The Best Cocktail Bars in Miami
New York City and San Francisco may get credit as the birthplaces of the modern craft cocktail revolution, but nearly two decades after the first speakeasies emerged, Miami is the most exciting cocktail town in America.
That’s some serious progress for Magic City, which had been long known for vodka-cranberrys, bank-breaking bottle service, and cloying beach drinks. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that the seeds for a local cocktail renaissance were planted at the now-shuttered Florida Room in the Delano Hotel. Here, the late John Lermayer -- a NYC-born bartender who was often referred to as the father of the Miami mixology movement -- would swap artificial mixers for fresh ingredients, introduce a proper ice program, and most importantly, bring up a nascent cohort of bartenders eager to spread the gospel of cocktail culture.
In his life, Lermayer would go on to open and work with some of the city’s most acclaimed bars, among them the storied Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company, which remains a pioneering establishment today. His contemporaries, like Bar Lab founders Elad Svi and Gabe Orta and near-legendary Cuban cantinero Julio Cabrera, are still fixtures in the scene -- the former duo helming Broken Shaker at the Freehand Hotel and the latter recently opening the hotly-anticipated Cafe La Trova in Little Havana.
Now, a new generation of forward-thinking bartenders is building on those foundations, fusing the principles of classic cocktailing to formats and ingredients that provide a sense of place in the 305. From fairweather frozen drinks that are (gasp!) actually balanced and complex to new-school cocktails that tap into the city’s Cuban-American heritage, the best of Miami’s cocktail scene showcases the city’s vibrant cultural landscape.
And to top it all off: you can still get a well-made drink in Miami for a lot cheaper than you would elsewhere…as long as you know where to go. Keep reading for the best cocktail bars from Wynwood to Little Havana and Miami Beach.
A storied live music venue in Little Havana dating back to 1935, Ball & Chain also represented one of the longest-standing places in town for a good cocktail. That’s thanks to a one-time assist from the good folks behind Regent Cocktail Club, who helped create the classics-oriented menu of margs, mojitos, and daiquiris. A few originals are worth noting, like the the Pastelito Daiquiri, amping up the classic recipe with guava puree, house honey syrup, and a pastelito garnish. Then there’s the food, ranging from an Angus and Tillamook Cheddar burger and jerk-roasted wings to conch ceviche and Cuban spring rolls.
A collaboration between Miami chef Brad Kilgore and bartender Nico de Soto of Mace in NYC and Danico in Paris, this Japanese-inflected drinks den defies genre and expectation. Take, for instance, a pickleback riff that subs in chilled shiitake broth in place for pickle brine for a blast of umami, or a Kung Fu Pandan Goes to Japan, fusing Aquavit, coconut, pineapple, pandan, red bean, and wakame seaweed. On the food front, find similarly successful, outre experiments like a soul-warming uni “fondue” of cheese and urchin, and dumplings filled with shrimp and Ibérico pork.
Mogul-producer Pharrell Williams brought some A-list star power to this Design District newcomer opened in late 2018. A collaboration with Groot Hospitality’s David Grutman, the bar is trimmed with animal prints, bold tilework, and Moroccan-style animal print accessories for an overall Casablanca-esque effect. While that sultry interior will surely be one of the bar’s main draws, the cocktail menu doubles down on the theme with aperitif-forward drinks like the Flowers, fortifying St. Germain and prosecco with whispers of rose and lavender.
There’s no shortage of oceanfront bars on Miami Beach, but a standout among these is the palapa-roofed concept tucked in the newly-refurbished Cadillac Hotel. Opened in late 2018 as part of a $47 million renovation, the 96-seat bar offers juices and coffee by day and cocktails in the afternoon. Soak up beach-ready bar standards like Maine lobster rolls and a Wagyu beef burger with a Grand Marnier-accented house margarita or an excellent Cadillac Frosé that blends vodka with rosé and fresh strawberries.
