Here's Our Travel Guide to This Nation of Over 7,000 Islands
Your mecca for beachside drinks and people-watching: The phrase "sipping a fruity drink on the beach in Miami," the very definition of what you'd rather be doing at any given moment, comes to life at the Clevelander. Here you'll sit outside at an Art Deco pool bar and sip frozen drinks like the legendary Miami Vice (a daiquiri/piña colada swirl) while scantily clad women with expensive chests often perform on stage and ESPN Radio hosts broadcast in the background. It's ground zero for anything spring break in South Beach, and if the rager on the ground floor gets to be too much, the C-Level bar on the roof has some of the best drinking views of the ocean.
A legendary jazz club, revived and reinvented: Once, this Little Havana legend played host to musicians with names like Holiday, Armstrong, and Dorsey and put on after-hours concerts in the era when African-American performers couldn't be in Miami Beach after midnight. It fell into disrepair in the decades that followed, but a few years ago was restored to its former glory, made up to look exactly as it did in photos from its 1930s heyday. Its kitchen serves an impressive menu of Cuban favorites like croquetas and ropa vieja tacos, and its bar slings craft cocktails like the trademark pastelito daiquiri. Daytime drinking here can be like a slice of Havana, and nighttime often brings cigars and karaoke on the back patio, where you can sing in a bandshell shaped like a giant pineapple.
A literal beer garden 40 stories in the sky: The new glass-and-steel Brickell City Centre isn't much of a tourist draw, unless your ideal vacation involves stops at Lululemon. But the absolute can't-miss in Miami's biggest new development is this bar atop the EAST hotel. You'll arrive from the hotel lobby via trippy elevators that recall Lite-Brites on acid. At the top you're in an Asian-inspired garden, flush with ferns and bamboo. Beyond Sugar's glass walls, the city sprawls north, south, and out to the water of Biscayne Bay and into Miami Beach to the east. The food is top-flight (try the boneless Korean hot wings) and the local beer selection will get you the view without having to shell out for $15 cocktails. No bar in Miami will give you more perspective of the land, and the crowd of dolled-up locals and hotel guests will have you striking up conversations with people from around the globe.
Get engulfed by the Miami skyline: For years, Miami was purely a beach vacationland, with a few mainland towers and shops for the locals. But in the past decade the city has grown up. Nothing announced that better than Downtown's first real rooftop bar, 13 stories in the sky. Pawn Broker might sit atop the Langford Hotel (a restored Downtown bank building) but the feel is of a neighborhood hotspot. At 13 stories high the bar sits comfortably above the street yet well below the city's real skyline; lit above you will be the likes of the Freedom Tower (in red) or the Miami Tower (a grab bag). The drinks come from the most creative cocktail team in the city. The go-to is the Giggle Water, a nod to Prohibition bathtub gin, served in a tiny ceramic bathtub, brimming with lavender foam atop Martin Miller W.S. gin, Champagne syrup, and tonic.
The best bar you'll find in an outhouse: Don't think for a second the people who run the Bodega taco stop are trying to keep this bar a secret. On weekends the line to get in can stretch all the way down 16th St. It's best described as secret-themed, where the only entrances are behind an outhouse door near the taco dining area, or another door that looks like the entrance to a walk-in freezer. The fun of discovering a two-level speakeasy behind a taco shop carries into the bar itself, where locals and tourists pack the place almost every night of the week. It's the kind of bar you hope to find when you say, "I want to go where the locals go," a spot enough off the beaten path that it weeds out the worst of the tourists, but still sexy enough to warrant a visit. And if you want to get to know people who call South Beach home, and aren't into dive bars, this is your best bet.
The top choice for a waterfront sunset: Maybe it's because we know in a few years EVERY bar in Miami will be a waterfront bar, but for right now there is an alarming lack of places to drink on the water in this city. The best among them is Monty's Sunset, a spot where you can sit in a swimming pool with a cold beer and watch the sun dip over Downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay. The food is your standard bar fare, the drinks aren't making any "best of" cocktail lists anytime soon. But for the sunset pictures that are guaranteed to make you lose friends on Instagram out of pure, unbridled jealousy, no Miami bar beats Monty's.
