The Florida Room, a unique nightlife retreat tucked neatly away in the basement of the Delano Hotel in Miami, fulfills its position as a nightclub by offering bottle service to guests. There’s a small list of options, in a tiny font, at the end of the club’s expansive menu. But this booming venue wasn’t named among the top four finalists for World’s Best Hotel Bar at the recent Tales of The Cocktail because the bartenders are adept at serving a magnum of Grey Goose. No — the honor came as a result of its renowned cocktail program, which dominates the bulk of the menu and is responsible for a majority of the nightly gross.
“Miami is a cocktail town at heart,” says Joshua Wagner, regional director of nightlife for the Morgans Hotel Group, which owns the Delano and The Florida Room. “The problem is there are not a lot of great cocktails to be had in nightclubs down here. You don’t want some sloppy Mojito; you want a premium drink. At The Florida Room, we’re teaching people what a bad cocktail is by giving them a quality product.” And the masses appreciate it; the modest-sized subterranean space is usually packed from open to close. Instead of typical clubland bottle minimums, The Florida Room has affordable minimum spends for groups looking for table service, which encourages guests to sample the handcrafted drinks. “Very few people end up getting a bottle,” Wagner says. “They’re far more interested in trying our specialty cocktails.”
The libations list includes unique sips such as The Beach Bison, created by John Lermayer, beverage specialist for Morgans Hotel Group. “We start with [Bak’s] Bison Grass vodka; a sweet grass vodka from Belarus, and then add Aperol, apple cider and lemon juice. It’s delicious,” Lermayer says.
The mixologist responsible for the cocktail program’s success shared tips on how to properly launch a cocktail program at a high-volume nightclub:
“First, you have to make a program manageable. Include ingredients that you get on a consistent basis from purveyors you trust,” Lermayer says. “It’s really about the fresh ingredients. We’ve managed to work with some local farms to procure that. We want to be sustainable and as local as possible when it comes to our produce.
“Secondly, make the menu approachable to your clientele. Don’t alienate them with ingredients they’ve never heard of. Bridge the gap between familiarity and the ‘wow’ factor. And be sure to word your menus correctly and highlight things people are accustomed to.”
Though it’s the most obvious, Lermayer says taste is often overlooked: “Make sure they’re simple and delicious. Don’t try to put 19 ingredients in a single glass. Keep it to three or four ingredients maximum.”
Additionally, always have Champagne cocktails as the first thing on every menu. “People drinking Champagne in your bar is a great thing. The first thing a bartender should suggest to a woman is a Champagne cocktail, simply because good things happen when women drink Champagne,” Lermayer laughs.
Finally, if you’re going to invest in a cocktail program, be sure to train your staff completely on all the ingredients on the recipe. “Having everyone preparing the cocktails uniformly and jiggering for precise measurement is key,” Lermayer says. “If you can’t replicate a customer’s drink each and every order, he’s going to stop ordering from you altogether.”