There is no shortage of places to go for a drink in Miami, but that doesn't mean choosing a bar is any less of a challenge. Whether you're into sipping cocktails in Miami or prefer to duck into dark Miami dive bars, there's practically every type of watering hole in South Beach, on the mainland and beyond. Luck for you, we've enlisted a panel of experts to weigh in and help us select the best for the 2018 Time Out Miami Bar Awards. These industry pros were handpicked to nominate and vote on what's hot in the local drinking scene. After much deliberating (and drinking!), these are the bars that took home top prize. Cheers to you!
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Time Out Miami Bar Awards
Meet the winners of the 2018 Time Out Miami Bar Awards
Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company
What’s the hardest thing about running a bar? It’s getting people to come back, says our panel. Fortunately for this year’s winner, filling the joint has never been a problem. Since opening its doors in fall of 2015, Sweet Liberty has topped nearly every list of both the country’s and the city’s best bar—including ours. For the second year in a row, our panelists have chosen the South Beach spot for its superior cocktail selection, reverence for the community and unvarying good vibes. There aren’t any velvet ropes or burly bouncers to get past at this neighborhood bar, whose mantra, which prominently hangs on the wall, is simply to pursue happiness in whatever form that may take.
Judges’ take: “The experience, presentation, the ambiance—it all enhances the experience of the cocktail itself. From start to finish: from the second they sit down to the moment they stand up to leave, it's part of the cocktail experience. As bartenders, we provide the experience.”
Photograph: Ellie Groden
Mac’s Club Deuce
It’s surprising the Deuce has even got a phone. The place is charmingly out of character for the area and strange doesn’t begin to describe the mix of South Beach characters who gather at this dive nightly. From ladies of the night and down-and-out locals to nightclub glitterati and slumming celebs, the Deuce attracts the coolest, scariest, most eclectic crowd of any bar in Miami. “Do you know how many pimps are my friend from drinking in dive bars? Dives are where sketchy people hang out,” says panelist Vincent Vitek, referencing the untold nights spent sidled up to the bar at the Deuce.
Judges’ take: “The Deuce, come on. I love the crew at the Deuce. Those guys have been around for like 50 years. There are bartenders there who have been working there for decades.”
You don’t need to know much about wine to enjoy it at Lagniappe, which is partly why the Midtown spot nabbed the best wine bar award for the second year in a row. Its patio stacked full of mismatched furniture and counter-style service make for a casual experience here always, even if you’re sipping on an organic red from a small-production winery. And because there’s more to an excellent wine bar than the bottles it stocks, Lagniappe offers live music nearly every night, plus affordable, gourmet cheese plates the size of your head.
Judges’ take: “A great wine bar is a combination of everything—the food, the cheese and the pairings. It’s not just the wine list but what they offer to pair with it.”
Outside the clamor of 1-800-Lucky’s Asian food vendors, the bar offers a decidedly more laid-back but nonetheless delicious environment. At night, go with one of the tasty craft cocktails and lounge under string lights. During a summer afternoon, few drinks could be more appropriate than Lucky’s frozen beer, an ice-cold Kirin with a frosty solidified head of foam. For a space with so many options, Lucky’s bar maintains a surprising quality.
As much care goes into KYU’s signature cauliflower (chef Michael Lewis’s favorite, incidentally) and its slew of wood-fired Asian dishes as goes into the restaurant’s craft cocktail program. Bar and kitchen literally face off in the airy dining room reminding us of the magic that results when these two come together. And they synergize often, crafting drinks like the Tom TKYU Gai—a warm cocktail take on the classic Thai soup—that elevate KYU’s Asian-influenced menu.
Judges’ take: “You need a cocktail program that is reflective of the creativity of the chef and the food. The two have to go hand in hand. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to pair, but the sophistication level of both has to be matched. For me, its menu, service, design, atmosphere, drink quality—all that.”
Photograph: Daniel Villa
South Beach is a revolving door of tourists yet Sweet Liberty somehow manages to maintain a steady flow of regulars, both local and from far-flung places. It didn’t happen by accident either. From the beginning, owners John Lermayer, David Martinez and Dan Binkiewicz assembled a team of industry vets and young barkeeps (most of whom are still around today) whose own antics behind the bar make you feel right at home. Drinking here is like visiting friends for a cocktail, even on your first visit.
Judges’ take: “A good crew means a staff, as a customer, you want to go see. And more than one person. They’re either your friends or just people you really want to see working behind the bar. I like the staying power of Sweet Liberty.”
Photograph: Adam DelGiudice
Ball & Chain
Present-day’s Ball & Chain is a recreation of a 1930s hotspot that once occupied the same space and welcomed jazz superstars like Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Chet Baker to its stage. The perch on which these greats stood is noticeably different—today it’s a giant pineapple. “We had a vision and worked closely with our in-house design team to bring that vision to life,” explain owners Zack Bush and Bill Fuller. “We studied historical archives and asked ourselves what would Ball & Chain look like today if it had never closed in 1957 but it kept up with the times.” The result: a welcoming indoor-outdoor space decked in Cuban tile and oozing with charm.
Judges’ take: “I think, for me, design boils down to details. When I think about Ball & Chain I think about that really cool center bar.”
Ready Fire Aim at Employees Only
Miami, New York—there’s practically a direct line connecting both cities. Something else that binds us? Employees Only. We’re among the lucky handful of cities to claim an outpost of the West Village bar and its signature mescal cocktail: Ready Fire Aim. It’s the essential drink for anyone fond of the smoky spirit, in part because few bartenders in this city are as serious about mixing it in a cocktail as the uniformed folks at EO.
Judges’ take: “The Ready Fire Aim is a good one: mescal, pineapple, habanero. We have a joke behind the bar when people come up to order mescal, they look both ways first and then sort of whisper, Do you have…mescal? Mescal is one of those things that's still sort of new.”
Photograph: Emilie Baltz
A Former Greenskeeper at The Anderson
Even at the Anderson, a bar whose punny cocktail list chock-full of obscure ’80s references means you always have to ask for the menu, customers remember to ask for this viridescent drink by its name. It might have to do with its Instagram popularity or the big ol’ cherry on top that everyone fights over. Whatever the reason, you’ll want to cool off all summer with this refreshing, minty drink that combines Martel VSOP cognac, creme de menthe, creme de cacao and coconut cream plus a generous sprinkling of lime sprinkles and dark-chocolate shavings. Not into sweet drinks? Do your feed a favor and order it for the ’gram.
Judges’ take: “It’s kind of cool that no one in this group really wants to do a gimmick, Instagrammable drink. I like that about Miami. Well done. Though, the Anderson does do some nice ones.”