At the Gale South Beach, a newly revamped circa-1940s hotel in the middle of Miami Beach’s hectic Collins Avenue, a mix of glammed-up models and trendy couples flock to the wood-paneled Regent Cocktail Club. And amazingly enough, they’re ordering classics like Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and Ramos Gin Fizzes.
“Here, in the equivalent of Times Square, the ground zero of tackiness, I never thought we’d be doing volume Sazeracs,” says head bartender John Lermayer, who presides over the Regent—as well as the drink menu for the hotel’s restaurant, Dolce Italian.
He shouldn’t be too surprised by the favorable response. After all, you could argue that Miami’s cocktail renaissance started when he opened the now-closed Florida Room at the Delano Hotel in 2007. “We didn’t know how it would be perceived in a Vodka-and-Soda city,” he recalls, but the massive list of more than 35 thoughtful libations proved wildly popular.
Lermayer has long had a predilection for working at hotel bars. When he first moved to Miami from New York in 2002, he was at the SkyBar in the Shore Club, then one of the city’s hottest destinations. The experience was really important to his career. “In New York, it was the same twelve to fifteen bottles of booze,” he says. “In hotels, there are people from all over the world. I would [have to] look it up when guests asked for drinks I didn’t know.”
No doubt that education helped him to win a number of bartending competitions, including the Bols Cocktail Competition and the Hennesey Art of Mixing Contest, and he was named the 2009 Domaine de Canton Bartender of the Year.
While he rarely gets stumped now, his guests at the Regent enjoy an array of delicious standards—from an elegant Daiquiri and Harry Craddock’s Rattlesnake to the Margarita served at Tommy’s in San Francisco. The hard part is deciding what to try first.
Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer and managing editor of Hospitality Design.