Look who’s all grown up! You may have been adulting with the best of them for some time now, but are your drink ordering skills as up-to-date as your student loan payments? This former bartender (and current drinker) has some advice to keep you from looking like a keg-seeking frat boy the next time you hit the bar.
Select a grown-up bar
Your taste in bars may run from swanky, dimly-lit venues with bartenders in bow ties, to divey bars with sticky floors and a Big Buck Deer Hunter in the corner. That’s okay. Both are acceptable. What’s not acceptable anymore now that you’re a grown-up? Places with “shot girls,” bars where you have zero chance of finding a seat, and anywhere with a DJ. If you can’t hear your friends talk, and the waitress is required to wear a tube top as part of her uniform, chances are you are too old for this place.
Hanging over the bar with a visible $20 bill in your hand to get your bartender’s attention is a great trick in the clubs, but it’s not necessary now that you’re a grown up. If you want our attention, and you weren’t able to score a bar stool, simply stand at the bar and aim for eye contact. A small wave of the hand is acceptable if we’ve honestly missed seeing you, or you are under five and a half feet tall. If the bar is busy, know what you want when we arrive. Legitimate questions are acceptable, but hemming and hawing about what to order is not. Have a plan B if we don’t have what you asked for. And please, don’t try to order from the bar back. He’s the guy carrying the kegs and clearing glasses. Have a little patience, and wait for me to get to you.
Tip well, per drink, especially if you have any designs on becoming a regular. If you’re handing us cash, and you don’t need the change, a “that’s all set,” communicates to us that we don’t need to return with the change. If we still insist on setting that change back down in front of you, it might be house policy, or we may think you’re cheap. Throw an extra buck or two down to be safe. If we bring you a free round, you don’t need to tip on that round, but be sure to take care of us on the next.
Sending drinks back
If you’re going to send a drink back, there better be something truly wrong with it. Acceptable reasons to send a drink back include: chipped or dirty glassware, I poured you the completely wrong thing, the beer or champagne is flat, or there is a bug in your glass. Unacceptable reasons to send back a drink? Saying you just don’t like it, or it doesn’t taste the same as when you had it last weekend at Applebee’s. And if the drink is already half gone, you’re out of luck regardless of the reason.
If you’re very particular about how your drink is made, say so. Telling me you want your old fashioned made with simple syrup instead of a sugar cube is fine by me, as long as you tell me beforehand. My standard drink is a “Grey Goose gimlet, up, made with fresh lime, no Rose’s.” Do I sound fussy? No, I sound like I know exactly what I want, and I know how to order it properly.
Vodka and gin
If you order a vodka or gin drink, and refer to the spirit only as “vodka,” or “gin,” you are telling me you want the cheapest, low quality vodka or gin that we keep on our speed rail. Slightly acceptable if you’re mixing with juice or soda, but questionable if you’re drinking a martini.
Real grown-ups, however, know to order at least a mid-range spirit when getting a mixed drink, and a top shelf for martinis. If you’re ordering a martini, you need to know how you want it. Up, or on the rocks? Olives, or a lemon twist? You may have a preference as to shaken, or stirred (stirred martinis produce less of a cloudy effect, and will leave fewer pieces of ice in your drink.)
The next question is wet, dry, extra dry, or perfect? Wet means you like a martini heavy on the dry vermouth. Dry means one part vermouth, which is the standard drink we will make you if you don’t specify. Extra dry means a tiny dab of vermouth, or none at all. Perfect means equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, and in all my years of bartending I never once had a person order one this way. Flavored vodkas are acceptable, unless you want it as a shot, in which case you need to take it next door to Hooters.
This all encompassing name includes a number of bottles from behind the bar, including Irish whiskies, American whiskies, blended and single malt Scotch whiskies, rye whiskies, and American bourbon. The range of prices can really run the gamut from the cheapest hooch, to high-end, business expense-account type stuff. If you tell me you just want a “whiskey,” I am going to assume you want some kind of a cheap to mid-range American whiskey, and I will want to know if you want it neat (no ice,) on the rocks, or with water (a splash is added). If you want a glass of water or a beer on the side, say you want “a water back.” Whiskies, ryes, and bourbons, are what Manhattans are typically made with, so if you order one, we are going to ask you what specific liquor you want.
“Scotch,” while technically whiskey, is a somewhat different animal. It’s all made in Scotland, hence the “scotch.” Blended scotches can also vary widely in price, and single malt scotches can go even higher. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what’s on offer, and keep in mind that the amount of years a scotch has been aged can make the difference between a $20 glass and a $100 glass. If you want to start educating yourself on good scotch, the best place to start might not be the bar, unless your parents or boss are paying. Next holiday, hit up your grandpa, your uncle, or your ridiculously cool aunt and let them share their private stash with you.
As far as scotch cocktails, blends are typically used, though some would scoff at ever using scotch in a cocktail. If you don’t give a whit about such judgement, consider trying a Rob Roy, which is just a Manhattan made with scotch, or a Rusty Nail, which is scotch and Drambuie.
The older you get, the more you realize there is just no discernible reason to ever drink cheap, well, speed-rail quality tequila. Not even in a margarita. Cheap tequila is also known as “mixto tequila,” though it will just say tequila on the label. It is only required to contain 51 percent agave, and the rest can be caramel colors, random sugars, and who knows what else. This is the “gold” tequila that terrible hangovers were born from.
What you want, at the very least, is a tequila that says “100 percent blue agave” on the label. There are more distinctions from there. “Silver,” or “blanco” tequila is a basic, drinkable tequila, and the minimum quality you should order in a mixed drink. “Reposado” tequilas have been slightly aged and are excellent for sipping, as are “Anejo” tequilas, that are aged until they are amber in color. If you want to do shots of tequila, which is one of the only shots acceptable to be done by grown-ups, and even then not so much, the tequila should be smooth enough that limes and salt are not necessary. Ask us to chill you shots of something sippable.
First of all, it is perfectly acceptable for a man to drink wine. In fact, the whole idea that a drink could be “girly” is offensive. Unless it’s an appletini. Appletinis are offensively girly.
Wine, on the other hand, is a smart drink at a bar, because it affords you the ability to pace yourself accurately. Unless you are at an upscale place, you aren’t going to get a tremendous amount of choices here. A couple of reds, a couple of whites, maybe a sparkling or a rose. Pick whichever one suits your fancy. If the bar isn’t busy, it’s acceptable to ask for a small taste, though this may not be permitted in corporate-type places, who measure every pour precisely. Don’t hold that against us.
If you like dry or sweeter wines, go ahead and ask us what we recommend. Just don’t order white zinfandel. White zinfandel is NOT the same thing as rose. White zinfandel is for suckers. If you know you’re going to be hanging out a while, ask if you can order a bottle, which when poured to a proper measure equals 5 glasses.
We really aren’t judging you based on the beer you order. If you want a $2.50 can of Coors Lite, and we have it, then have at it. We generally like people who order beer. We can grab one or pour one quickly, and move on to the next customer. We don’t even mind a bunch of questions about the different micro-brews we have on offer if it’s that kinda place, and we have the time. A small sip may even be offered to you if you are respectable enough.
What is annoying is you asking us to recite the entire beer menu to you when it’s right there on a chalkboard, or the taps are right in front of your face. Or when you brag about your home brew. We could also do without you ripping the label off your beer bottle and tearing it into a million pieces. In short, don’t act like a kid. Act like a grown-up, and we will all get along just fine.