Slightly hidden behind large curtains in the back of downtown Miami’s X Miami lobby is Jaguar Sun, owned by two guys who moved to Miami with the intent to do something cool. This unassuming bar opened in October 2018 and has already seen its fair share of awards, including Eater’s Bar of the Year 2018 and a nomination for Best New Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.
Will Thompson and Carey Hynes are the ones to thank for this small yet lively spot that’s part of the transformation of how people eat and drink in Downtown Miami, which in a blink of an eye became a trendy neighborhood yet again. Thompson hails from Boston where he moved up the ranks at the famed Drink, before bar consulting around the U.S., and then spending a year as the East Coast brand ambassador for Grand Marnier. Hynes started taking his cooking career seriously in Paris while working in a kitchen while also working two bartending jobs on the side, before moving to New York and cooking at well-known establishments like Per Se and Momofuko. Next up was San Francisco where he was at Charter Oak, before making the move to Miami.
Neither one had lived in Miami, but both had made several visits over the years. When a friend of Hynes offered him the chance at his own space, he figured it was worth a shot and called on Thompson to partner with him. The two met at Drink in Boston, when Hynes would hang at the bar while his now-wife was attending school in the area.
The decor inside Jaguar Sun can best be described as tropical chic with palm leaf bar stools and minimalistic back bar set up. The playlist always helps set the mood, especially on Mondays with its wine and records night were guest sommeliers from around Miami stop by with their favorite “funky” wines and records of their choosing.
The cocktail menu features an eclectic list of drinks with a balance of bright and fresh like the best selling Green Ghoul made with tequila, mezcal, poblano, cucumber, chamomile, and lime or very boozy like the Fino Martini made Plymouth gin, Fino sherry, and passionfruit. Drinks are separated into categories by Crushers, Cocktails, and Exotics making it easy for imbibers to pick their vibe.
There’s also a featured large format cocktail that will serve a comfortable 4 to 6 people and a “freak of the week” feature for just under $100 that includes a special bottle of champagne, a dozen dressed oysters, and parker house rolls. The wine list at Jaguar Sun is fun and inviting as Thompson, who is a bit of a geek when it comes to the chosen collection at his bar. Ask him a question about a bottle on the list and he’s more than willing to educate anyone who wants to listen.
After taking time off from actually being behind the bar Thompson says getting to talk to those sitting at his bar is one of his favorite things about the job. “When you find out the thing for the person sitting in front of you that really hooks them that’s what I love. The way you interact with someone, whether it’s pouring that extra splash of wine or making them the perfect screaming cold daiquiri,” says Thompson. “There’s something to knowing when to make the joke, when to offer the new drink, when to be a little extra chatty. I think those moments are so cool, and I really enjoy them a lot.”
As far as the food goes, the menu is short and sweet with just enough options. Starters include oysters, not-to-be-missed parker house rolls, country ham (Chef Hynes go-to favorite when sitting at a bar relaxing), and a little gem salad that’s anything but little. Then there’s the pasta: cacio e pepe, rigatoni with spicy pork sugo, campanelle with mussels, and a chitarra with middleneck clams. Each made fresh daily with the help of a standard Kitchen Aid mixer — because that’s what fits in the kitchen.
“I love looking around at the bar and seeing people hanging out at midnight enjoy martinis paired with oysters and a plate of fresh pasta,” says Carey Hynes, who often questions how much his cacio e pepe dish is really loved. Hint: It’s a lot. The menu’s bigger dishes are mainly pasta, and it’s not due to a long harboured desire to make pasta, but simply because it’s what made sense for the space they have. Cranking out dozens of orders of pasta each night in a kitchen smaller than one found in an average Miami apartment has become a routine Hynes enjoys, along with the smell of peppercorns roasting around him. The process of perfecting his dishes — like the spice on the rigatoni and the perfect amount of fish sauce needed to add umami to the dish — are some of his favorite things about being in the kitchen.
For dessert Hynes doesn’t slack off there either. The ice cream sandwich served on a kouign amann with fresh vanilla ice cream is a mix between a very buttery croissant and a cronut. It’s soft and warm, and sells out every night.
Those who go often are never surprised when they see many of the same people sitting at the bar who were there on their last visit as it’s already formed a crowd of regulars who stop by weekly for a cocktail or two and a dish of pasta.
“If you’re there for the cocktails, the food should surprise you. And if you’re there for the food, the cocktails should surprise you,” says Thompson. “We had plenty of ideas in mind when we opened Jaguar Sun, but from the beginning we knew we wanted it to figure out what kind of place it wanted to be on its own.”