How To Order A Cocktail At A Bar And Seriously Impress Your Bartender
Most bar patrons never intend to hold up the flow of business, but if I could draw an arbitrary stat from my own experience as a bartender, I would say one in five guests do so, albeit unknowingly, by not knowing how to order a standard cocktail. I'm not alone in my surprise that one wouldn't know what is in their favorite cocktail, and the busier the bar is, the more I question how you've made it this far without having a clue what you're drinking. Still, I can't blame the eager patron, eagerly waiting to take that first sip — I blame every bartender that never told you how to order that drink. You, bad drink orderers, have been a victim of bad bartenders, and it stops right here.
When most people walk into a crowded, noisy bar, their first course of action is to order a drink as quickly as possible and breathe a sigh of relief when they finally catch the eye of one of the bartenders, and with a variety of house cocktails to choose from, cocktail standards can be a safe way to start your drinking experience. Unfortunately, standard cocktails are made differently from place to place (they really shouldn't be, but it's definitely true), and that's why it's important to order your bev of choice correctly. Not only are you guaranteeing the taste and style of your cocktail, but you're also going to save the bartender time from having to pull the information out of you and TBH, most of us swoon a little over anyone who flawlessly orders a standard cocktail.
These popular cocktail standards are a great way to show off to your bartender or date while giving you impeccable ordering skills and the drink you really want.
1. The World of Martini Ordering
So, you want a martini, do you? You and pretty much everyone else, but it's unlikely you all want the same martini. Start with your spirit of choice. Is it gin you fancy, or are you shaking things up with vodka? Next, decide on which brand of gin or vodka you prefer, moving on to how dry, dirty, or wet you like your martinis. The dry factor has to do with the amount of dry vermouth in the cocktail. In my experience, most people prefer a small amount of vermouth. Looking to make your drink savory with olive juice? Let your bartender know just how savory — do you want it slightly dirty, filthy, or swampy?
Now, let's get to the presentation, which likely affects your enjoyment. A good rule of thumb is gin stirred, vodka shaken, but if you prefer your martinis always stirred or shaken, definitely include your preference. Finally and always, tell us the garnish of your choice, because that will affect the flavor. Popular choices are olives, lemons, and onions.
2. It's Never "Just An Old Fashioned"
The Old Fashioned cocktail should be made with whiskey, as it was developed by a "bourbon aristocrat" in Kentucky in the 19th century. As when ordering most standards, start with the type of spirit. With whiskey, you'll have to narrow down your choices further to bourbon, rye, or even brandy, and since many brands make both a bourbon and rye whiskey, be specific: do you want Bulleit bourbon or Bulleit rye? Do you like your drink heavy on bitters, or on the sweeter side? IMO, the most important detail in an Old Fashioned is the garnish: the recipe was originally made with a lemon twist, but as esteemed mixologists and bartenders alike notice, today's modern twist on an old classic can often have muddled orange peels and cherries or just a simple orange twist.
3. Order the Negroni of Your Dreams
While this cocktail has been around for almost 100 years, it has seen a surge in popularity. Light and refreshing, with three liquors, it seems like it always tastes as refreshing as the last time, but you can help us along by telling us your spirit of choice. The negroni is a gin cocktail, but with the Campari and sweet vermouth, you really don't need to be a baller: chances are if the bar you are at can make a negroni, its house gin will do just fine. This cocktail was developed as a twist on the americano, so while it should be served on the rocks, it's likely to vary bar to bar. Let your bartender know how you feel about ice in your drink before you receive it.
4. Ordering A "Mule" Causes Confusion For Everyone Involved
Here's the thing about the Moscow mule, it's always made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. However, many people like to and are encouraged to play with the recipe by choosing their spirit of choice. For instance, if you want a gin mule, follow the same guidelines by specifying which type of gin and removing the word "Moscow" from your order — this may seem tedious, but in a noisy bar it helps alleviate any confusion about your order.