The beach comes indoors: The cadre of North Beach lifers who claim this place as a regular hangout are probably going to hate us for announcing it, but in Miami this is the funkiest, quirkiest, most random bar you can visit. Let's start with the floor, which is literally covered in sand and leaves you feeling like you spent the night on the beach across the street. Then there's the crowd, a combination of South Florida drifters, eccentric locals, and service-industry types that will give you your best window into the characters that make up the everyday Miami Beach. The decor defaults to colored neon, and the furniture is long on oversized wood deck chairs, like a North Florida beach town wandered in to sit a spell. Drinks here are cheap, by beach standards, and if you're sick of shelling out $7 per Bud Light further south, it's definitely worth the trip. Just don't tell anyone Thrillist sent you.
Where good decisions go to die: Part of coming to Miami is pushing your party limits to new, ill-advised realms. And nowhere will let you do that like this Downtown nightclub that NEVER CLOSES. It's part club, part strip club, where topless dancers do full revue shows on stage, and where the co-ed patrons tuck dollar bills into their G-strings. Here you'll see typically mild-mannered ladies spanking a stripper's ass while a guy you're pretty sure plays for the Detroit Lions makes it rain a couple of tables away. Because it's open all night, Miamians swap tales of going in at 4am and emerging at noon, typically a lot poorer than they started. But if you're looking for that all-night party experience that won't bother you with "closing time," this is the place to do it.
The unapologetic landmark dive: If you're not into happy hour at 8am, maybe the Deuce isn't for you. The oldest bar in South Beach is also its most storied, a smoke-filled dive that was home to the wrap party for TV's Miami Vice and has seen more celebrities than LIV and Studio 54 combined. The patrons here run the gamut: wealthy international visitors, models, down-and-out reprobates, service-industry pros. It's dirty and dingy, lit only by a handful of neon lights and a TV, which isn't always visible through the haze of cigarette smoke. But it's also a judgment-free zone, a place where everyone in South Beach is equal, and the happy hours start before most people go to work. Everything you wear to the Deuce will need to be shampooed a minimum of five times to get the cigarette smell out. But, hey, that's just the charm staying with you.
Miami's best craft cocktails, period: Over the past five years it seems like any bar with fewer than three windows and an Old Fashioned on the menu likes to call itself a speakeasy. But Miami's best craft cocktail bar feels like the real deal. Hidden in the back of the Gale Hotel, the spot is adorned with dark leather furniture, marble floors, and mahogany walls. The bartenders here concoct creative, delicious new drinks every day. And unlike in a lot of craft cocktail dens, you'll rarely wait long for a drink. The space is small, sometimes cramped, and feels like the police could bust in and kick everyone out at any time. But it's 2017, booze is legal, and the best place in Miami to see the amazing things that can be done with it is at The Regent.
Outdoor drinking in the world's best hostel bar: The Freehand hostel feels more like a Deco hotel than the typical dorm for European backpackers, largely because of this bar that sits in the center courtyard. The herbs grown in said courtyard are used to create the craft cocktails on the rotating menu, including a nightly punch bowl special that's the most efficient way to enjoy the ambience. The courtyard is a canopy of palms and banyan trees, a little oasis of green in cement-covered Miami Beach. The tranquil hostel pool sits just past the foliage, and hammocks and oversized deck chairs dot the property. It might be the most relaxing place to drink in Miami Beach that doesn't even have a glimpse of the water. And on a cool evening it's almost like sipping a rosemary-infused adult beverage on your own back porch.
The bar 17-year-old you would've killed to get into: At first glance, combining a selection of 150 whiskeys with a ride-on motorcycle arcade game might not seem like the BEST idea for a bar. But you're in Miami, the rules are different. For big-kid fun, no bar in Miami comes close to Ricky's, where a full-on video arcade with motorcycles, a Terminator shooting game, Pop-A-Shot, and other arcade classics give way to a big, spacious bar with its own music stage and beer pong table. Bartenders will also custom-mix a barrel of punch for you with a full bottle of booze, fresh fruit, and mixers to enjoy at your table while you play mini-beer pong. And on some nights a live band accompanies a karaoke contest, where actually good singers (and you, too, if you're brave enough) compete for real money to see who can sing the best. The devil-may-care menu includes funnel cakes, sweet hot chicken & waffles, and buckets of popcorn.
The last great locals waterfront bar: In the height of the cocaine cowboys era, Coconut Grove thrived on the sorts of swanky nightclubs that specialized in soaking up coke money. Today the Grove is known more for its fine dining than any sort of nightlife. Yet one great bar remains: Monty's. For waterfront drinking in Miami proper, it's still the king. The happy hour here draws a fantastic cross section of Coral Gables corporate types and University of Miami students, all there to enjoy cheap beer with spacious views of Biscayne Bay. During less-crowded times, it's your best mainland bet for relaxing and seaside drinking, with a fantastic selection of fresh seafood to boot.
