Being a tourist destination is both good and bad for Miami nightlife. On the one hand, money is good. But, on the other hand, the constant stream of tourists looking for a piña colada the size of their first-born child has made it hard to find the best bars in Miami amid those places that cater to spring breakers who fear no hangover.
The hardest part of going out in Miami is avoiding those spots. They often do a good job of disguising their awfulness via trendy sounding names spelled in all lowercase. They serve scary margaritas meant to get you so drunk that you don’t notice your tab comes with an added 75% gratuity and the intellectual rights to any work of fiction you may write in the next 15 years. But we can guarantee no ulterior motives at these bars, which are the standbys that make Miami a great city to drink in.
Our favorite kind of landmarks are the ones that serve booze, and Mac’s—the most famous dive bar in South Florida—does just that, every day from 8am-5am. Sure, this 50-plus-year-old South Beach spot is rich in history (the neon lights were installed by the Miami Vice crew during a shoot) and you might walk in on a retired rock star sipping whiskey when you come here. But we like it because Mac’s is just a phenomenal dive bar. It’s grimy but friendly if you play by the rules, which essentially boil down to three things: cash only, don’t touch the blinds, and don’t be an ass.
NIU Wine is the drinking equivalent of a cashmere sweater. This snug little wine bar is a result of the NIU Kitchen team’s many pandemic pivots. And the Downtown spot is now our favorite spot for a low-key night out, first date, or particularly exhausting Thursday that calls for a glass of wine and an excellent panna cotta. The narrow space still has the intimate dinner party energy of NIU Kitchen (now located a few doors down the street)—with candlelight and tables perfect for couples. There’s not really a wine menu. You just chat with the owner, and she’ll bring you some bottles to try. There is a rotating food menu, though, and it’s full of tapas like bacalhau with sofrito aioli, charcuterie, and a spiced chocolate truffle you definitely want alongside a glass of that red you picked because you liked the label.
Dante’s HiFi is a Wynwood bar and “listening room.” This doesn’t mean that everyone is sitting in silence and listening to music (this is Miami after all, a city incapable of silence). But it does mean that this place has an absolutely spectacular sound system, and a really incredible record collection. DJs take turns spinning songs from that collection, occasionally hopping on the mic to give some context about what they’re playing. And while all this is going on, you can order good cocktails, snack on wasabi peas, and mentally calculate how much money you need to save in order to install these speakers in your own home. This place is a great change of pace when you still want to listen to great music, but don't want to do so on a chaotic dance floor. It's tough to walk in here on a busy night, but they do accept reservations.
Over Under in Downtown has the DNA of a dive bar, upscale cocktail bar, and a very good restaurant. And while your stomach will get mad at you if you come here without ordering at least something from their excellent (and very Florida) food menu—like one of Miami's best burgers—you can certainly come here just to have a fun, drunken night. Over Under gets packed (in a fun way) during the weekend. But it's also a lovely weeknight drinking option, whether or not you want to sit alone at the bar on a Monday night or show up for karaoke on a Wednesday.
Lagniappe is proof that not all wine bars are quiet, dim places that feel more like libraries. This place gets packed and loud both inside—where you’ll find a weekly rotation of great jazz and plenty of good wine in a slightly cramped space—and outside, which is a back patio that all other back patios should aspire to be. There are string lights and tons of tables that look like they were collected from years of nearby garage sales. It’s hard to get one of those tables on the weekend (when they’re usually full of big groups or app dates) so come early or just do laps until you see an opening.
