After only a short, one-month stint as a pop-up bar, it became more than clear the Radio Bar concept would be sticking around. Menin Hospitality co-founder Keith Menin and managing partner Jared Galbut quickly took the steps to build Radio its permanent home in South Beach, where the bar garnered an even more massive following than it had as a pop-up and became a prime weekend go-to for SoBe locals. Today Radio Bar continues to be a trendy destination, but Menin's also making sure to keep it on the up and up with new offerings. Like it's very own (small) menu, created by none other than Bernie Matz (of the shuttered Bernie's L.A. Cafe). Eater caught up with Galbut and spoke about the past year at Radio, and what's to come in the future (if the menu seemed like big news, you ain't heard nothin' yet).
What was it like transitioning from pop-up to permanent bar?
I think it was exciting and rewarding. When we opened Radio Bar, it felt like the year of the pop-up. I think everyone was trying to pop up something and we enjoyed going there so much that we decided to keep Radio permanent after a month of fully operating it. And it turned into something special. We have Drumbar up in Chicago and we kind of brought a little bit of that down, but also kept it what it was: this really relaxed, local bar.
What changed when it went from pop-up to permanent?
Well, I think the ambience was there. It was really more so some of the things we put in like, we're big into our liquor selection and our different types of specialty liquors and craft cocktails, so one of the things was that we cleared out the entire bar. People loved the ambience, but we wanted to kind of amp it up a little bit, make it special and so we cleared out the bar, we got some really cool unique tequilas, bourbons and whiskeys and we made it a little bit more upscale in a sense. Not fully upscale, but people can come and still get a $2 miller light or now you could get a $90 glass of Pappy Van Winkle. It was really the breadth of the menu that kind of started to make it so special. South of Fifth is a really unique area, you can have people that live in a $1000 rental studio or people that live in a 2000 square foot condo, so we wanted to cater to all of these demographics. Then we added on the craft cocktails from our experience at Drumbar. Between both of those and us pushing it a little bit more on our side, it really became a huge success.
Tell me more about the first year open.
The first year was great. I think the first couple of months we didn't know what to expect, but after we realized and experienced the reactions from the patrons and the guests and the locals coming there, Keith and I looked at each other and realized that we had something special here and that we had to continue pushing it forward and making it a great local spot. That was important for us. We wanted a place where we could go and hang out. We wanted a place where you wouldn't have to stress out about what you're wearing or have to get all dressed up for the night. It's just something that you can quickly go in and get a nice drink, some popcorn, or go in and watch the game, or party on a Friday night; you get the same type of crowd. It was really a learning experience and we just continue to grow and get better. We're really excited for our second year with everything that we've learned.
How does the team handle how busy Radio Bar gets during the weekends?
You have to handle it in the nicest way possible. We're not really a club, it can get a little bit busy like a club, but we try to be as nice as we can to people. If we're just honest with them and say we're over capacity or we're waiting for some people to leave, people understand. Remember, a lot of the people are repeat locals, so they kind of understand and most of them know the doorman, so they see him, they smile and he says "yeah, you know just hang out for a little bit," and it's not about if you know the door guy and you're going to slip him money, we're the opposite of that. Everyone feels that it's a locals bar, so they wait for it to clear out a little bit so they can go in and enjoy it. Overall, the team does a great job at handling it. Right now we have our entrance and exit through the back to make sure it's not so noisy for the neighbors and so far it's been great.
What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced over the past year?
I think just integrating in the neighborhood and I think we did a pretty good job. We've worked hard with the neighborhood to come up with good solutions and make sure there's not a lot of noise. It really is — I keep going back to it — a local bar. Most of our people that come during the week and not the weekend are people from the neighborhood. So we worked to overcome that challenge and I think we've assimilated into the community and the neighborhood pretty well. It's really been wonderful. We have such a good team, so for us it was an easy transition to handle this.
What surprised you about this year?
I think the success of the cocktails was surprising. It wasn't something that we really focused on, making a cocktail-driven bar, but here we just added some cocktails in there and they just became hugely successful. So, we were a little surprised at that, but it was a good surprise. People really took to the cocktails and we came up with really cool, creative names for them, so we're really happy with that.
Given your experience, what do you think makes for a successful bar?
I think there are a couple of things. With anything you do in food and beverage, it's all about your product. You really have to have a good product and what's one of the things that when we talked about wiping out the bar and creating all new stuff, we created a selection there that can cater to anyone, so I think having a great product is very important. And I think providing good service. I think if you have a good product and good service no matter where you are, no matter where your location is, no matter what people say or don't like, people will keep coming back for that. People come back for good product and good service, and that's what we always preach at all of our venues to our team is: you keep doing that and they will come back. I think if you have those two, you will be successful.
What has changed over the last year at Radio Bar?
We continue to have great cocktail selections, we continue to have cool selections, but we've also recently added a food menu. Bernie Matz, who used to run Books & Books, Bernie's L.A. Café, The Meatball Joint — we hired as our culinary director. So, Bernie has come in and he's created a really cool, simple, fun bar menu at Radio and we're actually going to be releasing it next week. I did a little taste test and it was great. It's perfect for little bites. You can get like two little Cuban sandwiches and just fun little stuff that if you're sitting at a bar and you don't want a full meal, you can have something to hold you over. It's really great and we're really excited because that was really the only thing missing at Radio, the food aspect. We're excited to see what everyone thinks about it. We've slowly been releasing it during the week to get everyone's opinions because we really want to make them happy, so we're excited to see what the rest of the world thinks of it when we release it next week.
Where do you and Keith go out when you're not at Radio?
If we go out, I think a lot of times we'll go to Regent. Keith likes to go to Casa Tua, sometimes I'll go to Soho House as well.
What's in store for the future?
Next to Radio, we're doing a great concept which will be opening up next year. It's going to be called Bake House, it's going to be a French Brasserie fast-casual place. Bernie's actually doing the menu for that. You'll be able to get great, classic French items with a fun little Cuban twist like Bernie always puts on his food, and you'll be able to get great pastries — we have a full bakery back there, so breads, pastries, cakes, it's going to be a very neighborhood shop/bakery that you can also eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. We think it will be a great addition to the neighborhood. Red Ginger is going to be our first venture into a higher end Asian hybrid concept between Thai and Japanese. We're going to do a beautiful sushi bar, we'll do great, classic Thai dishes and then also we're going to do probably one of the best sake selections that you'll see in Miami and also Japanese whiskey. Not many people know, but Japan is known for their whiskey, so we're going to bring it down to Miami and let everyone try the amazing whiskeys. The third concept will be Don Diablo, and that's going to be by Bernie as well, the food. The front is going to be an amazing street taco concept that's going to be open as late as the city will let us and the back of it will be a lounge, local bar to that area of West Avenue. It's going to be in between 16th and Alton, West Avenue. That we're really, really excited about because Bernie and I both wanted to do really classic street Mexican food – very simple, very clean and something that everyone can enjoy, not too over the top.
Update: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Don Diablo was a joint venture between Menin Hospitality and Opium Group.
· All Coverage of Radio Bar [EMIA]