As the bellhop whisks open the door, I slowly make my way across the marble-lined lobby and step into the elevator. “Up to the rooftop?” the elevator attendant asks, as I admire the gold etching lining the car. Formerly a bank vault, the elevator is just one glimpse into the Beaux-Arts building’s past. Once we reach the top, we walk out on to the rooftop where the star of the show is downtown Miami’s neon-lit skyline. The scene here is still every bit modern day Miami, with a dressed-down crowd lounging on wraparound sofas sipping Instagram-worthy cocktails. Head inside though, and you’ll spot signs of the hotel’s Roaring Twenties days, from the vintage-style bar to the steamer trunks serving as dressers in the guestrooms.
Built downtown during the housing boom in 1925, the 11-story Langford Hotel opened a year and a half ago in the former Miami National Bank. From the exterior, the building looks just as it did when it was built in the Twenties, but one sure sign that Prohibition times are over is the lack of speakeasy. Instead of hiding the bar, the boutique hotel put it right on the rooftop within prime view of the city’s surrounding skyscrapers.
The speakeasy trend has more than had its moment in modern times, but now bars like this one are making their presence less hidden. With a focus on Prohibition-era cocktails, bars are bringing back elements of the 1920s in signature cocktail style, crafting libations just as legit as they were nearly a century ago.
Photo courtesy of Pawnbroker
At the Langford’s rooftop Pawn Broker, Miami bartender William Rivas, who ran other institutions in the city like Michelle Bernstein’s now-closed Sra. Martinez and Michael Mina’s fine dining Bourbon Steak, looked to the Golden Age of cocktails when drafting the spot’s list of libations. As I took a seat inside at the dimly lit marble-lined bar, a DJ spun vinyl and bartenders put on a show expertly blending drinks from a toolbox of instruments, pouring each into stemware more elaborate than the next. Paging through the menu, it could easily double as a history book with descriptions of Prohibition-era drinks like White Lightning (the backwoods version of a Moscow mule) and quotes from Frank Sinatra like “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.” As if this isn’t enough to entice you, sketched illustrations of drinks dubbed Mother’s Ruin and Giggle Water certainly will. In the 1920’s, bubbly Gin & Tonic was made in the bathtub, and Pawn Broker nods to Giggle Water’s home-brewed beginnings, serving its version with Champagne syrup and lavender foam inside a bathtub-shaped ceramic glass.
Photo courtesy of the Traveller Bar
After a $180 million, 20-month renovation last year, the InterContinental New York Barclay unveiled its new watering hole, the 1920s-themed Gin Parlour, inspired by the Dutch and English gins bars of the decade. The stately centerpiece oval-shaped bar is stocked with over 88 types of gin that are mixed into a menu of traditional and reinvented cocktails. Go simple with the Quintessential G&T, mixed with house cold-brewed tonic water and a sprig of something seasonal, or try one of the Prohibition classics like the Last Word—a blend of gin, green Chartreuse, Maraschino and lime—which was only recently rediscovered by the cocktail world.
Photo courtesy of the Traveller Bar
While some bars are reviving Roaring Twenties favorites like this one, others are looking to vintage recipes that date all the way back to the late 19th century. While researching recipes for pop-up The Traveller Bar, Loews Hotels compiled a library of 50 vintage cocktail books, including the oldest ever written, the first edition of the 1862 “Bar-Tender’s Guide.” The “father of American mixology,” New York bartender Jerry Thomas, chronicled the cocktails of his time in the book that’s looked at as a bible for mixology, where you’ll find the first record of classics like the Tom Collins.
Photo courtesy of Gin Parlour
Drawing from this collection of historic recipes, the pop-up bar, which is constructed from an old elevator car, serves as somewhat of a traveling salesman mixing up revitalized versions of Golden Age favorites. Now in its second year, The Traveller Bar continues its road trip from coast to coast, checking off all 24 Loews hotels on the list, with upcoming stops in Boston and Philadelphia. Behind the bar you’ll find dated drinks like the Lucien Gaudin, a gin- and vermouth-based drink named after a French fencer, with a recipe officially recorded in the 1929 book, “Cocktails de Paris.”
The team behind the task, Collectif 1806, includes top-notch mixologists (such as award-winning bartenders like NYC-based Stilo Pimentel), who have also assembled their own library of over 300 rare cocktail books, aiming to bring elements of 20th century cocktail culture into modern mixology.
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora
At the Ritz Bar in Paris, the bartenders would rather you skip the menu entirely. The Art Deco bar plays on the Années folles, or crazy years, inspired by the days of 1920s Paris. The menu portrays its cocktails in poetic phrases like “Soleil d’Hiver,” whose description reads “I warm the hearts of those who want it, an earthy freshness to those who need it.” The best way to go here is to let the bartenders take charge and craft a classic cocktail inspired by your favorite ingredients. Then just sit back for the show as bartenders work their skill with smoke and stamped “Ritz” ice in a setting just as “crazy” as the one that drew the likes of Hemingway and Cole Porter during Paris’ Roaring Twenties days.
Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.