Owner's Corner: Higher Ground

owner's corner

Located in the heart of Miami's Wynwood Arts District, Higher Ground is a cocktail “oasis” that recently opened in December 2022. The venue is the brainchild of Bar Lab Global Beverage Director Christine Wiseman. She and her team wanted Higher Ground to be an elevated cocktail program championing the best partners in town, namely Bar Lab and Arlo Hotels, while also being an urban beer garden-esque retreat for friends to “come on down” and relax with a drink or two.

“The ambience is a magical oasis meant to showcase how our mixology and operations have grown,” Wiseman says. “I wanted Higher Ground to evoke the spirituality, sights, colors, and sense of wonder you find in the jungles of Latin America, all while seamlessly blending in the local Miami culture. This thoughtful mixture is what makes Higher Ground take the stage before guests.”


Food & Cocktails 

higher ground miami christine wiseman
Sunset on La Playa (Photo: Higher Ground)

Higher Ground’s cocktail program draws inspiration from drinks and ingredients spanning across countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, as well as local flavors and vibes found in South Florida. As Wiseman explains, the cocktails are all meticulously crafted, shot through with herbal elixirs, exotic infusions, and fresh pressed juices. Of course, classics are also available.

“The goal is that while eclectic, there’s something for everyone,” Wiseman says.

Although the establishment has only been in business for six months, there are certainly fan favorites that have emerged. Wiseman points to Sunset on La Playa, which is a bright yellow concoction of Ilegal Mezcal, Strega, and Giffard Banane du Brésil, swizzled with orange juice, lime, a coriander and turmeric elixir, and a dash of Aji Amarillo. It's garnished with a plantain chip and served with plenty of chilling ice. Wiseman also says Theobrama Cacao, or what the team at Higher Ground refers to as “the food of the gods,” is a favorite among patrons. It’s a clarified milk punch with Aberfeldy, Fino, strawberry, raspberry, and rose tea, complete with a personal white sage smudge meant to spiritually promote healing and wisdom.

higher ground miami christine wiseman

To complement the drink offerings, Higher Ground also boasts unique delicacies, all of which are the inspiration of award-wining Chef Brad Kilgore. Patrons can enjoy a wealth of raw bar and local seafood offerings, including freshly shucked oysters, served over ice and complemented by green peppercorn mignonette, cocktail sauce, and lemon. In addition, Higher Ground offers Ropa Vieja Sliders, which are slow-cooked shredded beef ragout, smoked gouda, caramelized onions, and pickled slow peppers.

Awe-Inspiring Ambience

“Higher Ground is meant to be a tropical urban retreat,” Wiseman says. Designed by Meyer Davis Studios and Miami firm MaD artistic, Higher Ground emulates a Sao Paulo rooftop with hand-painted details, lavish greenery sprouting around a statement Seagrape tree, and a labyrinth of artfully situated seating.

higher ground miami christine wiseman

“It’s an adult playground where guests can celebrate special occasions or chill with casual conversation, both indoors and out,” Wiseman says. “The third  floor courtyard space contains dangling lights that paint the outside scene in color. It’s a beautiful sight that fits right in with Wynwood’s artsy neighborhood.”

Inside, guests will find comfy yet eclectic seating and a billiard room. The bar is found both inside and outside, which allows guests to choose where they’d best like to enjoy their time.

Embracing Challenges

As with any new enterprise, there are bound to be a handful of challenges, and Higher Ground is no exception. Wiseman says the most obvious challenges are those others in the hospitality industry are also facing—namely, staffing and out-of-stock items.

“For us, the shortage of staffing has kept us on our toes, but something that I have been a big proponent of is training everyone to do everything,” Wiseman says. “Bartenders should be able to step onto the floor, the barbacks should begin to be trained to be bartenders, your bussers to barbacks and so forth and so on. It helps with employee retention and morale.”

And while Higher Ground has quickly earned a reputation for innovative products and an ambience all its own, Wiseman herself has recently been awarded the Altos’ Bartender’s Bartender 2023 award due to her mentorship of other bartenders as well as her overall commitment to her team.

“The award is voted for by the head bartenders at the venues on this year's list of North America's 50 Best Bars, who are asked to name one peer who pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a great bartender,” Wiseman says.

christine wiseman
(Christine Wiseman)

As part of her commitment to her team and her mentorship efforts, Wiseman believes the key to success is delegation.

“You cannot do everything by yourself. This is one of the beginning layers of mentorship. They are the ones in the day-to-day shifts and sometimes my way is not the right way, and we all learn from each other in this sense,” Wiseman says. “By delegating out, it may require more follow-up, but you cannot replace yourself if you are not teaching people how to do it and give them the chance.”

Of course, in the bar and restaurant space, recruiting and hiring the ideal employees go hand-in-hand with employee retention. While every industry is plagued with its own set of reasons and circumstances for employee turnover, the hospitality industry's are evident: long hours (including weekends), moderate pay, working with the public, and management's challenging expectations of providing a high level of customer service.

But Wiseman works diligently to hire, train, and retain exceptional employees. In fact, Wiseman’s commitment to her team is evident in Higher Ground’s high employee retention, which is the result of Wiseman’s focus on a work/life balance for all.

“It’s easier said than done, I know. It’s important to continue education, and hosting other bar teams keeps things fun and exciting and allows everyone to be proud of their work space,” Wiseman says.

Looking ahead, Higher Ground will be revamping its operations on June 1, introducing a brand new weekday lunch, activations, and expanded operating hours. While its cocktail program will still be at the forefront, Higher Ground is now emphasizing itself as a premier hangout spot for lunchtime eats and late night gatherings, all while staying true to its mission of being “the indoor-outdoor jungle oasis and a respite from the outside bustle” of the world outside.

higher ground miami christine wiseman
(Photo: Higher Ground)


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