We sat down with Seth Weinberg of the iconic Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach to chat about his work, Miami’s cocktail scene, hunting vintage liquor, and his drink for June’s Red Vodka Box, the Dirty Little Secret!
S&S: What’s it like to work at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach? How did your journey lead there?
SW: The Fontainebleau is an amazing place to work. At any given time, you’re in the middle of a small city with so many moving parts in the middle of paradise. The property is the largest hotel on the Eastern Seaboard. The hotel has been open since 1954, and is rich with history. I realized early that I work at the same place where Goldfinger and Scarface—a few of my favorite movies—were filmed. Previously, I worked at another Michael Mina restaurant and Fontainebleau-owned property in North Miami, which helped land me the job at the iconic Fontainebleau.
S&S: If the Fontainebleau Hotel had a signature drink that encapsulated the vibe and atmosphere of the bar, what would it be?
SW: We have a cocktail on the menu that I created called “The Poodle Room.” It’s a throwback to the original 1950s lounge in the Fontainebleau. The drink is a refreshing crowd pleaser that’s a twist on a Clover Club: vodka, strawberry-coriander syrup, lemon, egg white, and mint marble. Served in a vintage etched cocktail coupe, there’s a sexy sophistication, with a modern twist.
S&S: How would you characterize Miami’s drinking culture?
SW: Miami is such an international city. Drinking culture is a little all over the place. Overall, people visiting want to feel like they are in Miami, so tiki and tropical drinks rule supreme, followed by lots of vodka and whiskey.
S&S: Is there an ingredient or technique you’re currently fascinated with?
SW: Playing with yellow and green Chartreuse interchangeably in drinks or solo is all I need in life.
S&S: What are some of your favorite flavors to pair with vodka?
SW: Bright citrus flavors or savory and salinity all pull out the nuances of vodka, hence the Dirty Little Secret!
S&S: Yes! The Dirty Little Secret boasts a familiar martini flavor but definitely uses some unconventional ingredients to get there. What was your process of coming up with that combination?
SW: I’m a fan of drinking dirty martinis, but I am not a fan of olive brine. It is overly salty and murky. It’s very hard to pull out flavor profiles in vodka in a normal dirty martini. I wanted similar flavor profiles to come through in a beautiful translucent drink. The use of sea salt, lemon peel, and rosemary pull out the flavors, and in my mind creates a healthier drink.
S&S: What’s an occasion where you’re reaching for a martini above all other choices?
SW: Martinis are social to me. They have a celebratory nostalgia like Champagne. I usually drink them when I am out and am starting out the night. They are like a cheers toast.
S&S: What music do you hope people are listening to as they mix and enjoy your Dirty Little Secret at home?
SW: Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Bing Crosby, Sammie Davis Jr.
S&S: We heard you’re something of a collector of rare spirits. When hunting for new additions, what do you generally look for?
SW: Anything weird and eye catching. If it’s something I have never heard of or seen, I want it, and then I want to know all about it.
S&S: What vintage cocktail or spirit do you feel is deserving of more recognition today?
SW: Pineau des Charentes. I discovered it in Cognac, France. Supposedly created by accident, it is a fortified wine of grape juice, must, and Cognac eau-de-vie. It’s earthy, sweet, and fruity. Damn, I want a glass right now.
S&S: What’s the weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
SW: My first bar manager job, I used to run a special Mojito Margarita special at a Mexican restaurant. They sold like crazy. I think my bartenders still hate me for that one.
S&S: What’s the best drink you’ve ever had?
SW: I usually drink my whiskey neat, but a perfect Penicillin from Attaboy in NYC is hands down my favorite shaken whiskey cocktail.
S&S: NYC represent! What do want to be when you grow up?
SW: I’m never going to grow up . . .
S&S: What do you do when you’re not working?
SW: Hunting vintage liquor, playing poker, and never spending enough time at the beach.
S&S: What’s your go-to drink order when trying out at a new place?
SW: Beer, while I watch the bartender make drinks. Then I decide if I want a drink, or another beer.
S&S: Ha! Do you have a favorite drinking scene from cinema history?
SW: Tony Montana and Manny having pineapple vessel drinks poolside in Miami, before Manny gets slapped in the face for, well, you know.
S&S: What personality trait or skill of yours would be most useful if you were a spy?
SW: I don’t know, but I really want X-ray vision.
S&S: Which bar tool would you make sure to take with you on your mission?
SW: Go-go-gadget bar spoon.
S&S: Are you more of a James Bond or Austin Powers?
SW: In my mind James Bond, but in reality probably Austin Powers.