Generator hostels, a UK-based upscale hostels chain, took an ambitious approach to their Miami outpost, which opened in late 2018 on Miami Beach. Helmed by erstwhile Broken Shaker alum Gui Jaroschy, who was tapped to help develop the brand’s food and beverage programs worldwide, this poolside oasis offers a menu of fancified bar snacks (pro-tip: order the tacos) complemented by local wine, craft beers, and cocktails. The pièce de résistance, however, is a selection of frozen cocktails that includes the exceedingly quaffable Friesling -- layering the frozen wine with infusions of Asian pear and flat-leaf parsley -- a refreshing sipper to cozy up with on your cabana. Once you’ve got your drink, snag an Instagram-worthy photo in front of the bar’s giant iguana mural.
Arguably Miami’s most globally-renowned cocktail bar, Sweet Liberty manages to simultaneously embody the down-home appeal of a neighborhood bar (with really good food) and the thoughtfulness of a high-end cocktail spot. From 4pm to 4am daily, jam out to a ‘90s hip-hop soundtrack while sipping on drinks both classic, like a three-rum Piña Colada with Jamaican coffee and a float of PX sherry, and free-wheeling, like the Pear Pressure, fusing Scotch whisky with Amontillado sherry, poached pear, mulled wine, and fresh lemon. Fun and dancing are encouraged, as is the pursuit of happiness -- as seen in the bar’s signature, Instagram-ready neon sign.
Mama Tried, and she succeeded, in bringing good cocktails to the historic booze wasteland of Downtown Miami. Opened in summer of 2018 by a group of friends from different career paths (including bartenders, filmmakers, DJs, and teachers), this over-2000 square foot cocktail emporium serves up consistently well-made quaffs with various sides of entertainment, from arcade games to a pool table. On the drinks front, opt for the Raspberry Beret -- shaking lemon, raspberries, and fortified rosé with your choice of spirit -- or opt for the house take on the modern classic Porn Star Martini, served here with vanilla vodka, passion fruit, and Licor 43.
Though quieter than the rest of South Beach, the burgeoning neighborhood located south of Fifth Street has become known as a destination for food and drink in its own right. As the name suggests, this swanky mid-century cocktail bar serves big flavors in a small space. For a refreshing option, go for the Pucker Up, tempering Olmec Altos tequila with chile liqueur and muddled watermelon. And for an after-dinner nightcap, consult a selection of curated digestifs like the Cortadito of Cynar and Amaro Lucano with a boozy coffee liqueur cream float.
Clear spirits are the focus of this luxurious indoor-outdoor watering hole housed within South Beach’s Kimpton Angler’s Hotel. Sidle up to the black-and-gold bar or gather around the backyard firepit for cocktails highlighting a wide array of gins, vodkas, cachaça, unaged brandies, and agave spirits. Standouts on barman Chris Resnick’s menu include the tequila-based Rey Mambo, shaking a house-made mango shrub, fresh lime juice, and black pepper, and the Last Days of Pisco, mixing the South American brandy with black peach tea and serrano peppers.
Already one of Miami’s most significant openings in 2019, this Little Havana gastro-bar spotlights the creative efforts of beloved Miami bar mentor Julio Cabrera and his long-time collaborators, James Beard Award winner chef Michelle Bernstein and her husband David Martinez. Here, Cabrera bridges the ethos of the cantinero -- that is, the polished and technical style of hospitality practiced by old-school Cuban bartenders -- with a freewheeling, no-holds-barred approach to bartending. That means you’re soaking up Bernstein’s amped-up riffs on Cuban classics (paella croquetas, black garlic empanadas) with fun and whimsical cocktails such as the refreshing, tequila-based Guayabero, with guava marmalade and cayenne-agave syrup, and the La Chancleta, sloshing grassy cachaça with a ginger-honey syrup and lime juice. As the name might suggest, the drink arrives on a little chancleta, or slipper.
