Like every other Miami bar and restaurant, the Sylvester closed in March after the state of Florida issued an emergency closure order. But, unlike many bars and restaurants, the lights remained off at the midtown Miami watering hole — until recently.
Bar director and partner Ben Potts says that at one point, he thought the bar might never reopen. "Honestly, it was looking pretty bleak, but we pulled it off."
Potts says the curfew was a main factor. Once officials made it clear that it would be lifted, there was work to be done. "Things break when you're not using them. We had a lot of repairs and maintenance to do," Potts tells New Times. "That's also a substantial expense when you have no revenue coming in."
Fortunately, Potts has a veteran team and experience when it comes to opening — and reopening — bars. "I've opened this bar three times now," he quips.
Potts and his team took over the former Bardot space in 2018, opening Boombox. A year later, they transformed it into the Sylvester. Almost one year to the day after that metamorphosis, COVID closed the bar once again.
When the time came to reopen, the team deep-cleaned and repainted the space. They replaced broken light bulbs and cleaned up a surprise mess. ("Some beers exploded in the cooler. That was fun cleaning it out.")
"We were working on a shoestring budget, so everyone had to work that much harder, myself included," Potts says. "We were all just gritting our teeth, hunkering down, and going for it."
The refreshed space will be paired with a new cocktail and food menu.
The new cocktails, a team effort from Potts, bar manager Rensel "Ice" Cabrera, general manager Tim Christakis, and barman Josue Gonzalez, will pay homage to all the sunshine and weirdness of Florida — the latter an eccentricity that Potts embraces. "To work here, you have to channel Florida Man," he says.
Cocktails include the "Floradora," a riff on a Moscow mule made with Ketel One Botanicals Grapefruit-Rose vodka, raspberry syrup, fresh citrus, ginger beer, and a fortified rosé aperitivo; and the “Pink Panther,” a tropical gin sour made with gin, guava-lavender syrup, bitters, bianco vermouth, fresh citrus, and egg white. Seemingly inspired by the Saturday Night Live spoof of Miami Beach spring break, the “Vaxxxed & Waxxxed” is made with tequila, mezcal, Thai chile-infused Aperol, passionfruit liqueur, and fresh citrus juice. Cocktails start at $15.
If you're out with friends, consider ordering a bar tower, a play on the raw-bar architectural marvel that replaces the seafood with pony beers, shots, and bottled specialty cocktails.
Chef and partner Brian Nasajon will offer a concise menu of bar bites that includes a pastrami medianoche ($12), a charcuterie board ($18), a quesadilla ($7), and a variety of empanadas ($4 each).
Potts, who along with Nasajon also owns Beaker & Gray in nearby Wynwood, believes the key to a good bar (or any successful business) is its culture and making sure the team and guests are happy.
"Obviously, we make drinks and we have music, but why does the Sylvester exist? We want to be the place you want to get stuck at during a tropical storm in Miami. We have drinks, food, music, games, and friends."
The Sylvester. 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-814-4548, thesylvesterbar.com. Wednesday and Thursday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.