This past June 6 marked the first anniversary of the passing of John Lermayer, but Miami can remember the charismatic bartender this weekend with John Lermayer Day.
Before he died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at age 45, Lermayer set the standard for Miami’s bar industry, notably through one of his biggest projects, Sweet Liberty. The South Beach bar, which Lermayer cofounded, has won Best New American Cocktail Bar, Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar, and Best American Bar Team at Tales of the Cocktail and has also been included in the World’s Top 50 Bars. Yet with all of those accolades, the bartender remained humble, telling New Times in a 2016 interview: “The biggest award is being able to open every day.”
During last year's celebration of Lermayer's life at Miami Beach Botanical Garden, city Commissioners Michael Gongora and Micky Steinberg proclaimed June 21 John Lermayer Day. The celebration was attended by hundreds of members of the hospitality industry who traveled from all over the world to share their memories and anecdotes, and many of them credited Lermayer with their successful careers as hospitality professionals.
This year in honor of that special day, Sweet Liberty will celebrate the life of Lermayer for not one, but two days.
“Since it’s the first-annual celebration of John Lermayer Day, we wanted to really do it right,” says Dan Binkiewicz, co-owner of Sweet Liberty and a longtime friend of Lermayer's. “It’s so important to us to set the tone for this day and let everyone know we will always make sure to celebrate John Lermayer Day in a big way.”
Beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, Sweet Liberty will host various bars from around the nation as they pop up throughout the evening. Visiting bars include Cafe La Trova (Miami), Basik (New York City), Katana Kitten (New York City), Ghost Donkey (New York City), Spare Room (Los Angeles), and Occidental (Denver). DJ Chris Bostick will fly in from Austin to create the soundtrack for the evening.
Sean Kenyon, owner of Occidental in Denver, reflects on his friendship with Lermayer as he prepares the Thursday-evening pop up: "He and I were really close. We were often picked by different brands to visit their distilleries and to do guest bartender shifts, and somehow he and I always found each other in random places all over the world," Kenyon recalls. He says he still feels Lermayer's presence every day. "John and I always agreed that a bartender is someone who is selfless and giving. We were big proponents of keeping ourselves in check as bartenders got more popular, but appreciated being part of the scene as bartending was becoming a more admirable career choice."
This Friday, June 21, be ready to dance in Lermayer’s honor to the sounds of Brendan O’Hara, the Swayzees, and late-night tunes by Reid Waters. It’ll be a day filled with the music Lermayer loved most. Those celebrating can think of it as his personal playlist lasting till the early hours of the morning.
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There's also a website for the esteemed bartender. Johnlermayer.com includes favorite photos and a video of last year's celebration of life.
It's been a long year full of lessons for the Sweet Liberty family striving to keep Lermayer's beloved bar at peak performance. Fittingly, the bar's famous pink neon "Pursue Happiness" sign has become the phrase used most when remembering Lermayer's life and legacy.
“He was the founding father of Sweet Liberty and my partner," Binkiewicz says. "At the end of the day, we’re just trying to do good work in the name of John Lermayer.”
John Lermayer Day. Thursday, June 20, and Friday, June 21, at Sweet Liberty, 237 20th St., Suite B, Miami Beach; 305-763-8217; johnlermayer.com.