Bars can be intimidating places for the uninitiated. It’s like taking the bus when you’re first new to the city: everyone else seems to know where to stand, they get annoyed when you hold things up, and you aren’t even sure you got on the right bus in the first place.
It can be stressful and embarrassing and so you order a beer. Again. Ordering beer is fine. But this isn’t about beer. This is about getting good at bars, an essential skill for the drinking life. Here then are a few pointers if you want to be cool and collected at any bar:
Know the bar you are in
You need to know what kinds of drinks this place is good for. For our drink-ordering purposes, bars fall into three categories:
1. Dive bars. I love dive bars, but you want to keep your order to a shot and a beer or basic highballs like Rum and Coke, Whiskey and Soda, Gin and Tonic.
2. “Bar” bars. These are hard to define specifically, but think of the bar in Cheers. That’s how these bars feel. Here you can add your classic cocktails (see below) and anything on their cocktail menu.
3. Advanced cocktail bars. You’ll know these by their impressively stocked back bar and little jars of fresh herbs and fruit everywhere. Sky’s the limit order-wise, but you lose some options on the ground floor (e.g. they aren’t going to stock Bud Lite or Jim Beam).
Know the classics
At it’s most basic, a cocktail is three things: a spirit, sugar, and bitters. A little water won’t hurt either. That is why an old-fashioned is called an old-fashioned by the way: it was essentially the original cocktail recipe. A great cocktail balances these basic flavors and then adds other elements like citrus or liqueurs.
So no need to get all fancy. Ordering a basic classic cocktail like an old-fashioned or a Sazerac in the appropriate place is always respectable.
For my money, these are five classic drinks every man should get comfortable with and order often:
– The Old-Fashioned
– The Gin Martini
– The Sazerac
– The Negroni
– The (original) Daiquri
Know your spirits
If you find yourself in an advanced cocktail bar and want to step up your game, let the bartender be your guide. Give them a spirit you are interested in getting to know a little better and ask if they can suggest a drink. Whether it’s something more mainstream like whiskey or obscure like amaro, it is always cool to learn from the masters.
Still not sure? Just add whiskey to that beer
Adding a shot of whiskey to a beer makes anyone in any bar look like they are a pro.