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, have come to appreciate it in its original form: “The Miami Vice is perhaps the most perfect frozen drink ever created,” Simó has said. Others, however, have found its mashup build—half Piña Colada, half Strawberry Daiquiri—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.
Likewise, the Miami Vice at Nashville’s Chopper Tiki—dubbed Milk Punch XVI—is crystal-clear, its appearance masking the complexity of the oolong-infused take on the cocktail.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s Rule of Thirds serves the Miami Rice. 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.
Also in New York, Chez Zou’s Alpattah Swirl brings together the bar’s house frozen Pina Colada with its Porn Star Martini standing in for the strawberry Daiquiri portion, all served spiraled together in a Hurricane glass and topped with a float of Aperol and spoonful of arak-soaked raisins. Their Haifa Vice, meanwhile, was designed to play with the layered element of the drink. Served in a jarra pitcher, each component with its own spout, the vessel allows guests to control the amount of each drink that they pour into their glasses.
Elsewhere, Andrew “Coco” Cordero, former 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 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.
In Cordero’s 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,” he says. “That’s kind of what I think the fun and the beauty of this drink is.”