This boozer serves an array of classic 'tails, and some almost as inventive as those guys in the bathroom at Club Space next door, including a La Puritita Verda Mezcal/ lime/ cane sugar/ dried habanero chili combo called Hot & Smokey, the likes of which make it Downtown's Premier (League) cocktail destination.
There’s a lot to take in across Argentine entrepreneur Alan Faena’s expansive, mid-Beach Faena District -- from the residential Faena House, to the various glitzy restaurants and bars housed within the Faena Hotel. On the cocktail front, you’re best off sinking into a plush sofa in the Living Room, the hotel’s live jazz-soundtracked lounge that bridges Gatsby-esque glamour with thoughtful bartending. Signature drinks include a hibiscus-laced house spritz of vodka, Champagne, Aperol, rose water and a trussed-up rum and coke made with Dictador 12 rum, Averna, Fernet Branca, and Cola.
This tree-lined outdoor oasis is set conveniently in the backyard of Miami Beach’s popular Freehand Hostel. The space doubles as an herb garden (and swimming pool, bocce ball court, and ping pong hall) that’s harvested in service of drinks like the Ruby Slippers -- layering Bacardi Superior and Chinola passionfruit with PX sherry, guava, honey, oregano and lime.
Nestled in the lobby of the W South Beach, Living Room’s got a bar stacked with ingredients like fruits, herbs, & edible flowers, a drink menu that's divided into categories like Infundo (infused) and Laboratorium (molecular mixology), and innovative concoctions like the Lividus (organic raspberries & fresh Japanese yuzu citrus soaked in lavender-infused gin, sprinkled with lavender), and the Electric Watermelon: fresh watermelon, rosemary honey, peach bitters, and bourbon topped with honeydew caviar, which is essentially honeydew juice that's been gelled into little balls.
The backyard of this Brickell hipster hangout’s got not just the requisite live music stage and occasional dude grilling burgers, but an edible freaking wall that provides ingredients for stuff like the namesake Blackbird with Seagram's Sweet Tea Vodka, fresh blackberries & lemonade, and the Red-Footed Bobby w/ Don Julio Tequila Reposado, Cocchi Americano, fresh strawberries, lime juice & egg white, which to our knowledge does not come from chickens raised in the aforementioned backyard... but who knows?
Any bar with a head mixologist so innovative he landed the cover of GQ obviously has an...um, photogenic bar staff. But they’ll probably also have a mind-blowing rotating selection of drinks (many of which include fire) served in a dimly-lit space straight out of the '30s.
If drag queen bingo with a side of hot wings isn’t enough to entice you into this Wynwood drinking den, keep in mind all the juices on the constantly rotating cocktail menu are hand-pressed daily. This means when you order a Moscow Mule, the ginger juice is going have a lot more flavor than the ginger beer you’re getting in a can elsewhere. In addition to fun games, Gramps has its very own pizza window full of good-even-when-you’re-sober pies, hot wings, and garlic knots. So if you need a little something to soak up all that fresh-squeezed fruit juice, you don’t even have to leave the premises.
Where better to put a bar than a place that used to make frat party ice luges? Yep, this once-upon-a-time ice factory is now Wynwood’s creative hub for both food and drinks with a bar menu from Ben Potts, formerly of Broken Shaker. Standouts include both thoughtful riffs on classics, like a Zacapa rum old-fashioned made with chocolate bitters, as well as inventive originals like the Cool Runnings, soothing Appleton 12-year rum and becherovka with Aperol, kaffir lime, and nutmeg.
If you’re looking for a place with great drinks at a great price, well, only come here for happy hour. Views like Juvia’s don’t come cheap (even a spot in the parking garage is $15) but boy, do they impress. Here, you can sit at a big, stone communal table in front of an ivy wall, gazing out at the South Beach skyline and feeling as theatrically Miami as you ever have. Zarko Stankovic has created a bar menu heavy on fruity, tropical combinations like the Caipi 305, shaking coconut rum with cachaça, pineapple purée, cilantro, and lime juice.
Sign up here for our daily Miami email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.