The place to drink among young artists: Wynwood has become the "it" draw for Miami over the past half-decade, full of legitimately fantastic new spots -- but none better than Wood. Not only because it serves tacos out of an old Mercury hearse in the back (though that's a draw), but because the picnic tables and diverse crowd are the best way to experience the Wynwood scene without veering into tourist traps. Yes, the bartenders can skew towards the surly, and if you're offended by hipsters, it's not the bar for you. But it sits right at the intersection of NW 25th St and NW 2nd Ave -- the heart of Wynwood -- and people-/art-watching here is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
1. The Clevelander1020 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach
2. Ball & Chain1513 SW 8th St, Miami
3. Sugar788 Brickell Plz, Miami
4. Pawn Broker Rooftop and Lounge121 SE 1st Street, Miami
5. Bodega Taqueria y Tequila1220 16th St, Miami Beach
6. Monty's Sunset300 Alton Rd, Miami Beach
7. Sandbar Lounge6752 Collins Ave, Miami Beach
8. E11EVEN Miami29 NE 11th St, Miami
9. Mac's Club Deuce222 14th St, Miami Beach
10. Regent Cocktail Club1690 Collins Ave, Miami Beach
11. Broken Shaker2727 Indian Creek Dr, Miami
12. Ricky's1222 16th St, Miami Beach
13. Monty's Raw Bar2550 South Bayshore Dr, Miami
14. Wood Tavern2531 NW 2nd Ave, Miami
Miami is notorious for housing debaucherous Spring Breaks, which isn’t fair because a lot of places in Miami don’t reflect that parties-gone-wild mentality you’re picturing right now… but a lot of them do. The Clevelander is one of those places that does: it’s reminiscent of everything you think of when anyone utters the words “Spring Break,” mostly because it’s one of the founding fathers of those ubiquitous, raging parties on South Beach. The art-deco hotel’s three poolside bars serve tropical frozen drinks and plenty of American bar favorites (burgers, pizzas, salads, snacks), and the weekday happy hours and weekend brunches are the perfect excuse to see-and-be-seen on one of the busiest patios on South Beach.
This historic live music spot, which has hosted the likes of Billie Holiday and Count Basie, is renowned not only for its high-class staging of musicians, but for being one of the first venues to feature African-American performers. Today's Ball & Chain retains the original neon sign and pine ceiling, and gives equal play to both jazz and salsa.
Located on the 40th floor of Brickell's East Hotel, this Asian-inspired rooftop bar offers zen vibes and a garden with mood lighting, ideal for a first-date evening. Cocktails obviously take after Asian influences in both name and ingredients (like the Lychee Blossom and Sunset Samba), while the tapas selection varies with dishes like classic boneless chicken wings and grilled prawns.
At Pawn Broker, the glass you clink with is just as significant as the cocktail inside. One of the most highly acclaimed bars in the city, Pawn Broker is perched high above the streets on the roof of Downtown’s Langford Hotel. Each of the bar’s 1920s-themed cocktails is served in a unique, dedicated glass: The Giggle Water, an allusion to Prohibition bathtub gin, is served in a tiny ceramic bathtub, brimming with lavender foam atop Martin Miller W.S. gin, champagne syrup, and Fever Tree Indian tonic, while the White Lightning is held in a transparent lowball. At Pawn Broker, Sundays mean debauchery, not confession, meaning a boozy bar brunch with all-you-can-drink rosé, frosé, and mimosas as well as quesadillas, pastries, peanut butter French toast sticks, and eggs Benedict empanadas.
Strings of hanging lights, graffiti art, and neon spray-painted barstools create a vibrant Havana-meets-Brooklyn vibe at Bodega, a taco shop that's cooler than most thanks to its not-so-secret speakeasy out back. An outhouse door near the dining area leads to a sultry, two-level bar that mixes industrial decor with plush velvet sofas and Persian carpets. Tequila is the alcohol of choice here, and though house cocktails are available, your best bet is to order the bartender's choice.
