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 from Brett Robertson at Boca Raton's Kapow! Noodle Bar to Brett Hart at Saxon in Boynton Beach.
Here, our favorite watering holes from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton:
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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.
2. 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.
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.