People love to ask what you’d bring with you if you were trapped on a desert island and sure, a lighter and a cell phone would be nice. But if we could bring one bar with us, it’d be Gramps. No other bar in Miami is as versatile. A week at this Wynwood spot includes karaoke, pizza, live music, killer DJs, and the best drag show in town every Thursday night. Add to that the best cocktails in Wynwood, a very good Happy Hour, and Pizza Tropical’s fantastic NY-style pizza in the back, and we’d happily spend a few years alone with Gramps on an island.
photo credit: Gabriel Matarazz
Terras at Life House Little Havana
Here's the bad news: Miami's rooftop bar scene is pretty pathetic. But here's the good news: Terras in Little Havana is a rooftop bar we truly love and wholeheartedly endorse. This is thanks to both the great cocktails and the wonderful view of the Downtown skyline. They serve food here as well, including small plates like queso fundido, hearts of palm salad, and birria tacos. But you’re mostly coming here to drink—or dance since they usually have a great DJ spinning on the weekend. The space is pretty and not too claustrophobic—great for a date or catching up with a few friends. And even though it’s on the roof of a hotel, it’s not annoyingly touristy.
Sweet Liberty Drink & Supply Co.
There is really never a bad time to come to Sweet Liberty. They’ve got one of our favorite Happy Hours that includes oysters and some of the best cocktails in the city. The late-night scene is always fun without feeling sloppy. Sunday brunch is a blast too, whether you’re looking for bottomless rosé or a great fried chicken sandwich. This place is everything we love about South Beach: sexy and colorful and not afraid of a hot pink neon sign, without any of the nasty overpriced stuff you’ll eat and drink on Ocean Drive.
If you're trying to drink and eat at a bar, then you should be at Off Site. The Little River nano-brewery is serving some of the best bar food in Miami. There’s a Cuban sandwich with bread pressed crispy enough to play shuffleboard on. Their huge (but not unmanageable) fried chicken sandwich just might be the best in town. And they also make wings, a burger, and a hot dog that both rank among the best versions you'll find in all of South Florida. Plus, this is just a refreshingly chill space perfect for a beer and a conversation—which you can have as soon as you finish inhaling whatever food you end up ordering.
photo credit: Karli Evans
There are some questions that require a yes 100% of the time. Would you like fries with that? Would you like to upgrade to first class free of charge? Would you like to grab a drink at Broken Shaker? No matter how touristy it gets, we always want to come to this outdoor Miami Beach cocktail bar, where we can sip some of the best drinks in Miami, swim in the pool without being asked for our room number, and feel a solid 15% hipper thanks to the very cool tropical design we’ve tried (and failed) to emulate in our own tiny backyards. This place also earns bonus points for being 15 steps away from one of our favorite restaurants in Miami Beach, 27.
Paradis Books & Bread
North Miami’s Paradis Books & Bread is so good at being both a wine bar and restaurant. But if you’re coming here just to drink, you can expect mostly natural wine along with some cider—available by the glass or bottle—in a relaxed indoor/outdoor space. This is more a place to drink, chat, and eat pizza than be loud and dance (it is part library, after all). But everything here is delicious (especially the thick, square pizza slices) and it’s a nice change of pace if you’re a little tired of waking up after a night out with your ears ringing.
Swizzle is a bar that feels like a cross between a tiki bar and a speakeasy—or a tiki-easy, which is a word we just made up that’s as fun to say as this bar is to drink at. Even though it’s only three short steps below the lobby, Swizzle is dimly lit and makes you feel like you're well below sea level in the hull of an old wooden ship. Underground atmosphere aside, this place also makes some of the best cocktails in town. The drink menu is extensive and unanimously excellent, especially the swizzle cocktails.
Wetlab is an unremarkable bar in a remarkable place: it’s slightly hidden inside UM’s Marine and Atmospheric Science campus with a view of Biscayne Bay that makes even the priciest hotels in town jealous. Even though it’s on UM property, it’s completely open to the public Wednesday-Friday and feels like you’re on a scavenger hunt if you’ve never been here before. You will get lost trying to find it, walk past classrooms, smile as you remember your own college days, then cringe as you remember more of them, then sprint before the memory of that time you went streaking for free Jimmy John’s comes flooding back. You’ll find this place eventually, though, and be glad you did—especially if you come here at sunset, which is just spectacular.
