MIAMI Miami has long suffered from multiple personality disorder - is this a city for work or play, for early-bird retirees or late-night party animals?
The same goes for the city's cocktail scene, where classic libations go head-to-head with cutting-edge trends: homemade bitters, "salt air" foam-topped Margaritas, specialty ice.
However, the iconic beverage remains the classic mojito, a sunshine-appropriate rum drink which also reflects the influence of the city's robust Latin American population.
"Even with the resurgent cocktail movement, the mojito reigns king," says Jennifer Massolo, former executive director of the Miami International Wine Fair. "You'll find them made at almost every bar in Miami."
But not just any old mojito will do.
Whiskey and specialty rums are edging out vodka in Miami, Massolo reports, adding that there is a growing sense of pride behind the bar regarding the spirit lists and the creativity behind the proprietary cocktails.
To ease into Miami's drinks scene, Massolo recommends starting with an "Aviation" at Cecconi's (here), on the ground-floor courtyard of the members-only Soho Beach House, which she describes as "a beautiful bar full of beautiful people."
Although Cecconi's is open to all, "if you can find a member to take you, the second floor club bar of SBH is not to be missed," Massolo adds, for excellent cocktails made by barman Jack Colombo.
Meanwhile, in the Design District, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (www.michaelsgenuine.com/) also makes her shortlist.
The first restaurant in Miami to receive the "Snail of Approval" seal from Slow Food USA, "they regard the components of their cocktails with the same attention and reverence as the kitchen gives the ingredients of their dishes," Massolo says.
In particular, she points to the extensive bourbon and rye selections.
"I love ordering variations on the Manhattan there," she says.
Elsewhere, at The Dutch (thedutchmiami.com/) in the W Hotel on South Beach, an extension of the New York restaurant, travelers can wash down oysters with drinks like the Indigo Smash (Banks 5 white rum, smashed blueberries and absinthe).
The same team also is behind The Broken Shaker (here), which lays claim as Miami's first and only pop-up bar. Located within the Indian Creek Hotel in Miami Beach, cutting-edge cocktails are the thing here.
And of course, that extends to the mojitos, which are chilled with ice frozen into a cylinder shape, and garnished with mint grown on a trellis in the open-air courtyard.
RECIPE: MIAMI MOJITO
Courtesy of Elad Zvi, Bar Lab Cocktail Catering
At The Broken Shaker, the classic mojito gets a local South Florida twist, with hydroponic mint ("it's a little like lemon verbena," says its creator, Zvi), ever-important local citrus, and ginger beer made and bottled on the premises. 2 ounces El Dorado 12-year-old rum 1 ounce Floridian citrus (a mix of freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices) 4 leaves hydroponic mint, plus a sprig for garnish Homemade ginger beer In a cocktail shaker, combine aged rum, citrus juice and mint. Shake well, and strain into a Collins glass with an ice cylinder. Top up with ginger beer. Garnish with mint sprig.
(Kara Newman is the author of "The Secret Financial Life of Food", Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
(Editing by Peter Myers and Elaine Lies)