When Sidebar opened in early 2020, tucked into the ground floor of a luxury condominium just steps from Fifth Avenue South, it was the first standalone craft cocktail lounge in the neighborhood. Within the 1,500-square-foot space, more than 150 whiskeys plus 50 tequilas and mezcals line a wall behind the bar, while a Coravin system pours single servings from $100-plus, hard-to-find bottles of wine. The cocktail list, which changes frequently, often features boutique spirits in modern twists on classic libations.
Sidebar is not alone in recognizing an increased demand for craft beverages, standout spirit selections and destination bar scenes. Bartenders and restaurateurs say new residents coming from New York and other metropolitan areas—as well as internet culture—are driving the trend. “I wanted to open Sidebar five years ago, but it wouldn’t have worked,” co-owner Marty Kenney says. “With social media, the younger generation is well-versed [in cocktail culture] now.”
In Naples, the 2020 rebrand of D’Amico & Sons to Ziggy D’Amico’s Whiskey Bar & Diner included the addition of a full bar with an emphasis on international whiskeys, sipped straight or blended into stiff drinks like a barrel-aged Manhattan. Bar Tulia, one of the standard bearers in Naples, opened a second location with a 75-seat patio at Mercato in April, bringing wines from small Italian producers and cocktails made with fresh herbs and house infusions to North Naples. And at Seventh South Craft Food + Drink, equal weight is given to the kitchen and bar program, which was conceived by local bartender Barry Larkin.
At Chartreuse, which opened in downtown Bonita in June, the bartenders make a point to engage with their audience, talking through the complex cocktail menu and performing final flourishes, like a flamed rosemary garnish, at customers’ leather armchairs.
In Fort Myers, demand outpaced expectations at Beacon Social Drinkery, the rooftop bar at the Luminary Hotel & Co. “The first six months, there would be 50 people in the lobby waiting to get up there as soon as we opened the doors. We had a wait every single night,” food and beverage director Steve Adams says. The novelty (and sweeping sunset views) helped buoy its popularity, but Beacon Social is also serious about its drinks, embracing on-trend ingredients like violet-hued butterfly pea flowers in its Beacon cocktail.
Across the Caloosahatchee, Overtime Pizzeria in Cape Coral transformed its upstairs space into The Loft at OT, a swanky lounge with live music most nights and a slate of flavored signature martinis, including grapefruit-basil, lavender and coconut-caramel.
Fans of rum and spiced banana syrup flock to Jungle Bird Authentic Tiki in Cape Coral. Launched in August 2020 as a pop-up, the now-permanent tiki concept transforms house-blended rums, fresh juices and syrups into potent libations, served in a tropical oasis punctuated by pops of pink neon. “I’ve always loved tiki. It’s not as structured as some classic bar styles,” owner Jeremy Vincent says. “People visit from out of state. They come three nights in a row because there are not many tiki restaurants around.”
Rebecca’s and The Maddox
Rebecca Maddox, the entrepreneur behind Celebration Park and Three60 Market, continues to play a major role in the evolution of Naples’ Bayshore Arts District. Next fall, look for two eponymous ventures—Rebecca’s, a modern wine bar, and The Maddox, an adjacent members-only wine club—to open across from her existing culinary hubs. Spread across six buildings on a 9,000-square-foot campus, the two ventures will have an open-concept chef’s kitchen, a Champagne and caviar bar, a charcuterie room, a wine storage facility, a cigar bar and garden lounge areas. We’ll cheers to that.