Mama Tried is a bar that wears a lot of hats. The little Downtown spot can, depending on the night, feel like a dive bar or a cocktail bar or a neighborhood Happy Hour spot. They have good weekly and monthly event programming, like a very popular emo night. It’s the kind of place you end up after midnight, sweaty and ready to dance on their red carpet, which is shockingly clean for a bar carpet. Don’t come here expecting state-of-the-art cocktails. It’s mostly simple well drinks and beer, especially when they get busy on the weekends. But it’s always a fun spot, especially if you’re in the mood for loud music and maybe a shot or two.
Palace isn’t strictly a bar. They serve food here too, but you really come here to drink and watch drag, which pretty much makes it a bar in our eyes. This place is open till 1am during the week (and usually later on weekends), but the best time to come here is for their famous drag brunch, when you get a couple hours of bottomless mimosas and the best sidewalk drag show of your freaking life.
We prefer to treat Downtown’s Jaguar Sun like a restaurant. We make a reservation, sit down, order food, drinks, and leave incredibly happy every single time. However, Jaguar Sun is also a cocktail bar—and an outstanding one too. Their bar area, which is separate from the dining room, is a bit small. It can be tough to snag a seat during peak hours, but when you do, you can expect some of the best service and drinks in town. The fact that you can also order some oysters or pasta if you start to get hungry is an added bonus we’ll happily take.
NW 11th Street is generally a place you go if you’re trying to go clubbing for 11 hours straight, but The Corner is a great spot for people who’d like to stay away from those loud dance floors and offensively-priced beers. This neighborhood standby works for a solid cocktail at 4am or a Happy Hour beer and hot dog as the sun sets over Downtown. But The Corner (open till 8am on Friday and Saturday) is undoubtedly a late-night spot and generally the best choice for anyone out in the middle of the night who doesn’t want to go home yet and would like to be around people who feel the same way.
Union Beer Store
If you love professional wrestling and beer, then this might be your favorite bar in Miami. But even if you aren’t a diehard fan of either, you’ll still probably find this Calle Ocho spot refreshing and surprising in a good way. While most bars in the area specialize in live music and mojitos, Union Beer is a great spot to sit down for a conversation with zero pressure to salsa. They have a great beer selection, a rotating lineup of some of Miami's best food pop-ups (like the outstanding Haochi), free Pac-Man, and a constant stream of classic professional wrestling playing on the TVs so you can check out The Rock back when he still sported a Speedo.
The Cleat is a slightly hard-to-find Key Biscayne bar with a view that’s worth shedding a tear. This place is located inside Bill Baggs State Park on the southern tip of Key Biscayne. And it has the best waterfront view of any bar in the entire city. It’s hard to describe without using cliche adjectives like breathtaking, especially at sunset. The Cleat has a very Keys vibe, occasional live music, and every seat in the house provides a view of Biscayne Bay you’d normally have to purchase a $300 bottle of vodka to enjoy. There is an $8 per vehicle fee to get into the park, but tell them you’re going to The Cleat and they (should) let you in for free.
Downtown’s Lost Boy used to be a denim store, but now it’s a casual, straightforward pub that serves very good cocktails, beer, and wine in a space with a lot of tables great for small groups who actually want to have a conversation. Out-of-towners might see Lost Boy as just another solid bar—and it is. But this place not only sparked a new wave of Downtown nightlife, it’s also given the city another thing it desperately needs: a quality bar that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to get people through the door.
The Anderson holds Miami’s longest-running liquor license and it looks like it's kept a design aspect from every decade it’s been open. Inside, it’s vintage ‘80s with cheetah print wallpaper, a disco ball, and lots of shiny mirrored surfaces. The backyard is tropical tiki. There’s a little hut that is one of our favorite places in Miami to get rum drunk and a taco stand right next to it in case you get hungry. This place isn’t very close to many other Miami bars, but walking from room to room here can feel a little like bar hopping.
This historic bar is the best place to drink in Coconut Grove. There’s some comfortable outdoor seating for nice days and inside you can sip a bunch of different whiskeys in walls that look and feel like they’ve been here since 1920 (which they have). This place’s bar food game is also incredibly strong since they share a kitchen with their fantastic neighbors Ariete. Plus, if a Miami sports team is playing some sort of important game, you can bet they'll be showing it here.