When someone mentions Miami, what springs to mind? Swaying palm trees and pastel-shaded art deco buildings? Don Johnson as ‘Sonny’ Crockett, his jacket sleeves rolled up, sipping on blue libations? It certainly has a retro backdrop, but, perhaps surprisingly, Miami has lately become the hottest place in America for mixology.
The city has 300 sunny days a year and with the rising heat comes a rising thirst. Not just for cocktails, but from the mixologists themselves, who are moving to the city to create and be inspired. The founders of Barcelona’s Two Schmucks, one of the best bars in the world according to the World’s Best 50 Bar list, are now based in the city, and ran their first pop-up this year.
The signature drink of Miami is as retro as the art deco buildings in South Beach. The ‘Miami Vice’ is, in my humble opinion, the best frozen drink ever created. An outstanding mix of tropical sweet Piña Colada blended with tart Strawberry Daiquiri, it is the perfect poolside cooler. Traditionally Miami is a city for ‘snow-birds’, those who travel south to wait out the harsh cold winters to which the more northerly states are prone.
Post-pandemic many of the visitors decided to stay, and the freedom to work from home prompted a much younger crowd to move to the sun drenched city. Add to this Florida boasting some of the lowest taxes in the country and it has become a mecca for creatives looking for interesting drinking experiences. I sank sups at five of the best bars in Miami in the name of journalistic integrity.
BALL & CHAIN
A visit to Miami is incomplete without a trip to Little Havana, just west of the popular Downtown and Brickell areas. Calle Ocho on 8th street is socially and culturally the very centre of the Little Havana universe. After you’ve had the chance to buy hand rolled cigars and sample the local empanadas at El Pub, one of Little Havana’s oldest eateries, pop across the road to the historic bar, Ball & Chain. A Cuban-American watering hole, it’s been the best place in town for a classic mojito since it opened back in 1935. With its live Cuban music and wooden vaulted ceiling with fans whirring away, powered by vintage rubber bands, the Ball & Chain Saloon transports you to Havana in the 1930s. The atmosphere is so authentically Cuban, you almost expect to find Ernest Hemingway propped up at the end of the bar. It might seem it, but don’t worry, this bar is the opposite of a tourist trap. Locals really do come here to drink.
From the creators behind Miami mainstay Sweet Liberty (also well worth a visit) comes this subterranean hangout spot. A sumptuous 1970s aesthetic with dark velvet seating, live music can be anything from jazz to Bossa Nova to a late night DJ set. Signature cocktails include a Blood orange margarita, a heady blend of tequila, orange curaçao, Campari, Select aperitivo, fresh lime and blood orange. It’s artfully finished off with a pinch of Hawaiian lava salt. If something a little stronger takes your fancy then try the Orchard Sidecar, a devilish mix of Hennessy cognac, Calvados, Cointreau, pressed lemon and apple. What is refreshing and unique menuwise at Medium Cool is their ‘Shots for the People’. A lovingly curated list of mini-cocktails served as ice-cold shots. With names like Disco Fever, Green Dream and Firewalker it is definitely more cool than just medium.
MAC’S CLUB DEUCE
Established in 1926, this place is the coolest dive bar you’ll ever set foot in. Open from 8am until 5am, it closes for just three hours a day for cleaning. Filled with neon lights, cigarette smoke, mirrored walls, vintage jukebox and a pool table, you can see why the producers on hit 1980s copshow Miami Vice chose it as a filming location. This place is not for the faint hearted; their tagline tells you everything you need to know: “A sunny place for shady people”. If you visit between 8am – 5pm it’s happy hour, where every drink comes with a casino chip to spend on a free second drink at the bar. After 5pm the music gets turned up and no matter where you sit at the horseshoe shaped bar you are in for a wild night.
Located in Downtown Miami, a tropical plant filled alley leads you into the Alea building where you’ll find Jaguar Sun, an intimate restaurant and cocktail bar filled with vintage ceramics. As for the drinks, if margaritas are your go-to, try their Green Ghoul. A tangy twist with tequila and mezcal combined with lime, cucumber and poblano. Foodwise, Jaguar Sun has gained an impressive reputation for both seafood and pasta dishes. A highlight is the Agnolotti with corn, blue crab, saffron and marcona almonds but honestly the best thing here isn’t alcoholic: you can’t leave without trying the fluffy Parker rolls dunked in whipped honey butter. Heaven on a plate.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL AT THE SURF CLUB
The palm-fringed Champagne bar located in the centre of this luxurious property has barrels of old world glamour. Dating back to 1930, it is a place of myth and legend. Celebrity guests included Noël Coward, Elizabeth Taylor, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Frank Sinatra and Tennessee Williams. There are stories of booze on the beach during prohibition, kayaks in the swimmingpool, lavish themed galas, one time with elephants, another with 300 tables made of ice. A place for ‘proper impropriety’. Today the bar has had a stunning refurbishment with interiors overseen by designer Joseph Dirand. Expect dark emerald tones paired with lavish gold and marble. The baer is a magnate for the industry’s best mixology rising stars such as Tatiana Odishoo, who serves elegant classics like the Essenza Negroni while dressed in a classic white jacket uniform. Her cocktails are simple but almost perfect.