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South Florida's Best Cocktails: We Travel Between Beaches and Barstools to Find the Best of What's Shaken and Stirred

A good cocktail, like any important creation, reflects the culture in which it was created. A carefully prepared libation should dutifully represent its region of origin, but here in South Florida, pubs and plush lounges are sprinkled across our promised land like so many grains of salt upon the rim of a margarita glass. We don't give a shit what's reflected in our cocktails as long as we can't see the bottom of the friggin' flagon.

And who can blame us? Our selection is staggering: Local venues offer collections and combinations of drinks that tempt our senses, bruise our livers, and remain in our muddled psyches long after consumption. Whether it's a fiery drink at a Tiki-culture chapel or a martini that invokes a steamy love affair, we South Floridians love our libations.

Why? Because South Florida is not just a spring-break mecca heralded on the silver screen; our past is written in the trails of drained plastic cups scattered on the sidewalks near divey beach bars. Our reputation thrives in blue-collar sports pubs, thumpin' clubs that stay open until 4 a.m. and practically advertise bathroom high jinks. And who can overlook the posh Palm Beach lounges that vend expensive imbibing under the thinly veiled guise of sex and extravagance?

South Florida claims all this and more as its own. For better or worse, we embrace nicknames like "Fort Liquordale" and strive to do our fair share in the consumption and celebration of our decadent culture. In our balmy shore-side civilization, it is only natural that the line between culture and punch-packing cocktails blurs.

It's our opinion that a perfect cocktail should be as scenic as a tequila sunrise, stalwart as the legendary "Aunt Roberta" (Google this if necessary), and as unique as our sordid, sweaty, sultry metropolis itself. Here, then, are ten of our unforgettable best.


10. Blue Agave Martini

Blue Martini Boca

6000 Glades Road, Ste. C-1380, Boca Raton. Call 561-910-2583, or visit bluemartinilounge.com.

Businessmen in sunglasses sip wine and ash their cigars at the marbled outdoor bar. The waitresses, cleavage crammed into matching powder-blue corsets, carry around trays full of shimmering glasses. Blond shop girls from the nearby mall chase their appetizers with Technicolor martinis. One barstool to your left, an elderly man sips vodka and eats a salad that looks plucked straight from a glossy photo.

You ask for a drink. The black-clad bartender tells you about the Blue Agave Martini. It's a recent addition to Blue's martini arsenal — just a few months old. And during the 4-to-8 p.m. daily happy hour, it's half-off: a mere $6.

You ponder this for a moment before giving a gentle nod. It's been a long day, and you deserve it. The silver cocktail shaker flashes in the setting sunlight as the bartender rounds up the ingredients — Herradura Silver Tequila, blue Curaçao, agave nectar, lime juice, grapefruit — and jostles them dutifully. He drops the martini glass in front of you before issuing a warning: "The color is surprising." He pours your potion straight from the shaker.

The drink is liquid turquoise, so bright it's practically neon. And the taste is so smooth and sweet that you can't even detect the tequila that has been responsible for all of your past margarita-fueled bad decisions. "Anything that hides tequila like that has to be good," the bartender remarks. You're inclined to agree. You'll savor this stunning drink for a while, and then you'll order another, relishing that sweet mingling of agave nectar, fresh fruit, and citrus liqueur. You may be sorry later, of course. That tequila will get you. Because, like so many beautiful young things in South Florida, this hot little number is one strong poison.


9. Pom Passion

Absinthe

5150 Town Center Circle, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-4600, or visit absintheboca.com.

News flash: Absinthe, that envy-green concoction that allegedly drove Vincent van Gogh to cut off his own ear, is not illegal. In fact, it's vended liberally in the beautiful Boca Raton Town Center Plaza at a swanky hotel bar that pulls its name from the poison. As Mike Erez, Absinthe's burly bartender, points out, "Artists and writers — the guys who drank absinthe and then did really crazy stuff — just needed to get real jobs."

Now, no matter what we say, you'll be tempted to try absinthe or perhaps a beautiful cocktail made with generous amounts (try the Dragon Berry martini if you must) just to say you did. Because it's novel and mysterious; because its chief spokespersons are forest fairies. But you've been warned: Its flavor is akin to eye-watering, bitter licorice (this ain't no appletini, OK?). And contrary to popular belief, it doesn't even carry any interesting psilocybinesque properties. So we choose instead to tout the beautiful, elegant Pom Passion: a cocktail hailed by the bartender as the lounge's best. "And it's even healthy," he says unconvincingly as he draws a smoking-cold glass from the freezer and fills it with ice and the crisp pink potion. "We use real pomegranate vodka, which has antioxidants that fight off free radicals."

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Tara Nieuwesteeg