Once a guilty pleasure thrown back in beach bars across America, the Miami Vice has found new relevance beyond indiscriminate vacation drinking. Some pros, like bartender Joaquín Simó (“The Miami Vice is perhaps the most perfect frozen drink ever created”), have come to appreciate it in its original form. Others, however, have found its mashup build to be the perfect invitation to higher-minded experimentation, and have tweaked the two-toned drink to fit their point of view.
Consider Nico de Soto’s Wasabi + Cilantro at New York’s Mace. De Soto goes baroque, rebuilding the Piña Colada portion with bacon fat–washed rum, sous-vide plantain coconut cream, pineapple juice and cilantro tea, while the Strawberry Daiquiri half is made from strawberry purée plus an elaborate wasabi-infused rum that’s clarified with a soy milk wash. The flavors were inspired by de Soto’s travels through Sweden and Peru, he says. Guests can sample the Wasabi + Cilantro components separately or mix them together “for an explosion of flavors and complexity,” he suggests.
While it may seem like a fool’s errand to contort a straightforward slushy classic into a complex showpiece, it’s in keeping with the bar’s menu, which emphasizes herbs, spices and flavors from around the globe, as well as de Soto’s own style, which leans hard on fat-washing and similar techniques.
But de Soto is hardly alone in the pursuit of finding ways to build a better—or at least more upscale—Miami Vice. At Cane & Table in New Orleans, local Ponchatoula-grown strawberries became the centerpiece for the Strawberry Daiquiri portion of the bar’s made-from-scratch Miami Vice. And at San Francisco’s The Beehive, a more conceptual version emerges in the Miami Nice: Guava purée is a surprising stand-in for strawberry, accompanied by allspice dram, aged rum and coconut cream. The drink is whirred together, eschewing the usual candy-striped appearance; it may drink like a cousin to the classic Miami Vice, but it doesn’t look like one. Adding to the mix, when bar director Adam Fournier joined Los Angeles’ Fellow, relaunching the drink menu this summer, he added a Miami Vice Milk Punch, a perhaps inevitable collision of two of-the-moment cocktail trends.
Meanwhile, at Brooklyn’s Rule of Thirds, the Miami Rice is featured at the restaurant’s weekends-only Japanese-inspired tropical pop-up, Yakitiki. The punny name came first, says Rule of Thirds bar director Brian Evans, who admits he’s never actually tried a classic Miami Vice. However, he recognized how quickly the visual effect of a layered drink pulls people in. “It’s the ‘sizzling fajita’ effect,” says Evans. “You see it, you gotta have it, just based on how it looks.”
The drink starts with Beniotome Sesame Shochu, a barley shochu distilled with sesame seeds, and sake kasu (a byproduct of making sake) from Brooklyn Kura brewed into a syrup “that emulates the viscosity and richness of a Coco Lopez [coconut cream].” The shochu and syrup are blended with two types of rum and pineapple, cucumber and lime juices, creating a Japanese-inflected take on a Piña Colada. It’s then swirled with a Strawberry Daiquiri Purée that combines fresh strawberries with cane sugar and overproof rum.
Elsewhere, Andrew “Coco” Cordero, bar manager of J & Tony’s in San Diego, found inspiration in Hawaii, where he first sampled a Miami Vice in late 2020. “I said, ‘why aren’t we doing this?’” he recalls. Returning home, he was determined to find a way to make the drink fit with J & Tony’s emphasis on amari, aperitif spirits and fortified wines. The end result: a Piña Colada that folds in nutty amontillado sherry and Amaro Montenegro. Meanwhile, a frozen Jungle Bird stands in for the Strawberry Daiquiri component, amped up with extra cinnamon as a nostalgic nod to the horchata that Cordero grew up drinking. “That cinnamon flavor is addicting to me,” he says.
Cordero is already planning another, further-reaching riff, possibly a Banana Daiquiri and Colada swirl, perhaps dotted with boba pearls, or whipped cream—or both. In his view, the Miami Vice has become an unlikely springboard for frozen innovation, allowing a sense of whimsy to lead the way ad infinitum.
“It’s challenging to try to find two things that you would think don’t match, and make them play nice with each other,” says Cordero. “That’s kind of what I think the fun and the beauty of this drink is.”