springs than Miami. In fact, you could almost picture Don Draper, his straw Panama hat tilted rakishly, showing up at the bar with a mysterious brunette on his arm. And what would our antihero order? We'd like to think he'd forgo the usual old-fashioned for the Vagabond's signature collins, made with gin, pear cider, and bitters. Of course, there's a boozy bourbon milk punch ($12) if Draper insists on dark spirits. The mystery woman? Try a Coppertone, named for the iconic beach baby whose billboard is located just across the street, or a Jersey squirrel ($15), a frothy retro pink confection. 
8. Blackbird Ordinary
Is it a dive bar or a club? Upon arriving at Blackbird Ordinary, you may think you're at the wrong place for a serious cocktail. But then a keen eye will spot the live herbs on the tables or the bartenders set on making a good drink. Specialty drinks are named for birds (naturally), and like the winged creatures, each cocktail is a beautiful and rare thing to behold. The Pink Flamingo ($14) is made with pistachio-infused gin and fresh raspberries, and the Woodpecker ($12) blends Woodford Reserve with ginger and bitters. Choose among the flock — each is made lovingly with house-made syrups and fresh fruits and herbs, allowing the flavors of your drink to take flight.
7. The Corner
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 NOLA classics. Drinks such as the Vieux Carré and Sazerac are made properly, and the Corner's hurricane puts Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter to shame. Of course, if you're looking for something more Miami, there's the Cham-Wow, made with vodka, fresh raspberries, and champagne. The fact that you can get cocktails at the Corner until 5 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends is a bonus.
6. Repour
Even while making a name for himself at Haven, Isaac Grillo had a dream of owning his own bar. Now the man who was named Miami's Ultimate Bartender in 2012 has opened Repour at the Albion Hotel. Although the bar has been open for a few short months, it's become a hit with locals, tourists, and industry folks. It could be the rumpus-room-meets-ski-lodge vibe or the ever-rotating collection of cocktails written on a chalkboard and divided by the names of rooms in a house, but it's most likely the cocktails themselves. Grillo fashions his cocktails with herbs and produce fresh from his own garden and uses chilled Colorado river rocks as a waterless way to chill drinks. Cocktails range from whimsical fantasies rimmed with Pop Rocks to aged rum served over a single frozen ball of coconut water. It's a bar that works whether you want to be silly or refined. (Cocktails cost about $12 to $15.)
5. The Drawing Room
The Drawing Room's Albert Trummer can best be described as one part showman, two parts mad scientist. Eyeing his homemade elixirs in bottles marked simply by number, you might feel like you're getting some potion from a Victorian-era apothecary. Indeed, Trummer's cocktail list reads like something you'd type into WebMD at 3 in the morning. Low energy? There's a cocktail for that. Need a little boost in the libido department? Help is on the way. Feeling restless? Dr. Trummer will cure what ails you. His intricate creations are made with fresh fruits, herbal bitters, and quality spirits and are sweetened with only a touch of sugar-cane juice. These cocktails give new meaning to the toast "to your health." 
4. Ball & Chain
Ball & Chain may be less than a year old, but the history of this bar dates back to 1935. Back then, it was a jazz club that hosted the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie. Sadly, the club closed in 1957 and slept until 2014, when it was revived as a fabulous Little Havana cocktail lounge. Miami's best cantineros  — Julio Cabrera and Danny Valdez — were tapped to create the menu of drinks, heavily influenced by the building's history and location. Take, for example, the pastelito daiquiri, a rose-colored cocktail made with pastelito-infused aged rum and served with a side of the Cuban pastry, or the Calle Ocho old-fashioned, made with tobacco bitters and tobacco leaves, a tribute to the cigar rollers of Cuba and Calle Ocho. If you like a side of history with your cocktails, Ball & Chain is the perfect place to sip.
3. Regent Cocktail Club
Ever pine for the good old days when beautiful people drank smart cocktails in coupe glasses while a seductive blonde sang sultry jazz tunes? You don't need a time machine to get that vibe. You simply need to go to the Regent Cocktail Club, arguably the classiest bar on this list. Each day, a half-dozen or so takes on classic cocktails, like the aviation and the daiquiri, are presented by some of Miami's (and the world's) best bartenders, such as Julio Cabrera and John Lermayer. The bar itself has had its share of the limelight, receiving three nominations at last year's Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards, including Best American Bar Team, Best American Hotel Bar, and American Bartender of the Year (Lermayer). That's timeless. 
2. The Rum Line
If Ernest Hemingway were to return from the dead and make his way to present-day South Beach, he'd likely be both confounded and delighted. After eyeing the parade of nearly nude bathing beauties and marveling at the new-fangled cars and noise, he'd probably look for a good bar to mull over his observations with a few drinks. With its breezy patio, inviting furnishings, and daiquiri-making skills, the Rum Line at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel would surely be Papa's hangout. The little bar, open Thursday through Sunday, features more than 100 kinds of rum. They can be sipped neat or fashioned into takes on classic tiki drinks served in porcelain gods, hula girls, and skulls. Of course, Hemingway would have ordered a hand-shaken daiquiri, made just the way he liked them at the Floridita in Havana.
1. The Broken Shaker
If anyone bet on the fact that a little pop-up bar in a shabby-chic Miami Beach hotel would become one of the world's most talked-about places to get a cocktail, they're rich after having beaten the odds. Since the opening of the Broken Shaker in January 2012, the pop-up has closed, reopened permanently, and become a legend in the cocktail community. The Broken Shaker was named one of the 50 Best Bars in the World, tagged as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in 2013 and 2014, and nominated at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards. It's also an incubator for some of Miami's best bartenders and serves as a beacon in the spirits community by hosting competitions, fundraisers, and brand-awareness events. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the cocktail, and the Broken Shaker's Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi are masters in the art of both creating innovative drinks and crafting the perfect versions of classic favorites. Now the Broken Shaker is set to conquer Chicago's sophisticated cocktail community with the opening of a bar at the Freehand Chicago. Given that nationally known bars such as the Aviary and Three Dots & a Dash are located in the Windy City, we hope to see some interesting influences make their way back to Miami Beach. 

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss