If a trip to Miami is on your radar, you’ve definitely heard about the Wynwood Arts District. The artistic center of the city is sort of like that scene in the Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby, where everyone’s murmuring about their mysterious host, eyes sparkling and cheeks flush.
“Have you heard about Wynwood?”
“If you like street art, you have to see Wynwood.”
“It’s like the best parts of Portland and LA had a baby.”
The buzz is real. Watch the next time Miami comes up in conversation — someone will rave about Wynwood in a matter of seconds. Ever since the famed Wynwood Walls became the largest gallery of street art in the country, back in 2009, the neighborhood has seen a massive boom. In the years since, it’s become a hub for bold creatives and outside the box thinkers. Art is literally everywhere, with small boutiques and one-off restaurants peppered throughout.
Over time, a skate, bike, or stroll around Wynwood has become a central part of any Miami itinerary. With all the art — and the visitors — come the other perks of a “hot neighborhood.” Small-batch roasted coffee (Panther is a gem), one-off clothing stores (Nomad Tribe is where sustainability meets streetwear), and farm-to-table restaurants (the fettuccine alfredo at Sette Osteria is pretty much perfect) abound. The craft cocktail scene has hit Wynwood too, transforming it from a midday destination to a place where you can happily hang deep into the night.
On a recent trip, I went searching for the very best bespoke cocktails in Wynwood. I was eager to find drinks that showed the same sort of creativity and attention to detail that I saw in the ever-present street art. Here are my three favorites:
HONORABLE MENTION: Chili Cucumber PaletaRita at the Coyo Taco “Nameless Bar.”
THE JOINT: Coyo Taco serves good tacos. Maybe the best in Miami (Miami Beach’s Bodega is also in the running). But the Obama-approved cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) and carnitas de pato (duck carnitas style) aren’t the only specialties of the house. A hidden bar — which goes virtually un-publicized — in the back of the dining room serves mezcal-centric craft cocktails while also offering a venue for some of the best underground live music in the city.
When I walked into the nameless bar at Coyo Taco, I immediately felt a wave of coolness wash over me. There were bottles of mezcal and tequila lining the shelves, lit with votive candles. This look set the tone. Until the DJ gets going, the place feels sort of like a church… one where a different type of spirits are worshipped.
THE COCKTAIL: I found plenty of hits on the nameless bar menu, but none surpassed the balance and flavor punch of the chili and cucumber PaletaRita. The drink — a play on a frozen marg — is made with a locally-sourced paleta (a Mexican popsicle that’s far less saccharine than the American rendition). The chili cucumber version is rimmed with chili salt and is so perfectly balanced that you’d think it was made on a scale.
Not too spicy. Not too sugary. Not too tart. That’s a hell of a mark for a bartender to hit.
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SECOND PLACE: Serrano Mezcalita at Melinda’s on the ground floor of the Electric Pickle nightclub.
THE JOINT: The 1920s speakeasy vibes are strong with this one. It’s not an actual hidden bar, like the previous entry, but Melinda’s is neatly tucked away on the ground floor of the Electric Pickle nightclub, a Wynwood institution. The menu here is also Mezcal-driven and the cocktails all seem to have an element of smokiness that enhances the bar’s film noir feel. These drinks are perfect for a slow night of sipping.
If you go, make sure you taste the food — either by requesting whatever the kitchen is currently hyped on (the daily menu seems to travel by whisper network) or ordering the famed brisket nachos. They’re a perfect boost after a few drinks or as a break before further exploration of the neighborhood.
THE COCKTAIL: Either it’s a cheat to give this spot to another spicy margarita or it says something about the city’s Latin roots and the fearlessness of local bartenders to mix up drinks with a kick. I chose to think it’s the latter. The Serrano Mezcalita brings serious heat and, for many visitors to the city, that’s what Miami is all about. Regardless of how you feel about that notion, you can’t argue with the fact that this drink is well composed — from the smoky mezcal to the masterstroke of crushed, salted grasshoppers adding a surprising depth of flavor via the rim of the glass.
FIRST PLACE: Rosemary’s Baby at Gramps
THE JOINT: Gramps is so cool that it doesn’t even need to try hard. Arcade games line one of the walls, the rest of the decor is low key. In fact, nothing at this bar — from the look to the menu — feels over-produced. That’s part of the appeal.
The bar staff here may be chill, but this spot is beloved by industry folks for all the right reasons: The drinks are straightforward, nicely balanced, and the flavors are bang on. It’s also a place with no shortage of ideas about having fun while drinking. The recent Christmas-themed month-long pop-up bar is a perfect example.
THE COCKTAIL: I had two drinks here and, while I’m tempted to give love to the Cucumber in Paradise, it happens to be yet another drink featuring a spiced rim and tequila (I have a type, I suppose). Still, considering my previous two picks, that just feels like overload. Instead, let’s give credit where credit is due to the Rosemary’s Baby — which features gin, rosemary, lemon, and Earl Grey tea. It’s the tea that is the most pleasant surprise, tamping down the piney punch of the rosemary and adding a depth of flavor that pushes Gramps into the #1 spot.
So those are my top three. But the miracle of Wynwood is that it’s so diverse and offers so much variety that my picks might not even place in your ranking.
That’s all good. As with all the best quests, the journey through Wynwood — from the street art to the restaurants to the bars — is the destination in itself. If you’re headed that way, start with a nice long walk and end at any of these three spots. You’ll be glad you did.