A half-decade ago, as new-wave cocktail culture swept the nation, South Florida lagged behind. While people in cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco were already discovering the joy of a well-made Aviation, perfect Manhattan, or a solid Negroni, most South Floridians were still making do with frozen, premade mixes served in plastic cups.
But times, they are a-changin'.
The cocktail scene in Palm Beach County is growing, and behind this new era of imbibing with bars that shaking things up, from themed cocktail menus to tiki-style drinks by the beach. There are also a few genuinely talented mix masters shaking thing up, bartenders like Ivan Ramirez at Brandon's in Palm Beach, Brett Robertson at Boca Raton's Kapow! Noodle Bar, or Andrew Luzenko at newly-opened Saxon in Boynton Beach.
Thirsty? Here are the top spots to score a good cocktail in Palm Beach County, from the rediscovered classics to lively new watering holes. Cheers!
10. Brandon's Palm Beach
2842 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach. Call 561-540-6440, or visit brandonspalmbeach.com.
Forget the average hotel bar. Those days are long gone. Welcome, instead, the bar at Brandon's, located at the Tideline Resort in Palm Beach. The establishment offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean — and a number of classic and new-age cocktails worth salivating over. Choose from properly made originals like the Manhattan, old-fashioned, Moscow Mule, or a pisco sour. Or go for one of the many handcrafted, artisan-inspired cocktails like the colorful Here's Your Carrot Cake or the Miss High Maintenance, a blend of Gin No. 3, fresh-pressed carrot juice, coconut water, fresh-grated cinnamon, and cream. Feeing less fancy? There's also a barrel-aged drink or two behind the bar, a rotating selection of cocktails aged on the premises in oak barrels for four to six weeks. Or simply order the old standby: The bar prepares one of the best (and dirtiest) dirty martinis around, a combination of Chopin rye vodka, dry vermouth, oregano, and Old Bay spice-infused olive juice, garnished with panko-bread-crumb-encrusted filthy blue-cheese olives.
9. Max's Social House
116 NE Sixth Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-501-4332, or visit sohodelray.com.
With drinks like Shake It to the Beet (Death’s Door Gin, egg white, lemon juice, Swank Farms-sourced beets, beet powder, and Peychaud’s Bitters) or Scotch, Loch & Drop It (Monkey Shoulder scotch, Drambuie, lime, Miami-sourced JoJo jasmine tea, dandelion and burdock bitters, and CB Peat Monster Scotch rinse), you're guaranteed to have a good time imbibing during the weekday happy hour at Max's Social House in Delray Beach. The cocktail menu features a variety of handcrafted drinks that rotate according to the seasons, which means the bartenders shake things up quite a bit to keep things fresh and interesting.
517 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-1033, or visit sub-culture.org.
If you're in the mood for a handcrafted cocktail, head to Hullabaloo in West Palm Beach. This Rodney Mayo establishment recently made the year's "best of" list for new restaurants in 2013, churning out gastropub-style Italian with precision and creativity. Likewise, the bar makes one hell of a drink. Here, everything behind the bar is the real deal. How real? You won't find a single bottle of simple syrup, and we think that says something. Instead, it's all about doing things from scratch, deployed with high-end spirits and house-made liqueurs to serve flavorful, intense drinks with no artificial ingredients. The current roster — each cocktails named for deceased musicians — includes the Rick James, a blend of Jameson, Temontis Mirto, Foro Amaro, orange bitters, and fresh oregano. Or try the Peter Tosh, a taste of spiced rum blended with pineapple, egg white, lime juice, cardamom, and Garam Masala.
7. Kapow! Noodle Bar
431 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Call 561-347-7322, or visit kapownoodlebar.com.
Kapow! isn't just a noodle bar — it's also one of the county's best craft cocktail bars. Imbibers can indulge in a colorful drink selection drafted seasonally by mixologist Angela Dugan and bar manager Brett Robertson, who each take great pride in sourcing fresh herbs from the bar's own Boca Raton-based organic garden and specialty spices and liquors to concoct some pretty intense pairings. Out of more than a dozen cocktails, you can even find several "low impact" drinks — those with fewer calories and less alcohol — to help keep indulging in check. This season, look for new combinations as well as the signature favorite known as the Spicy Lover, which combines fresh muddled cucumber and cilantro with agave, a dash of hot sauce, and a shot of good tequila.
6. The Rebel House
297 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton. Call 561-353-5888, or visit lifetastesbetter.com.
At the Rebel House in Boca Raton, you're encouraged to "imbibe, ingest, and indulge." And we strongly encourage you to focus on the "imbibe" part. Owners Mike Saperstein and Evan David, the duo behind Charm City Burgers and El Jefe Luchador, debuted this casual, chef-driven restaurant several years ago and have become a smash hit for their distinctive American-style tapas paired with some equally fresh and flavorful cocktails. At the bar, whiskey and bourbon are the main focus with creative concoctions that highlight fresh flavors full of fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit infusions. Perhaps the best time to go would be during the restaurant's "Wake and Bake" Sunday brunch, where you can get bottomless watermelon-basil or cucumber-mint mimosas alongside a fresh Roma tomato-based bloody mary or maple-syrup-infused bourbon cocktail.
