Sona 13: Come For The Bar-Scene; Only Order Beer

An $11 "top shelf" cocktail does not impress.

I recently stopped into Thirteen for a cocktail. This mostly unadorned space has had many different owners and names over the years, most thankfully lost to history. The interior hasn’t changed much either in all this time. Sona’s sign out front heralds an Irish provenance, yet other than Fish and Chips on the menu, I failed to see any evidence of that history.

Upon entering the room, there is a long bar on the left side of the cavernous space. Toward the rear, on the right of the room there is another bar. At the very back to the left of the room appears to be some kind of tiki bar boasting bamboo adornments. The floors are wood and the walls are brick, making the room extremely loud. Let me preface with the statement, there is nothing wrong with loud noise in a bar, don’t come here for a quiet conversation after 5 p.m. on any given day.

Although Sona does serve food, this is not a restaurant I’d ever find myself eating in with the usual polyphony of deep fried offerings, plus some burgers, salads, a steak and sandwiches. I’ve seen people eating here; the portions seem overly large, but food is clearly not the draw. There are four large screen TV’s playing all manners of sports, which gives the imbiber plenty of distraction from the drinks set in front of them. Beer seems to be a good choice here, served ice cold in a pint glass with many of the big name brands in evidence.

Guinness was also available served nearly frozen on two recent occasions. It is poured too quickly, all in one throw of the tap, with no resting to build upon the bitter flavors in the glass. There are some beer and drink specials available during the daily happy hours. A sign points out free bar food during these times on Thursday and Friday.

I ordered a Margarita. I then asked the friendly bartender to use Patron Tequila and Grand Marnier, instead of Triple Sec, which I find to be sickly sweet tasting. “Salt rim?” the bartender asked. Of course; we were off to a good start.

The drink was prepared in a thick-rimmed wine glass (a visual nod to the 1970s-era fern bars?). I like my Margaritas served in a short “rocks” glass or a Martini glass. If I’m drinking top shelf liquors, I demand a certain quality of cocktail for my hard-earned money. 

It’s so easy to destroy a mixed drink by using inferior ingredients. When I order a drink with top shelf liquor, it should taste no differently than what I can get at cocktail bars like the Clover Club in Brooklyn or Death and Company in Manhattan. My suggestions are as follows: Use larger cubes of ice; filling the glass with small cubes dilutes a drink very quickly. Use better drink mixers. When a customer orders a drink made with the expensive top shelf ingredients, at least take the time to ensure that the lime garnish don’t resemble something sliced days earlier. The bar-salt on my glass was not carefully applied, but served smeared down the side of the glass.

The “stained green” sour mix used at Sona Thirteen was just unacceptable. Cheaply produced, cloyingly sour, then a “sweet tart” burst of sickeningly sour candy.

Note to Sona Thirteen: If you are using top shelf liquors to prepare cocktails then at least, please use freshly squeezed citrus fruits. If you use anything less than freshly squeezed juices then you should adjust the prices down some from an $11 drink to something in the $9 range.

Tasting Notes: My drink tasted like bitter, sour sugar water with none of the distinctively herbaceous tequila nose or orange essence from the cognac/orange liquor in evidence.

The Score?

Out of five stars, this drink garners a lowly "One Star" rating. The only reasons why I gave the drink one star was because the friendly bartender was willing to experiment with top shelf liquors.

Recipes To Success:

 The basic Margarita recipe mingles three ingredients, plus ice and salt. Gary Regan recommends a 3:2:1 formula, which is easy to remember and tastes perfectly delicious.

Dale Degroff (The Essential Cocktail) adjusts the ingredients a bit, with the use of a bit of Simple Syrup. You can use fine bar sugar if Simple Syrup is unavailable. These are two absolutely simple and delicious Margarita recipes any bartender can learn.

Gaz Regan's Margarita Recipe

1½ oz Tequila

1 oz Cointreau or Grand Marnier

½ oz Lime Juice

Dale Degroff's Margarita Recipe

1½ oz Tequila

1 oz Cointreau or Grand Marnier

¾ oz Lime Juice

¼-½ oz Simple Syrup

Warren Bobrow May 25, 2011 at 05:18 PM
I know they can do better. What does it take to use fresh lime juice? Get rid of that Margarita mix and use FRESH if your customer is paying top dollar. Who knows, you might sell a few more cocktails?
Jay May 25, 2011 at 07:20 PM
You only set yourself up for disappointment. While I can bet your review was dead accurate, I would never think to order a margarita from sona in the first place. However, if theyre going to charge you $11 for a drink in MORRISTOWN then I'd expect it to be spot on.
Warren Bobrow May 25, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Jay: I thank you for leaving me a comment. My ambition for this article is to help bars do better. I have no agenda other than the simple fact, if you use high end product, then this product should be cared for as if it was the most important ingredient in the bar. Real world? I don't stand a chance by ordering a Margarita at Sona 13. I think it's important for a bar to at least show effort when using (and charging) for high end liquor. Maybe I should change my drink to a tequila and soda? Not offering a patron a bar napkin on my second visit is just bad form. Sure, they are a beer and shot bar, I'd like to see them do better! If they charge top shelf, provide top shelf ingredients, don't destroy the good liquor with the green stuff. That's all. Thanks again. wb
julie jacobson May 25, 2011 at 07:58 PM
I hope many places learn that ingredients DO matter! - This article proves that there are people willing to spend the money on a delicious , well- crafted cocktail but it should live up the customer's expectations
Ryan May 26, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Seriously? This article is kind of silly when you look at it in context. This is just not a place you go for high end drinks. And who cares about what they do in New York City? This is a place you go to have a beer/jack and coke/vodka and soda, get some good wings (free on Thursday and Friday) and mingle with the other young people around town. This whole article comes off rather snobbish and just seems to miss the point.
Warren Bobrow June 01, 2011 at 02:49 AM
Ryan: I make my living as a cocktail and food journalist. This is not a popularity contest. If a bar wants to serve high end liquor, then they have the responsibility to use the right mixers. That's all. No one faulted their clientele, nor the bartender. I see your point though, point taken. I'll stick to the beer and maybe if pressed a Rum and Coke.
Rebecca Missel June 15, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Sona 13's bartenders have disappointed me on far easier beverages. One time I ordered a Purple Haze (beer produced by Abita that they have on tap) and I was served some odd mixed drink with a lavender tinge. The next strike came when I asked a different bartender for a glass of zinfandel. He asked if I wanted red or white. Being a lover of full-bodied wines, I asked for red, upon which he brought me a white. When I pointed out the error, his comment was that my wine was "pink, so that's close to red." However, the real reason I hate to give Sona my business is that they charge $3 for a club soda.
JoeyBananas June 15, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Crazy Expensive. Bartenders act like they are doing you a favor. PASS
cindy May 23, 2013 at 12:26 AM
No wonder those drinks don't taste good, Sona busted for bait & switch liquor, shame on you for frauding the public.


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