Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company, the neighborhood cocktail bar by restaurateur David Martinez, Blackbird Ordinary's Dan Binkiewicz, and world-class bartender John Lermayer, opened about four months ago at 237-B 20th St. It provides Miami Beach with world-class cocktails in a laid-back setting. The menu features a selection of interesting, well-made drinks and solid bar food, but to get an elevated experience (and a taste of what it's like to spend a shift behind the bar), opt for the bartender's table experience.
For $75 a person (tax and gratuity additional), you'll be escorted through a secret door and past the bar's extensive liquor cage, then into the heart of the establishment — behind the bar. There, you'll find a comfortable booth waiting. Once you're seated, your bartenders will ask if you have any preferences regarding food or spirits (including any allergies). Soon, the food and drinks start coming at a furious pace.
Lermayer says the booth was created for people to get a rare insider's look into what it's like to be a bartender. "We want to give people insight into what we do. The table back here is designed to give people a really raw view of what bartenders experience and the feeling of having eyes on you at all times." Indeed, all eyes were on us as we settled in.
As Lermayer poured the first drink, served with four oysters, he asked the most important question of the evening: "Are you driving?" After reassurance that we took
The revered barman, along with bartenders Chris Hopkins and Shauna O'Neil, began bringing food and drink pairings. Though the emphasis is on cocktails, Lermayer also poured wine, an aged rum, and a rare Japanese whiskey. The bartender's table, he explained, completely changes each evening. "We wanted to keep it raw. With a lot of tasting tables, you come in and they put toques on for you and
The barman-turned-owner said that although there were plans to have a bartender's table all along, he wanted the bartenders to get familiar with the bar before adding the challenge of interacting with guests in the back of the house. "This is a difficult bar to navigate. There's a lot of vertical bartending, so I wanted people to get the feel of the bar and map out their positions. Then we really wanted to figure out the concept."
The bartender's table experience lasts about an hour and includes a generous amount of food and drink. Although it is the bartender's choice, patrons are given input regarding preferences and allergies. For instance, I prefer rums, bourbons, and
The Beast of Bourbon is a big, boozy drink made with bourbon, spiced rum, coffee, allspice, Angostura bitters, and orange oil. It was the hands-down favorite of the evening.
The Big Banana Julep can best be described as Louisville by way of Miami. Sous vide banana rum, bourbon, and salted banana syrup play in a gigantic julep cup. It's at once elegant and playful, like most of Sweet Liberty's drinks.
Food plays as much of a role in the evening as the libations. Beet deviled eggs are bright bites.
Crab toast with green hummus, radishes, lemon, olive oil, sunflower seeds, peas, and fennel is a creamy, delightful meal in itself. Bartender Shauna O'Neil suggested a few hits of hot sauce, which made the flavors pop.
A Cuban torta is made with 12-hour braised pork belly, Serrano ham, house pickles, and melted Swiss cheese with charred jalapeño aioli. Don't quibble over its status as a traditional Cuban sandwich; just eat it and enjoy.
Lermayer served a shot of Cana Brava rum to go with the torta.
At Sweet Liberty, dessert comes in liquid form — a minty, frothy confection of a cocktail.
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The most prominent design piece at Sweet Liberty is a large pink neon sign inviting you to "pursue happiness." Giving the bartenders one hour of your time at their special table is a good way to start your search of a blissful existence.