Miami: there are few cities that evoke such polarizing emotions. People seem to either love it, or hate it. I, myself, am in the LOVE IT camp, and Miami is continuously on my short-list of favorite vacation spots.
Maybe it’s the sunny weather, steamy temperatures, idyllic setting, and glorious beaches? Maybe it’s the swanky, sultry surroundings and exceedingly beautiful people? It could even be my minor-obsession with Cuban food and culture? Or the Latin music and dancing?
It is no secret that South Beach is unequivocally party-central. Although I am not at all into the club scene, Miami Beach is awash with plenty of diverse, watering holes, from the laid-back to the more upscale, to satisfy all of us club-haters of the world. So forget the stereotypes and move beyond your misconceptions about Miami Beach which offers so much more than club promoters and a pretentious scene. See below for what I consider to be 8 essential Miami Beach bars, in no particular order, which will make you wish you visited Miami sooner:
1. The Broken Shaker, Miami Beach
An establishment that originated as a pop-up bar at a hotel that is now the Freehand Hostel, Broken Shaker evolved into a permanent fixture with serious staying power. Not only is the Broken Shaker undoubtedly the hippest bar you will ever find in a hostel (or arguably, outside a hostel), it is also a James Beard Award semifinalist bar and was lauded with the venerable title of being one of the World’s 50 Best Bars 2014. This hipsterish haunt is set in a delightful courtyard filled with mismatched furniture and tables as well as a swimming pool, foosball, and pingpong tables. The crowd is an eclectic array of foreign travelers, tourists and locals, and the chill vibe is almost surreal and just radiates with cool. The cocktails are inventive and impeccably crafted with fresh fruit, herbs and spices. Broken Shaker also offers beer, wine, and a dangerously tasty punch, but why stray from the cocktails with delicious options like a salted caramel bourbon, kale and pineapple caipirinha, and a drink named “cinnamon toast crunk?” Oh, and the creative and tasty “eats and treats” menu is spot-on, too. This buzzy bar is not just hype: Broken Shaker is a bona fide win.
2. Clandestino Pub, South Beach
Clandestino is a local crowd-pleaser and welcome reprieve from the conventional scene associated with South Beach nightlife. A friendly haunt with a low-key vibe, Clandestino offers a bountiful array of craft beer by the bottle and on tap along with wine (including homemade sangria) and a full-bar. Other vital stats: Clandestino is open late (5 AM late), dog-friendly, hosts live music, has an impressive mezcal selection, serves respectable nosh, and was crowned as Best Miami Beach Bar 2013. Really, what else can you ask for? Clandestino is the full package and with its unpretentious ambiance, it’s the type of haunt that begets a loyal clientele and is a must-visit for any South Beach vacay.
3. The Rose Bar at the Delano, South Beach
The Rose Bar is located in the illustrious Delano Hotel, a masterpiece in art deco architecture designed by Philippe Starck, and is the epitome of South Beach glamour. A destination in and of itself, the Delano has a famed pool scene and a swanky, breezy atmosphere representative of the trendiness, opulence and steaminess that characterizes South Beach. The cocktails at the intimate Rose Bar, which is located off the hotel lobby, are expertly crafted by seasoned bartenders. The Rose Bar is a classic Miami stop to make to sip a high-priced cocktail (or two), admire the stunning Venetian chandeliers and rose quartz bar, and soak in the posh surroundings.
4. The Clevelander, South Beach
The bar at the art deco Clevelander Hotel is a long-standing, legendary Ocean Drive hot-spot, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to take in the scene that is Ocean Drive. An optimal location for fun in the sun or occupying a balmy Miami evening, the Clevelander is a non-stop party that will instantly transport you to “Spring Break circa (insert year).” Although I am convinced most Ocean Drive hangouts should be avoided like the plague, I will make an exception for the Clevelander. Grab a pool-side seat, listen to the bumping tunes, watch the dancers, order some food, sip on a ridiculously over-sized cocktail, and people-watch. After all, you are at ground-zero of South Beach.
5. The Abbey Brewing Company, South Beach
Touted as Miami Beach’s only and oldest brewpub, the Abbey offers cozy, old world environs and outstanding beer. A somewhat off-the-beaten-path location near the Lincoln Road Mall serves as respite from the “scene.” Order one of Abbey’s skillfully crafted beers or choose from a collection of microbrews, ciders, and Belgian-centric, hard to find brews. The Abbey also serves cocktails and an occasional bar snack. Affordable, welcoming, friendly, unassuming: the Abbey is a must-visit for beer connoisseurs and anyone who wants to imbibe and unwind in a down-to-earth watering hole.
6. Lost Weekend, South Beach
Check your pretensions at the door, because they are not welcome at Lost Weekend. A quintessential dive bar, Lost Weekend is a fantastic choice for inexpensive drinks in a no-frills atmosphere. Shoot some pool, play air hockey or foosball, put some money in the jukebox. Lost Weekend also boasts stellar happy hour specials, a respectable variety of craft beer, and sufficient bar food. With a diverse clientage, you never quite know what you will find at Lost Weekend, but a good time is a sure thing.
7. Regent Cocktail Club, South Beach
Regent Cocktail Club, located in the back of the Gale Hotel, is an idyllic stop for cocktail-enthusiasts. Regent boasts classy, stylish surroundings evocative of a prohibition-style speakeasy with dim lighting, jazzy music, rich wood paneling, leather sofas and elegantly-attired bartenders. The cocktail selection, which rotates daily, is focused on the classics- think Manhattans, gimlets, sidecars, sazeracs. Regent is truly an experience not-to-be-missed, and the exquisite libations and captivating, retro aura will surely transport you to a bygone era of glitz, glam, and alcohol.
8. Wet Willie’s, South Beach
Wet Willie’s is an essential SoBe stop if for nothing else than one incredibly sugary frozen drink and taking in the bustling scene on Ocean Drive. Wet Willie’s is bi-level, and a seat on the upper level patio will give you a bird’s eye view of the action. The appropriately named and infamous Call-a-Cab frozen drink is a dangerously potent concoction that will pave the road for a good evening, and Wet Willie’s also offers a full menu if hunger strikes. Do you feel like a cliché, unseemly, stereotypical tourist yet? Good. Now shut up and embrace that brain freeze.
BONUS: Kush, Wynwood
The edgy, artsy Miami neighborhood of Wynwood may only be about five miles from South Beach, but it feels like a world away. Wynwood is the trendy, art mecca of Miami and with gentrification came some solid bars and eateries, not the least of which is Kush.
Kush is a restaurant serving up locally-derived fare alongside an extraordinary array of craft beer and a decent wine list. Kush fills a void in the Miami craft beer scene with its rotating lineup of eclectic brews and lives by the wise adage: “cheap beer ain’t good and good beer ain’t cheap.” Located in a cozy space with a hip vibe, a small outdoor seating area, and affable staff that knows beer, Kush is a joint that makes you feel right at home. Come hungry so as not to miss Kush’s delectable edibles which include scrumptious burgers crafted with local beef, acclaimed chicken and waffles, and desserts like the Kush brownie baked with nuts, sea salt, and bacon. In sum, Kush is an experience that is worth a potential wait.