Bar Lab’s Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi are credited with giving rise to South Florida’s craft cocktail scene. They’re among Miami’s most loved mixologists and have been making herb-infused libations (hand-picked from their garden, no less) since before it was a thing.
The Bar Lab curators launched The Broken Shaker in 2012 as the city’s first pop-up bar, and it’s now a popular brick-and-mortar fixture on Miami Beach. Since then, they’ve opened outposts in Chicago and Los Angeles, along with 27 Restaurant and The Anderson in Miami. The James Beard Foundation twice has given them a nod as semi-finalists, and they’ve found themselves on a host of best-of lists.
When locals catch wind of a new restaurant opening with the Bar Lab name attached to it, they flock to it because they know the beverage program is guaranteed to be top notch. The pair even collaborated with homeware giant Williams Sonoma for a project.
We recently chatted with Orta to get his thoughts on Miami’s cocktail scene, what it means to find balance in a drink and what’s on tap next for the Bar Lab duo.
When did you decide to take your craft behind the bar — and to Miami?
I’ve been working since I was 15 and held every position in the food and beverage industry. You name it — barback, dishwasher, cook, etc. — I’ve done it. When it was time to open something here in Miami, we wanted to bring craft cocktails in a relaxed and friendly environment.
What do you look for when building a cocktail?
There are many things that make for the perfect cocktail, whether fresh ingredients, quality spirits or even creativity. For me, balance is key.
Anyone can make great cocktails, but it all comes down to hospitality. Drinking is meant to be fun and enjoyable, and cocktail bars should be as well. The people you’re with, atmosphere and hospitality [are most important]. Last is the drink.
What inspires you when you’re creating a drink or menu?
I get inspiration from different people that have impacted my life in different ways. I’ve learned from many great people through my career, too many to only name a few.
I find it in traveling, learning about diverse cultures and eating their food. Growing up in Colombia and Hawaii also gave me two very different perspectives on life.
What ingredient are you experimenting with most these days?
All kinds of fermented foods and liquids. At the Broken Shaker in Miami Beach, we like to use handmade vinegars and herbs from the bar’s adjacent garden.
What is your favorite thing about living in Miami?
The ocean. On a day off, you might find me at the beach surfing or paddle boarding and enjoying the sun.
What do you see as on tap for Miami’s cocktail scene?
The sky is the limit here. There are so many good places putting out incredible products with good bartenders behind them. There will be more fermented ingredients turned into cocktails. And more neighborhood bartenders — it’s all about friendly service hospitality.
What’s your current favorite bar in Miami?
You’ll find me at On the Rocks Sports Bar. It’s a neighborhood dive bar in North Beach.
What’s one “wow” moment you’re especially proud of in your career?
I once cooked a vegetarian meal for Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys at the Tibet Freedom Concert in San Francisco.
What’s next for Bar Lab?
We plan to open more bars and showcase the best of what Miami has to offer to the rest of the world. We’re opening Broken Shaker in New York City this spring. And we just launched a collection of cocktail mixers in collaboration with Williams Sonoma.
Tell us about the “Friendsgiving” we hear you host.
For us, it’s about giving back to those in need in our communities, especially children. We started the All Day Foundation, which is a nonprofit that supports children’s charities in Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. For the past two years, we’ve gotten some of Miami’s best chefs and bar owners together for Friendsgiving for food, drinks and live music at The Anderson in Miami. This past year’s event helped Children’s Home Society in Miami.