A Look Inside Miami’s Employees Only

July 26, 2017Pola Bunster

Walking along Washington Avenue, observing the sunset bustle, you might pass it. Your eyes peruse the multiple art deco buildings before landing on the colorful patterned facade of the Wolsonian-FIU museum across the street, cruising right over it. Then all of a sudden, a lava red “psychic” sign illuminates the coral and limestone exterior of an old Florida home and you realize a gem was hidden under your nose all this time.

That’s the point of a speakeasy, really. To stand the test of time without needing to be known, a silent monster breathing to the rhythm of the streets in a shadowed alley, a doorless bookstand or in this case, behind a cluster of palm trees. Employees Only stands above them all, leading the trendy resurgence in New York City before moving on to Hong Kong, Singapore, and now Miami Beach. Partnering with The Washington Park Hotel and its four newly renovated 1930s boutique hotels, Employees Only was given a home in their 1922 Rock Coral House with one of EO’s original founding fathers, Bill Gilroy at the helm.

Gilroy is the manifestation of what Employees Only is all about: a warm demeanor, a cultured past, and the sharpest attention to detail around. The kind of age-old friend you can learn so much from. He, like the speakeasy he helped build, is a collection of his world-traveled experiences, full of anecdotes and cheeky phrases that take you back to better days, only to remind you that the present is pretty darn great too. Especially when that present looks as beautiful as his latest outpost on Miami Beach.

Derived from the idea of creating a welcoming space for industry members, Employees Only is a place where even the hardest working night owls can grab a drink or eat a quick bite before getting some much needed shut-eye–with a kitchen and bar open until 4:30am and 5am respectively 7 days a week. Aside from Employees Only, Gilroy also oversees the food & beverage program for the entire hotel, including the Caribbean-inspired lobby bar, Swizzle. Where books mingle with mixers and frozé is on tap.

But back to the concept at hand. Walking through the double french doors under the trademark EO key, you find yourself in a turn-of-the-century foyer, with equal parts mystic obsession and Polynesian wicker accents. Even the lived-in smells are real, the furniture and decor are all treasures stored by Gilroy himself. It’s dark, yet still comfortable for a lounge while your tarot is read or a friend discovers a new life path. But these aren’t the only spirits that take the stage, you can’t get through five minutes here without diving mind-deep into one of their next-level cocktails.

Pushing through the velvet curtain into a world unknown, a swanky bar stands proudly to your left, with a 1950s-inspired dining room to your right. Every detail inside the establishment has been scavenged from around the world. South East Asian furnishings, Victorian details, New York Art Deco pieces; its a collection that comes together to make absolute sense in the city it now lives in–something the Employees Only crew does so masterfully. After your eyes have adjusted to the magic, you should try your tongue at some drinks. Our personal favorites are the Amelia- an elderflower concoction, the West Side, or the Ginger Smash- their most popular (and most tropical).

One other thing you’ll notice from the moment you step into this glorified time machine is that the service is impeccable. If he’s working, ask for Marko, a GM as gentlemanly and charismatic as that name sounds and one of the key reasons we’d go back on the regular. Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis serenade you to your seats and you giggle at the demure turn-of-the-century nudes on the wall that wink at you on the way. You can’t help but watch the crowd from your dark corner seat and notice a mix of old school Miami locals and curious trendsetters in the midst of muffled conversation.

The Ricotta Gnocchi felt like biting into a cloud of cheese, while the Bone Marrow Poppers were a crowd-favorite. We also tasted the Bacon-Wrapped Lamb Chops, and were wowed by the Filet Mignon Steak Tartare made fresh tableside. It’s an Employees Only staple. Then came the EO Burger which is brilliantly served on an English Muffin for extra support, the Red Snapper and Mussels, and the larger-than-life Chicken Schnitzel which takes you to the sprawling streets of Berlin. Speaking of across the pond, the Tufahija with poached apple is as comforting as it comes.

As you drift back out through the velvet curtain, distant laughs and fuzzy thoughts trailing behind, an uncanny feeling washes over you. It’s as if you’ve just finished having one of those deep and winding conversations over bottle(s) of wine with your very closest friends where, after a particularly exhausting week, it’s the first time you’ve felt actually listened to. Like every detail in the place is the result of years of learning from customers who now feel like family. This is the same with every Employees Only where, as Bill Gilroy puts it “the common denominator is always the customer and hospitality.”

All photos by: Andrea Lorena.