SM23: For Well-Crafted Cocktails, Just Go
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A well- crafted cocktail is more than a tease; it’s a way of drinking that unfortunately is mostly unavailable in New Jersey.
I say “mostly unavailable” because the art of crafting a cocktail is a dying art. Some may say the art of making or creating cocktails has never been more difficult to find. I tend to agree. There are plenty of cocktail bars in New Jersey, but very few that know how to craft one.
Enter . You may have dined at or at and wondered what is behind the third door? The Lady or the Tiger?
If you said the Lady and the Tiger you would be correct. SM23 is more than a cocktail lounge: it is a sophisticated place to enjoy cocktails. The menu is divided into sections: Classics, Refreshing, Standouts, Mocktails, Champagne (always love Champagne!) and Dessert, Tequila, Bourbon and Ports, Whiskey and Scotch, Sake, Cognac, Brandy/Cordials, Vodka, Gin and Rum …
Sure you can get a carefully poured pint of Guinness, but why would you if there is the chance to try a well mixed, creative cocktail?
It isn’t just the cocktail menu that will bring you to SM23. They mix their cocktails with the very best liquors that are, for certain, quite potent. What you may not know is every cocktail is created with hand prepared syrups, bitters, juices, infusions and fresh herbs. There are many preparations that most cocktail bars take for granted by just opening a bottle. This would never happen at SM23.
“There is no Rose’s Lime juice here at SM23” said James O’Connor, my affable bartender who was working the day shift. “Fresh mint is the backbone of many of my cocktails, I can’t stand Triple Sec or bottled sour mix or that green stuff that many bars use when making Margaritas.”
I ordered the Pink Grapefruit Mojito knowing full well that it wasn’t even 1 p.m. in the afternoon. It’s been pretty hot and humid lately and no drink comes to mind clearer than the heat and humidity-cutting Mojito. The addition of pink grapefruit muddled with aromatic fresh mint, 10 Cane Rum, Lemon Juice and Rosewater is a surprise. This is not just a cocktail but something so refreshing, so bold that I want to shout out for another. James crafts this cocktail with a ready smile. It’s clear to me that there is more here than just a mixed drink or a quick pour. He embraces the art of the cocktail as if this cocktail was his favorite in the tool kit of all things crisp, aromatic, alcoholic and deeply refreshing.
Great ice is the key to this drink. SM23 doesn’t overfill the glass with crushed ice, thereby diluting it. Also, the correct glass is equally important. SM23 uses a stem-less 10 oz. glass. The tall rocks glass used here would be perfect for any number of their offerings. As a sidebar, they serve a Margarita in a low (Rocks) glass, unlike the thick stem wine glass used elsewhere. James adds to a cocktail mixer, fresh grapefruit, some mint “simple syrup” that is made in house. Freshly squeezed lemon juice goes in, then some rose water fresh mint (there can never be enough fresh mint in this cocktail) and a splash of seltzer water. The mint is muddled with a stainless steel cocktail muddler and the grapefruit until it becomes a paste. Then, in goes the 10 Cane Rum. How much? That’s up to you.
Then the syrup, then ice, then a bit more rum. How much rum? Again, that’s up to you. I recommend a 3:2:1 proportion (3 parts rum to 2 parts ingredients to 1 part ice). Shake, strain and serve in a tall rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
It’s clear to me at first taste that SM23 is the best cocktail bar in Morristown. I challenge anyone to write me and tell me that they do it better. SM23 is doing exactly what I seek: A well crafted cocktail. Just go.