My US Sabbatical – Part 1: I’m in Miami Bitch!

Miami bar, Sweet Liberty, where there's a first of its kind 'bartender's table'. Photo:
Miami bar, Sweet Liberty, where there’s a first of its kind ‘bartender’s table’. Photo:
By Jason Jelicich

Jason Jelicich has just returned to Australia after a 2 year ‘sabbatical’ living in the US and working with some of that country’s top operators. This is the first of a 3 part weekly series in which he highlights some of the systems that these bars use to maintain their edge.

When asked to envisage Miami bar culture, you may conjure up a picture of supersized coupette glasses filled with gallons of sugary liquid guzzled by scantily clad tourists willing to pay a premium just to get noticed. And, to be fair, you’ll still find that on Ocean Drive.

But break free from the tourist-trap and you’ll find a plethora of innovative bar operators that are tightly networked and turning Miami into one of the US’s freshest and most vibrant bar scenes.

Here are just 3 examples of operators pushing the envelope:


Blackbird Ordinary – Located in densely populated Brickell, downtown Miami, Blackbird Ordinary is a high-volume cocktail bar that, since 2012, has been an incubator for many of the city’s top bartending talent. Owned by Dan Binkiewicz and run by long-time GM Jerry Pennington, this bar has bottled the secret sauce when it comes to developing high-performance staff that stick around.

One of my favourites initiatives is the ‘Bartender’s Cocktail’. Each quarter, the bar team are asked submit recipes for the upcoming list. An in-house competition is run, in which the cocktails are made by their respective creator back of house and then judged by a panel of regular customers. The winning drink makes it onto the list for the next quarter, with the bartender making $1/ drink sold. When I was there one bartender had garnered over $2000 thanks to this initiative. Sweet!

My Sweet Liberty After years in the making, Miami bar lothario John Lemayer finally got the chance to open his dream bar in October 2015. Situated back from the beach on the corner of 20th and Liberty (hence the name), this bar is a reimagined neighbourhood (read ‘dive’) bar that rocks until 5am. John has added many unique elements to his offer, including selling barware to the public and emblazoning ‘Pursue Happiness’ (his purpose statement) in neon lights across the wall.

But the thing that blew my mind was the ‘Bartender’s Table’. John took us through a cocktail and food degustation experience at his world’s first-of-its-kind bartender’s table. This would have been special enough had we not been situated behind the bar and bartenders, in full view of the ‘not quite as special as us’ customers. What a talking point.

Craft Social Club – Every wanted to enjoy a craft cocktail in a busy club-like environment but the thought of battling the bar crowd just too much? Problem solved at Craft Social Club. Former brand ambassador, LP Steele (and yes, that is his real name) and RT Murphy have extended the concept of bottle service to tables into the mixology realm. They have trained up servers to become handy mixologists, able to shake, throw and double-strain hand crafted concoctions right there at the table. Next level stuff!

My journey around the hottest US bar scene continues next week where I report on the freshly-crowned ‘Best Bar in the World 2016’ and others from the Big Apple.

Want the full story? Join me for my only Australian workshop this year on December 7th in Sydney; ‘Secrets of the Top 1% – Strategies and Systems used in America’s Best Bars and Restaurants’. Booking details here.

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