In Miami, a proper tavern is hard to find. There are bars – of the sports, dive and craft varieties – and restaurants with great bar programs, but the cornerstone of American gathering places feels, well, foreign to us. That is, until The Gibson Room opened its doors this summer, bringing classic cocktails, lively music and Michelin-Starred Chef Michael Beltran’s flavorful touch to Shenandoah.
To be clear, this is not your tavern of Colonial lore, though it is a perfect neighborhood spot. It’s the kind of place where you meet a close friend to chismear over a Gibson cocktails and Chargrilled Garlic Butter and Parmesan Oysters, enjoy a “big ass” Caesar Salad, Short Rib and wine with a small group for dinner, or simply stumble into after hours for a nightcap, burger and jazzy lullabies. (Trust us, we’ve tried all three.) Aesthetically, we were in the northeast, corralled by slate blue walls and a familiar oak bar. Gastronomically and convivially, we were right at home.
At 5pm on a Friday, the happy hour crowd rolled in for cocktails, wine and a snack menu heavy on Spanish influence, featuring items like Boquerones with salsa verde and Chicken Truffle Croquetas served in a charming poultry serving dish. Award-winning Ariete Hospitality Group Beverage Director Tom Lasher-Walker pulled inspiration from North American classics, which is only fitting for The Gibson Room’s warm, understated atmosphere.
If you’re a martini lover, order the House Gibson. It’s bright with the right hint of brine, and at $12, it’ll bring you back over and over again. If you love Manhattans, try the Forefather. Flavors of amaro and mint really come through, while apple brandy rounds it out with some sweetness. The Kentucky River is like an effervescent old fashioned, though it’s actually based on a Prohibition cocktail called the Fox River. And if lighter, more refreshing cocktails are your style, try the Ivy Rickey, which is like a vodka mojito, or the Philadelphia Deluxe, based on a pre-prohibition era cocktail called The Clover Club.
By 7:30 the place was packed, presumably with locals curious to know how The Gibson Room would stack up to The Mighty, the beloved neighborhood bar that formerly occupied the spot.
And not only does The Gibson Room stack up; it triumphs over its predecessor like David did Goliath. Here, Beltran does what he does best: celebrating Miami’s Cuban flavor by pushing its boundaries. Together with Executive Chef Kris Huseby, whom Beltran met and worked with in their early years at Michael’s Genuine, the duo demonstrates that Cuban comfort dishes aren’t insular; their textures, seasonings and techniques can play well with others.
This is apparent in mains like the Rainbow Trout, which rests upon a bed of belly-warming seafood lentejas and appetizers like Tamal en Cazuela, wherein the flavors of succulent foie gras both sweeten and savor up the corn mash, drizzled with a cabernet vinaigrette that’s so good, you could drink it on its own. Another not to miss dish is the Trout Tartar, Beltran’s take on an ensalada rusa wherein the trout adopts the role of creamy potato, adding loads more flavor to its performance.
But don’t get it twisted. The Gibson Room is a tavern. And if tavern food is meant to reflect the comforts of home cooking, then it’s no wonder you can find nuggets and noodles on the menu, only for Beltran and Huseby, the concept of comfort is outside your zone. Said Nuggets are made with eel and come with sweet, vinegary eel BBQ sauce. Noodle dishes include a creamy Venison Agnolotti, which is popular among diners.
And what’s a proper tavern without a Schnitzel? The Gibson Room’s is the juiciest piece of thinly breaded chicken we’ve ever had and is so large, it can feed a small family. We exaggerate (not really), but try to include an heirloom tomato and a bit of salsa verde in every bite. To keep things light, pair it with the Peach Salad, a sweet and refreshing display of Florida’s bountiful harvest. Do leave room for dessert (or just cut to the chase and start with it). If you grew up on flan and panetela, then you’ll absolutely love how Beltran’s poshed them up. The Flan is solid and creamy, made more elegant with foie and rum drunken figs, while the Panetela is drenched in enough lemon leche condensada that it’s more sweet than tart, more tout and moist than fluffy.
Around 10pm, the band rolled in. On this particular night, Tony & the Latin Kings filled the room with soulful jazz, but come any other night for pianists, rock bands, and even vinyl sets. As we sat at the window, sipping House Gibsons and Kentucky Rivers, we ran into friend after friend by pure chance, which is a testament to how much of a true neighborhood gem this joint is going to be. Beltran really brought it home with this one (both figuratively and literally, as he grew up a few blocks away), and you’ll be catching us back there time and time again.