lightkeepers key biscayne

Bartender Alexa Delgado at Lightkeepers in The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, Miami. (Photo: Michael Hess)

Mixing It Up

Miami Mixologist Alexa Delgado on Why Every Great Cocktail Tells a Story

The drinks of Miami are storied. Literally. Cocktails froth with history and are garnished with local legends. Libations inspired by city founders, historic landmarks and famous thoroughfares are menu highlights in bars and restaurants across the city.

Cocktail lovers will find one of those menus at Lightkeepers within The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, Miami, where lead bartender Alexa Delgado and her team give a nod to the 305 with each instillation of their cocktail list.

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler sat down with Delgado to get her take on women in the beverage industry, the Miami drinks scene and storytelling through cocktails.

lightkeepers key biscayne
(Photo: Michael Hess)

What first sparked your passion in mixology and cocktails?

When I was 20 years old, I read an issue in Women’s Health magazine about this woman named Meg Gill who owns a brewery in California. Throughout the article she spoke about how few women there are in the beverage industry and how she would go to interviews and different marketing things, and they would think she was a Budweiser girl, so to speak. So she really wanted to push the idea of the femininity in the beverage industry.

I did some research into that and realized that there are very few women, whether it be in brewing, distilling, wine making or even in bartending, and just decided then and there that this is what I wanted to do.

I went on to do a master’s [degree] in management in food and beverage and really started to pursue the idea of cocktails. I just find it so interesting. It’s really fun; it’s such a volatile and innovative scene right now. I think there are a lot of things that people can create and make, and I really enjoy that aspect of it.

lightkeepers key biscayne
(Photo: Michael Hess)

Why do you think it’s important that more women enter the beverage industry?

I think it’s important for more women to be involved with the beverage industry because we create another facet and another voice to the story being told. I have many male colleagues that I love and respect, but there are some struggles that I feel would be easier to overcome if I had had a female to look to for advice or guidance.

By including more females and female-identifying [people] into the industry, we open up room at the table for those who normally might not have their voices heard.

What’s the cocktail scene like down here in Miami?

We take a different path when it comes to cocktails. We like to do our own thing.

Miami has a vibrant cocktail scene that’s kind of come up in the last three to five years. We have such a colorful and flamboyant personality down here, and we really try to take that to the next level.

lightkeepers key biscayne
(Photo: Michael Hess)

We try to play with the creativity in our drinks, be it in presentation or the actual building of the cocktail. I think that’s the direction that our city will continue to go in. So here [at Lightkeepers] we try to keep it simple.

We want our cocktails to be clean. We really focus on local flavors. We have one with hibiscus syrup. We have another cocktail with mango puree, which, any Cuban in Miami will tell you, is the best fruit that God has ever given this Earth. But we do try to keep it local, we try to keep it unique to this city, and try to play up some nostalgia.

Our cocktails really focus on the history of the city, and the history of Key Biscayne as an island. So we like to tie that in so there’s a little bit of a storytelling aspect to our drinks, as well.

What are some of those stories?

So, the first installation of our cocktail menu, when we opened Lightkeepers, was a literal map of the village of Key Biscayne. We started at the Cape Florida Light, which is the lighthouse at the end of the island, and literally worked our way up to the Rickenbacker Causeway.

lightkeepers key biscayne
(Photo: Michael Hess)

So we had the Crandon Sour, which is named after the main thoroughfare here in the city, Crandon Boulevard. We had the Rickenbacker Rum Negroni, which is the name of the actual causeway that leads into the island. We really wanted to give an experience to our guests that highlighted different parts of the island that they necessarily wouldn’t have known.

The second installation of our cocktails, since we ended in the city, really focused on the founding of Miami. We have the Julia, which is named for Julia Tuttle, who is the only female city founder in the entire United States.

We have the Miami Godfather, which is for Henry Flagler, who brought the Florida East Coast Railway down here. It really highlights kind of the unique nature of the city as far as what went into its creation and the different personalities behind it.

lightkeepers key biscayne
(Photo: Michael Hess)

Why do you think that every great cocktail has a story behind it?

There is so much that goes into the art of a drink. More than just the ingredients and a witty name, it’s the passion and the labor put into the ingredients themselves.

Think about the countless hours that go into crafting each bottle and what’s inside. We take those ingredients and craft our own libations, and from things that I’ve seen, [bartenders] are on the same level with culinarians dressing a plate.

We’re not just mixing some liquids in a glass, shaking it up and hoping it tastes good; we’re experimenting and researching and drawing on the history in the ingredients and of the different cultures that influence us.

So when we create those stories and serve them to our guests, they’re given a glass full of history so that no cocktail is ever “just a drink.” It’s our role as bartenders to spin those stories into our own creations and give our guests a truly unique and memorable experience.

lightkeepers key biscayne
(Photo: Michael Hess)

What is next for you and Lightkeepers?

Like I said, our current cocktail installation focuses on the founding of Miami up until about the 1940s with the creation of Knaus Berry Farms down in the Redlands.

So I’d really like to see for the next installation to be from the Cuban Diaspora to the 1980s “Miami Vice” era. I’ve actually created a mezcal drink that uses hibiscus syrup, and it’s kind of like this fuchsia color. I want to call it the Don Johnson because it’s got that pink that you see in the “Miami Vice” logo.

I also want to create a cocktail for Stiltsville, which is about a mile off the [coast], and it was kind of like this hub of gambling and partying that wasn’t necessarily legal, but it’s part of Miami’s shadier history. There’s a lot of dark and twisted things in Miami’s history that are really fun to play with.