1 S. County Road, Palm Beach. Call 855-237-3452, or visit hmfpalmbeach.com.
HMF, which opened in 2012, is Palm Beach's first (and only) craft cocktail bar. Located at the Breakers lobby, it's named for the hotel's founder, Henry Morrison Flagler, the railroad magnate who helped to pioneer the development of South Florida. To keep with tradition, HMF is a sophisticated lounge meant to evoke playful decadence once made famous by the Palm Beach Jet Set. That means a feast for all senses, a collection of classic cocktails that pay loving tribute to the originals. Here, the long and elegant bar is matched with a sprawling lounge area where both locals and resort guests can drink and dine in secluded style. HMF offers a full menu of signature, handcrafted drinks ranging from the traditional concoctions to the experimental, with innovative twists that include all the usual trends like freshly made ingredients, elixirs, and sodas. Another unique touch you won't find anywhere else: the cigarette girl, inspired by the social cocktail clubs of the ’50s and ’60s. Think of her as a sort of high-end server offering various tastings of specialty items, be it an aperitif, specialty dessert sample, or anything to enhance the cocktail party experience.
4. Brulé Bistro
200 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-274-2046, or visit brulebistro.com.
Although the food makes this restaurant among the top spots in Delray Beach to dine out, a concise craft cocktail list and well-curated selection of wines and rotating craft beer makes Brulé one of the best places to stop for a drink at the bar as well. Here, the bar program and kitchen go hand-in-hand, chefs and bartenders both using an arsenal of fresh, high-quality ingredients to craft unique offerings. Of the ten handcrafted cocktails on the menu, among the most popular offerings is the Spiced Pecan Old Fashion (Bullet bourbon, pecan simple syrup, and chocolate bitters). Have a hankering for something more original? Options aren't limited by the menu. Instead, a team of talented barkeeps will whip up anything you like, drawing from a bar stocked with dozens of craft spirits; a colorful lineup of house-made infused syrups like lavender, lemongrass, and vanilla; and homemade garnishes including candied oranges and brandy-soaked, black cherries spiked with an organic spice blend. Simply ask and you shall receive.
3. Le Rendez-Vous
221 Datura St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-273-5441, or visit trendyparisianrestaurant.com.
Brothers Olivier and Edouard Delrieu have brought a touch of Parisian sophistication to downtown West Palm Beach with their bar-restaurant Le Rendez-Vous located off Datura Street. The industrial-chic lounge space has a bit of a hipster vibe to it, offering patrons a chance to sip drinks from a well-rounded cocktail menu that includes signature vodka, gin, whiskey, and cognac-based libations. A shelf behind the bar also houses a number of homemade infusions, everything from a fig-infused cognac to lychee vodka — even a homemade cinnamon-heavy fireball. On Tuesday from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., the bar transforms into Ma Maison, the restaurant's alter-ego club, where you can sip cocktails to the beat of the music. The drink menu changes often, but the inspiration is always compliments of bartender Vincent Toscano, a talented mixologist who will gladly whip you up whatever you like. The sky's the limit.
10 S. Ocean Blvd., Lake Worth. Call 561-315-7963, or visit tiki-ono.com.
If you like your tiki cocktails on the beach, look no further than the beach pier in Lake Worth, where a new pop-up tiki bar dubbed Tiki-Ono has set up shop several days a week at the entrance to Benny’s on the Beach. Here you can order a number of potent, tiki-styled libations, mixed drinks, and rum flights — some served from fresh, shaved coconuts — several days a week. The men behind Tiki-Ono are local bartenders Rob Husted and Josh Gates, who developed the tiki beach-side concept where they make it possible for you to "enjoy tiki drinks in paradise." The bar operates out of a pop-up tent open Wednesday through Monday from noon to 7 p.m., weather permitting. No need to get fancy, either; the clientele keeps it casual as beachgoers order in bathing suits or bikinis from a chalkboard menu that presents a short list of rotating and signature tiki-styled drinks. That includes the Lota Colada, a basil-infused piña colada that uses real cream of coconut; or the Virgin Sacrifice, vodka mixed with strawberries, blood-orange juice, and ginger beer with a fancy Bols Blue Foam topper.
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1507 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Call 561-509-9277, or visit sweetwater33.com.
In 2011, Sweetwater Bar & Grill founders Clint Reed and Sean Iglehart helped change that when they opened the area's first Prohibition-style speakeasy in Boynton Beach. Today, the dynamic duo are shaking things up again with the recent debut of their latest concept, Saxon, a 30-seat bar and lounge accessible through Sweetwater. The name is reference to early-fifth-century Great Britain, the space accented with rustic touches from large pieces of driftwood to a stag antler trophy plaque. At this newly opened bar, the scene is a little different; the bar isn't fixed by any one theme or concept but instead offers an ever-evolving experience. In place of seasonal menu changes based on rotating ingredients, think of each cocktail as an ode to the menu's overall theme — one that will change frequently and can range from a specific time period or city to a historical event or even a popular TV show. Drink up.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.