Something about eating seafood on a dock makes it seem just a little more fresh. And something about eating fresh seafood on a dock next to a pool makes it all the more picturesque. Overlooking the Miami Beach Marina, Monty’s Sunset serves food and drink under poolside tiki huts. Prime sunset views and an institutional happy hour, accompanied by live music and DJs, draws a drinking crowd, while plentiful raw bar options (Florida Keys crab claws, Gulf oysters, and Bahamian conch ceviche) highlight the best of local fish.
Take it very literally: Sandbar Lounge is a sandy bar. The floors are covered with sand and leaves, so if you’re one of those people who can’t stand sand in your flip flops… get over it. Sandbar Lounge is a neighborhood bar with neon lighting, surfboard- and palm tree-lined walls, and a lifeguard stand because, you know, drinking can be a dangerous sport. Sip your cheap drinks in oversized wooden deck chairs with the sand between your toes, and enjoy your relaxed tiki escape from the posh nightlife that surrounds you on South Beach.
Burlesque performances? Check. Big-name DJs? Yeah. LED screens, a stage with a (cough, cough) pole, plus straight-off-the-carving board eats like pulled pork sliders 24 HOURSA DAY?! Miami's hottest dayclub, E11EVEN, is delivering all of the above, plus bottle service, and scantily clad dancers who are wayyy more likely to hang out if you buy said bottle service and post up in one the leather booths lining the dance floor/balcony.
I’m going to be honest, if Playboy names a bar one of the best in America, I would blindly agree. Mac’s Club Deuce really is, though, and not only because it’s withstood the ever-changing tides of Miami nightlife, but because it hasn’t conformed to the glitz or glam of its peers and still remains one of the greatest dive bars in the country. The black-tiled, neon-lit bar stands today as it did in 1926 when it opened, just a touch more worn and beer-soaked. Mac’s is open from 8am until dawn the next day, and during a large chunk of that (11 hours, to be exact), regulars post up for two-for-one happy hour, because at Mac’s, more than just one hour is happy -- 11 of them are.
Regent Cocktail Club is a club, but not the kind you’re thinking, despite its South Beach locale. The Cocktail Club, inside the sophisticated Gale South Beach Hotel, is the kind of club you’d find in New York City circa 1940, with the sound of live jazz, the scent of cigars, the taste of Sazeracs and Sidecars, and a seat next to Frank Sinatra himself. It’s decorated like a retro speakeasy, which is reflected by the classic cocktail menu, each one anchored by the traditional recipes of the time. Maybe Frank Sinatra won’t be here, but everything else remains the same: during your evening at Regent, you can expect to be serenaded by live music as you sip your Old Fashioneds, stepping outside every so often for breath of fresh… cigar air on the patio (it’s the 21st century, nobody smokes inside anymore).
In the backyard of the Freehand on South Beach, tucked off to the side, there’s a small alcove overflowing with cocktail-consuming hopefuls, waiting patiently to procure a poolside sipper. The Broken Shaker’s locale on the Freehand’s property is beneficial, not just because the grounds serve as a lounge for the tiny bar front’s patrons, but also because the bar menu taps into the property’s garden for ingredients, resulting in creative, substantive cocktails that also happen to be best when drunk by the pool, in the pool, on a hammock, or anywhere else in the hostel’s art deco backyard. Broken Shaker has since spread its craft cocktail success cross country, with locations in both Chicago and Los Angeles.
Next to Bodega, and from the same team, Ricky’s is an actual South Beach carnival for grown ups! Really… it’s equal parts restaurant and bar, but mostly entertainment playground, with live music, stand up comedy, karaoke, arcade games, and basically a different themed party every night. Food (part of why it’s a carnival) on offer includes corn dogs, sliders, waffle mac and cheese, and chicken and waffles, and drinks (this is why it’s for grown ups) on offer include upwards of 150 whiskey labels, build-your-own punch bowl, and table-tap beer bongs. See you out there.
Monty's Raw Bar is a bayside seafood house serving tropical cocktails to patrons under tiki huts, because what else would you drink with a heaping raw-bar platter while gazing out over Biscayne Bay? The bi-level space is located in a shopping strip on Dinner Key, where prime sunset views and the ocean's bounty are accompanied by live music and DJs, and dancing on the weekends.
Wynwood’s resident bar, Wood Tavern has been around since long before the fancy art galleries and luxurious restaurants, making it one of the area’s longest-lasting staples. The graffiti-covered boozer prides itself on its laid-back and local vibe, great place to drink outside on any night of the week. Be sure to stop by on Tuesday, when Pancho Taco out back serves up free tacos.