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Broken Shaker Changed Hotel Bars Forever
They're no longer just a place to get tanked after a business meeting
Miami Art Week runs through this Sunday, December 5, attracting celebrities from Martha Stewart to Cardi B. Though Art Basel is the main event, all of Miami turns into a frenzy of activity as art exhibits pop up everywhere from restaurants to hotel lobbies to a giant strip club, Tootsie’s Cabaret (the 75,000 square-foot mega-club will host artist Todd Gray).
If you’re in town for Miami Art Week, you’re going to need a drink.
Broken Shaker started as a pop-up bar in a rundown hotel in Miami Beach and quickly became known for having one of the finest cocktail programs in the city.
Find out how that little bar changed the way we look at hotel bars in today’s story. — Laine Doss
From grand lounges like The Sazarac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans to your typical lobby bar at Hilton catering to business travelers, the hotel bar has been the place wind down from a long day, meet clandestinely, or gain some liquid courage for a plane ride back home.
The look and, more importantly, feel of hotel bars changed when Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi opened a Miami Beach pop-up bar in early 2012 called Broken Shaker at the former Indian Creek hotel — now Freehand Miami. Today, Broken Shaker has expanded with additional locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City — all inside Freehand hotels.
The original Broken Shaker, about a mile north of the tourist-centric area of South Beach, spilled out into the hotel’s courtyard and pool area. It served a concise menu of interesting cocktails and one punch that changed weekly. The prices were affordable and the vibe was chill.
Almost instantly, it became the place for Miami’s industry workers to head on a day off. In a city where most hotel bars specialized in vodka and Red Bull or mojitos, the Broken Shaker was a refreshing change. When Anthony Bourdain gave the bar a nod, Broken Shaker became the “it” place to be. Still, the little bar never became pretentious. On the contrary, it turned into a place where celebrities could go incognito for a refreshment.
Gabe Orta, cofounder of Broken Shaker says, in Miami, before Broken Shaker, “There really wasn’t any place that had amazing cocktails and service but was casual. Hotel bars were super expensive and usually had a dress code.” He and Zvi fashioned a bar from what they were looking for on a night out. “We like to go out with friends and have an Old Fashioned,” he says.
Though the partners had a dream, Orta says they didn’t have much money to start a bar. They did know the then-owners of the Indian Creek Hotel and approached them with the idea of opening one. “At the time, it was a rundown hotel, so the wall was down and people were open to experience the drinks,” says Orta. “It opened peoples’ minds in Miami.”
The formula of offering well-crafted cocktails in a casual, bohemian setting proved to be a winning one. Since its debut, Broken Shaker has been nominated for two James Beard awards, named one of the "The World's 50 Best Bars" in 2014 and 2015, and awarded Best American Hotel Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.
For each Broken Shaker location to reflect that city’s pulse, he and his partner move to the city for a few months to eat, drink, and live like locals. “The formula is to get inspired by each city and the people who live there. We live in Miami, so that was easy. When we were opening Chicago, we realized how much culture goes into a successful bar.”
Orta says that he was especially inspired by the Ukrainian and Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago. “Our palates and our minds expanded.” The cocktail menu, which, in Miami was filled with tropical fruits and Mediterranean spices, morphed to reflect the city. “The ingredients are different there. That’s when we got inspired by something new: The Chicago hot dog inspired a margarita. I love this so let’s do a cocktail like this,” he says. “We found a guy who made the best mole so we made a mole cocktail. It’s about the people. It’s what people like. Our coworkers are the ones driving the narrative.”
Though each location has its own style, the DNA remains the same, says Orta. “We play songs that we love — the Rolling Stones, Bill Withers. We have candles burning. Our bars are genuine. That’s what resonates with people. They know if you’re trying too hard, but they also know if your drinks are coming from the heart.”
Orta says that even though some of the biggest names in show business and the culinary world have passed through Broken Shaker’s doors (Kanye West, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bobby Flay, and Giada DeLaurentiis are a few that come to mind), everyone is treated the same. “The beauty of the Shaker is that you can be hanging with a celebrity and you’re drinking the same thing….Everyone is treated like family.”