Even America’s hottest, flashiest, sexiest party cities aren’t immune to the craft cocktail movement. Just look at what’s been quietly happening in Miami.
The city’s growing number of craft cocktail bars have managed to go beyond the Mojito without losing themselves in a race to keep up with the serious, stirred cocktail craze that almost ate New York. The result is a culture that maintains a local flavor. And the men and women behind the sticks of Miami’s cocktail revolution are advancing the cause by embracing what’s around them—both the bounty of ingredients and the unique culture.
Miami’s craft cocktail scene is a little younger and a lot less pervasive than, say, San Francisco, New York or Chicago. But over the last five years or so, it has become nationally relevant, boosted by a recent restaurant renaissance. “Once a city goes through a food revolution, a cocktail revolution is right behind it,” says celebrated bartender and Miami Beach cocktail bar owner John Lermayer.
A New York transplant, Lermayer helped get things started in 2007 at the Florida Room (now closed) in the Delano Hotel on Miami Beach. “Before TFR, Miami wasn’t on the cocktail map,” says Laura Cullen, another lapsed New Yorker (there are many in Miami) whose beloved but now shuttered bar, Clarke’s, was an important meeting place for the small South Beach bartending community. Cullen gives Lermayer much of the credit for kickstarting Miami Beach’s cocktail movement. “John Lermayer brought top talent from around the world to train his staff, and opened his doors to anyone in the city who wanted to learn,” she says. “It was an incredible time for the community, the energy was just starting to build, and you knew that a renaissance was on its way.”
Chef Michelle Bernstein and her husband and business partner, David Martinez, who helped resurrect the Miami dining scene in 2006 with the now legendary Michy’s, took note of what was happening at the Florida Room. The pair opened Sra Martinez—a tapas restaurant with a small but trailblazing cocktail bar—putting the bar program in the hands of Cuban cantinero (a rigorously trained bartender) Julio Cabrera. “When we opened Sra Martinez in 2008 there wasn’t really a true cocktail scene in Miami,” says Martinez, who adds that other than the Florida Room, he recalls only Bourbon Steak in the northern suburb of Aventura as having an interesting cocktail program at the time. But Martinez says that has all changed: “In the past few years Miami has become one of the more cocktail influenced cities in the U.S.”