5. Make Your Margarita Pref Known
Working at a Neapolitan pizza restaurant, I can't tell you how many times my fellow bartenders have guests order "just a margarita" and rang in a pizza instead of making them a cocktail. A unique problem for us, sure, but chances are if you are dining at a Mexican restaurant or a bar that specializes in margaritas, you will have a plethora of different margaritas to choose from. Please note that if you are at ANY other type of restaurant or bar, you'll need to acknowledge that a strawberry margarita may not happen. Order a margarita like you came out of the womb knowing it would be your favorite cocktail: A house margarita will get you well tequila and if you want anything other than well, make sure you specify based on the visuals or menu. Let us know if you want it up or on the rocks and please tell us before we make your drink if you want salt or sugar.
6. Know What's In Your Sidecar
Another refreshing cocktail favorite amongst bartenders and their guests is the sidecar. Served in a chilled coup glass with equal parts brandy, orange liquor, and lemon juice, this drink, much like the Old Fashioned, has serious debate about how it was originally crafted. According to sources at the Huffington Post, the classic French recipe is made with equal parts cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice while the classic English recipe has two parts brandy, and equal parts of both lemon and Cointreau. Whether it's English or French you crave, provide us with your cognac of choice, and note that this classic is served up, with a sugar rim.
7. Be A Sazerac Snob
One of my personal favorite cocktails to drink and make, drinking a Sazerac is basically like having a warm embrace at the end of a long day. The Sazerac was originally made with Sazerac French brandy, but rather quickly replaced it with rye whiskey. Served up, chilled, with an absinthe rinse, and a lemon rim that's discarded afterwards, it should be the easiest drink you order at a bar. While historically, this drink is made with Sazerac rye whiskey, you may find that not every bar carries the standard spirit, and while it's served up, you can certainly request it on the rocks. Choose your rye, and wait for great, great things to happen.
8. Even A Gimlet Deserves Clarification
Gimlets are wildly popular, and much like the mule, the original spirit is often replaced with whatever a guest prefers. Ordering "a gimlet" will get you shakened gin and lime juice, with a dash of soda. If you want to up your gin preference, you'll of course need to state your gin preference (there is a pointed theme going here), and note the drink is classically served up and not on the rocks. If it's tequila, vodka, or rum you crave, let your bartender know, because gimlet means gin to us.
As always, choose your liquor, rocks or up, and any unique preferences of your drink (I don't mind a few dashes of bitters in mine), but I added this close relative of the negroni to the list because too many times, bartenders will look at you like you are a very confused guest when you order this drink. Perhaps it's the name, perhaps it's still regaining popularity, but whatever it is, ordering a boulevardier can lead to shouting the name repeatedly. Here's a tip: if they don't hear you the first time, simply say "A negroni with Bulliet bourbon on the rocks!" because this cocktail was originally served up, like a Manhattan.
Speaking of Manhattans, let's acknowledge the classic recipe of this cocktail to help you decipher if you need to stray from the original Manhattan. While the original recipe called for bourbon, it's widely used with rye whiskey, so stating your brand and preference in this cocktail is definitely important depending on where you are geographically. You may not know if you want a dry or perfect Manhattan if you don't know the difference: a perfect Manhattan will have equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, whereas a dry Manhattan actually just means to nix the sweet vermouth altogether and use dry vermouth instead. If it's Scotch you crave, you can really impress your bartender by ordering a Deanston, Rob Roy, with a Scotch whiskey base instead of bourbon. Note that a proper Manhattan is never shaken and never on the rocks, so order accordingly.
11. Last Word / Final Ward
Finally, we come to the last word. It's a prohibition era cocktail that survived longer than the drinking ban. Like all of the cocktail standards on this list, knowing what's in your drink and how it's usually served will help you in ordering your drink. Traditionally, this cocktail is equal parts green Chartreuse, lime juice, gin, and maraschino liqueur, shaken and served up with a lime. If you're looking for rocks, make it known after you name your brand of gin. If you are looking for a variation of the last word like the Final Ward, you'll be specifying which type of whiskey you want with lemon juice, green Chartreuse, and maraschino liqueur. Note: Some bars will use yellow Chartreuse over green in a Final Ward, but this is one inquiry that I'm always impressed with, rather than annoyed, because it shows you care about your drink.
It's a bartender's job to serve you the best drink we can make, yet we are only as "powerful" as the information our guests give us; knowing how to order a standard cocktail will get you a drink you want to drink, and it will get to you much faster.
Image: Barboncino (12)