Dan Binkiewicz, is the mastermind behind Miami Beach late-night favorite Purdy Lounge, The Bar in Coral Gables, and most recently Sweet Liberty on Miami Beach. He started Brickell’s Blackbird Ordinary with the goal of introducing craft cocktails to the Miami palette, but in an approachable way. He’s vowed to keep the bar cover-free and keep prices affordable, making Blackbird what he calls “the gateway to craft cocktails.” With the capacity to play live music both inside and outside, bands ranging from local rock to high profile hip-hop have graced Blackbird’s stages. And when it’s a DJ-set kind of night, non-stop bangers keep bumping till the wee hours of the morning. Although it feels like Blackbird has been around forever, the bar just joined the Brickell scene four years ago. We had a drink with Binkiewicz to learn a bit more about Blackbird’s beginnings, and got some insight on what it takes to open a successful bar in bustling Brickell.
How did you get into this industry?
I started working in restaurants when I was 11 years old. I was a busboy, and since then I’ve worked all over Miami. I’ve worked at News Cafe, The Abbey, and I bartended through college. After I graduated college, I backpacked for 9 months, went to South America and Southeast Asia. When I came back, the group I work with now, the Bar Brothers group — Dan John Donovan, Richard Dispenzieri, and Lou Petrillo — asked me to run a bar they bought which wasn’t doing so great. After a year or two, I told them we should open a bar on the beach, and then we opened Purdy. And the rest is history.
The service industry is the best businesses in the world. You’re doing everything from repairs, to ordering, to marketing and strategizing. You can be so many different things. It’s a very creative business.
What was the goal when launching Blackbird Ordinary?
We wanted to offer a venue that was multi-faceted. On any given night, you can dance to a DJ inside, a band outside, and drink craft cocktails the whole time. The Florida Room did something similar on South Beach, but it was pretty high-priced. I thought I wanted to do something a bit more approachable and affordable.
Our emphasis is in quality. We don’t have any pre-made juices. They’re all fresh-pressed, all organic ingredients. As far as herbs and spices, we have an edible wall outside and plant pots on tables inside. When we first started, we wanted to be self-sustainable and only use herbs we grew ourselves. We’ve sort of outgrown that, and now have to ship herbs in, but we still encourage people to pick the mint and the basil and use them in their drinks. We make all of our own syrups and bitters, as well.
Why did you name the bar Blackbird?
A blackbird is a songbird, and the name just rolls off the tongue. We’re also huge Beatles fans, but it wasn’t named for The Beatles song.
You’ve opened four hugely successful bars in Miami. There have got to be some speedbumps. What are some of the challenges you faced when opening?
At Blackbird, we wanted to focus on craft cocktails. Everyone thinks Miami is a “vodka soda” kinda town. But here, you’ll see hundreds of different cocktails. I call Blackbird the gateway to craft cocktails in Miami. With that, we had to train our bartenders in how to execute the cocktails, because not many people in the city have experience with it at this pace. At Blackbird, we have an intensive cocktail program. We give our bartenders months of work and education, and sometimes they pass the program in a week, but sometimes it takes as long as 6 weeks.
Then the sheer volume of people. We’re three times the size of any other bar we’ve opened, so learning how to accommodate that is also a challenge.
How does Blackbird fit into the larger Brickell landscape?
Well, we wanted to have a distinct identity. Anytime you open a bar, you have to know your neighborhood. So in the beginning, there was a learning curve. Trying to figure out the right type of music people want to hear, their feedback on cocktails, feedback on the bands we book. We realized that the nights we totally bombed, it was because the programming just didn’t fit the neighborhood. Brickell responds well to being accessible, being well-priced, and now we’ve found that our neighborhood has learned to trust us and trust our taste.
We don’t want to pressure anyone. You don’t have to buy a bottle, or do any of the fancy stuff that’s been pushed on people for so long in Miami. What is a cover really for? To walk into a bar? That’s crazy. We try not to charge a cover, but if we have a big band playing and we have to charge $5 at the door, they trust that it will be worth it.
What have been some of your favorite performances?
We just had Slick Rick, which was amazing. We have G. Love every Art Basel. We’ve had Questlove. ¡Mayday! also plays here like three times a year. That’s always really fun.
What’s Miami drinking right now?
People are drinking Jameson like crazy. More than ever, people are drinking whiskey. I think it’s the gateway drink. You start with whiskey, then you move into bourbon. Vodka is always a mainstay. Also, Miamians are learning how to appreciate gin. You don’t sip gin or take shots of gin — it’s best in a cocktail. Also mezcal is on fire right now in Miami.
What’s your favorite drink?
One of my favorites is a sazerac, negroni, or old fashioned cocktail. My favorite cocktail on he menu right now is the maderos. It’s a whiskey and Bulleit rye with cognac. Every time we have a new menu, we throw a competition with our bartenders. They get to make up a cocktail and the best drink goes on the menu. Every time they sell one, they get a dollar on the cocktail. Right now the winner is the Spring Chicken, which is Vodka-based.
How to make a Blackbird Ordinary Cocktail
Jill Ian Cohen, a bartender who has been at Blackbird Ordinary since it opened, showed us how to make Maduros and Spring Chicken. Cohen created the Spring Chicken cocktail herself.
Start with one large ice cube in a glass
½ oz house-made plantain syrup, spiced
½ oz Remy Martin cognac
1½ oz Bulleit rye
2 dashes of chocolate bitters
Pour the drink into the glass
Shave off an orange peel and express oils over the top and around the rim
Add the orange peel as garnish
Fill a mason jar with ice
Add about ½ cup of fresh strawberry puree to a cocktail shaker
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz house made vanilla bean syrup
2 oz Absolut Elyx Vodka
Shake it up in a cocktail shaker with ice
Pour it into the mason jar
Add a dash of cream soda
Add a strawberry and lemon slice for garnish