Mixologist Carlos Morales digs into the state of cocktail culture in Miami

El Cielo's Smoked Old Fashioned

For all its notoriety as a fashion, art and nightlife capital of the world, Miami had long been painfully undiscerning when it came to food and beverage offerings. Slowly but surely, that seems to be changing. A rapidly growing foodie community has heightened the demand for unique restaurant concepts, celebrity chef-driven menus and eccentric food trends. Creeping at its heels is a budding interest in a different kind of indulgence – complex flavor you can drink.

While overpriced vodka cranberries and pre-made mojitos are still a staple in much of Miami’s nightlife and bar scene, many spots around the city are starting to call serious attention to the realm of craft cocktails. After all, if you’re going charge $20 for a drink, it should be more of an experience than a watered down Jack & Coke. Places like Radio Bar and Repour, with their teams of talented bartenders, on-the-fly recipes, and fun mix-off events, attract a crowd of adventurous drinkers and cocktail connoisseurs alike, while upscale hot spots like Brickell’s El Cielo, Shelborne’s The Drawing Room, and Mandarin Oriental’s MO Bar + Lounge boast mixologists with impressive resumes and complex creations designed to wow all of your senses.

“We are still behind compared to other cosmopolitan cities like New York, Chicago, etc., but I think we are slowly changing that,” says Carlos Morales, Head Mixologist at El Cielo. “As far as the food and beverage culture, we’re off to a good start but we need more of those special places where we can educate people about what they are drinking and encourage them wander outside of their comfort zones.”

To Morales, a good cocktail experience should impart the same excitement and satisfaction as going to a restaurant and enjoying a good meal.

“Preparing a fine cocktail is very similar to preparing a fine dish,” he says. “A well-designed craft cocktail is characterized by different elements, including a good balance of ingredients, good mixing or shaking technique, and a great deal of care put into the making,” he says. “It’s more than just knowing your recipes and understanding how flavors mesh – it’s about the passion you have for your craft and the thought and creativity you put behind every drink, whether you’re recreating a classic or doing something entirely different.”

Interested in broadening your palate or just in search of a bar that knows what it’s doing? Check out our top picks for craft cocktails in Miami: 

Radio Bar – 814 1st Street, Miami Beach

Red Ginger – 736 1st Street, Miami Beach (the bar here is run by the same folks as Radio, so naturally everything is delicious)

El Cielo by Juan Manuel Barrientos – 41 SE 5th Street, Miami (if you’re a fan of Old Fashoined’s, Carlos’s smoked version will impress all of your senses)

Repour Bar – 1650 James Avenue, Miami Beach (their menu changes seasonally, but it’s always impressive)

La Moderna – 1874 Bay Road, Miami Beach (our favorite is Dr. Strangelove)

MO Bar + Lounge – 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami (its not on the menu, but Steve Minor’s Purple Haze is a stunner)

The Edge Steak & Bar at the Four Seasons Miami – 1435 Brickell Avenue, Miami

Tamarina Restaurant & Bar – 600 Brickell Avenue, Miami (Nathan Rogers’ Negroni takes the cake)

The Broken Shaker – 2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach

The Regent Cocktail Club at Gale South Beach – 1690 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

Libertine – 40 NE 11th Street, Miami 

Toscana Divino – 900 S Miami Avenue, Miami (try the White Manhattan or the Sayonara Arigato)

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