This weekend New Orleans will fizz with the drinks of the world's top bartenders when they gather for Tales of the Cocktail, the nation's largest conference for liquor-industry professionals. While South Florida's talented mixologists fly across the Gulf to talk bitters, infusions and herbal syrups, local bars and restaurants will continue serving handcrafted drinks exemplary of our cocktail renaissance.
Here are some spots with cocktail programs that feature local ingredients, modern techniques and award-winning bartenders.
Steak 954: Last year, head mixologist Luis Hernandez gave himself the challenge of creating a new cocktail every day of the season, among which were the Hot and Dirty Hickory-Smoked (vodka, vermouth, hickory smoke and blue-cheese stuffed olives) and the Bacon Run (bourbon, cabernet, hot sauce, bacon bits and brown sugar rim).
Although Steak 954's year-round cocktail list is not so complicated now that Hernandez lives in New York, the simplicity of drinks such as the Harvest (Veev acai vodka, Riesling and berries) is refreshing after a few bites of the restaurant's lobster and crab coconut ceviche.
401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-414-8333 or Steak954.me.
Tap 42: At this beer bar, mixologist Paige Nast is one of few local bartenders who constantly mixes beer and hard liquor in one glass. Her Hop Infused White Manhattan is an aged mixture of High West Oat Whiskey, Dolin Rouge Vermouth and some choice bitters, all of which is infused with five types of hops — the bud that flavors beer.
It's not to say every cocktail on the list has a drop of beer in it, but some of the most-interesting do. The Sweet Devil is sweetened with a house-made syrup of Cigar City's Maduro Oatmeal Brown ale and port wine with cocoa nibs and chocolate bitters.
1411 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-463-4900 or Tap42.com.
Living Room: The Guava Sin cocktail is in slight contrast with the Living Room's pristine blueish bar and the W Hotel's permanent smell of something like jasmine blossoms. The drink is a sort of margarita, with tequila, lime and triple sec, but the guava puree adds a South Floridian touch.
Ray Ramos, last year's runner-up for GQ Magazine's most innovative bartender in America, serves his award-winning creations at the Living Room, alongside the Guava Sin and the bar's other on-menu cocktails. He's the man to ask for an improvised drink.
401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-1414-8200 or WFortLauderdaleHotel.com/LivingRoom.
Piano Hollywood: The pair behind Miami's Grand Central concert venue-dance club recently celebrated the grand opening of their new concept. Piano Hollywood's Brian Bastia and Megan Laich come from a background of hipster parties and craft cocktails.
The new bar's menu is divided into seasonal and year-round offerings. This summer's Lemongrass Ginger Paloma, made with the necessary local fruits and herbs, is a simple infusion of lemongrass and ginger in tequila, with just a hint of the grapefruit taste that defines the cocktail. From the year-round list, the Sinatra stands out: The house Manhattan takes house-made sweet vermouth, Bulleit Bourbon and a house-made bourbon cherry.
5805 Seminole Way, Hollywood; 954-792-8722 or PianoHollywood.com.
Sweetwater: By far South Florida's premier cocktail bar north of the Miami-Dade County line, Sweetwater is a dimly lit, pre-Prohibition themed booze house specializing in whiskeys. Aside from touting such rare bottles as Pappy Van Winkle's 23-year reserve — so hard to come by that owner Clint Reed says it's listed for show and not for pouring — the bar recently implemented a tap system for cocktails and a cocktail smoker.
The smoker works well on bourbon drinks. Reed suggests a smoked-bacon bourbon Old Fashioned. The tap system has been pouring a house-made coffee-tequila called Ink since late May. Since around that time, the bar has also been serving its own line of Angel's Envy bourbon, which the Kentucky brand bottled exclusively for this local joint.
1507 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach; 561-509-9277 or Sweetwater33.com.
Max's Harvest: The restaurant's farm-to-fork approach to dining translates to a garden-to-glass take on cocktails. Some proceeds from drink orders even benefit the Broward-Palm Beach Slow Food Glades to Coast movement, which promotes locally harvested food.
Made with local watermelon juice, ginger liqueur and Clementine-infused vodka, Max's Harvest's Watermelon Patch drink seems like the right balance of tropical and Caribbean flavors. This is a place where diners shouldn't necessarily recoil from fruity drinks — the Summer Sangria blends succulent, South Florida-grown mangos with citrus and berries — but watermelon-phobes should be wary; its juicy pulp is in at least three drink-menu items.
169 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach; 561-381-9970 or MaxsHarvest.com.
Rebel House: Late at night, patrons of the Rebel House can order punch bowls spiked with moonshine (and flavored with mango, ginger and cayenne to soothe the burn), or a cup of tequila blended with joe. Also served after midnight on weekends are the X-Rated Snowcones, in cherry-bourbon, pineapple-coconut and the flavor of the night; and house-made absinthe.
For daytime diners, the Rebel House puts out food-driven mixtures. General manager and mixologist Brian Marcotte says every cocktail pairs well with a specific dish on the menu.
297 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton; 561-353-5888 or LifeTastesBetter.com.
Burt and Max's: At this Burt Rapoport spot, the fruits and juices in the drinks come from local farms, and the flavored syrups are made in-house under the supervision of bar manager and mixologist Lee Klein. Aside from Klein's classic mojitos, martinis and margaritas, there's the West Side Story. Despite its Yankee name, the drink is a mix of sake, kiwi puree and vodka.
9089 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; 561-638-6380 or BurtAndMaxs.com.