What Kind of Cocktail Do You Order at an Un-Cocktail Bar?

What do you order in a bar that may not make a careful cocktail? You know what I mean: not every bartender will know how to make a good Martinez, or even a Sidecar. But a lot of bars won’t even serve many Manhattans or Martinis, either. So short of ordering a beer or a whiskey soda, what can you do if you’re not in the mood for straight spirits?

At a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn last night, I asked a bartender if he could give me a dash of bitters in my Maker’s Mark on the rocks. I figured I’d turn it into a sort of impromptu Old Fashioned (whiskey with muddled sugar and bitters). The poor guy looked all over the bar and then smiled and said he’d have to go buy some more. I tried to stop him, but he said he’d been meaning to do it anyway. I tipped well.

The same dilemma prompted me to ask a bartender friend at a busy Minneapolis bar for two parts whiskey with one part Tuaca (It turned out great! I wrote about it here.).

Maybe that’s the key to cocktails at un-cocktail bars. Two-spirit drinks, like Godfathers (scotch and amaretto) and Rusty Nails (scotch and Drambuie).

What would you order? Any favorite simple drinks out there? Tell me about yours.

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11 Responses to What Kind of Cocktail Do You Order at an Un-Cocktail Bar?

  1. Brian says:

    If I’m in the mood to deal with the bartender, I’ll sometimes order a negroni. But generally in bars like this I stick with highballs – rum & coke can’t be screwed up; nor can gin & tonic (though some bars around here love to overpour, which in my mind ruins the drink. I always go back and ask for more mixer.)

  2. Brian says:

    … in fact, I had to walk someone through a negroni once, because it is so technically complex. The bartender literally told me, “I’ve been bartending 20 years and I’ve never heard of that.”


    luckily here in Seattle we have some GREAT! cocktail bars to offset this. 🙂

  3. MG says:

    I also tend to go for gin and tonic when in a not-so-cocktail bar. And I almost always have to ask for extra limes.

  4. I always seem to get shorted on the alcohol when I order a whiskey soda — it’s always heavy on the ice and heavy on the soda. This is when you do not want a bartender free-pouring.

    I guess that’s what was good about the 90s, when it seemed like 5- and 6-ounce Martinis were everywhere. They were simple and boozy. Although trying to get a gin Martini wasn’t always easy. And a drink that big gets warm way too fast…

  5. Brian says:

    bad bars _never_ seem to chill down a gin martini correctly. I actually often prefer mine shaken to the stirred one, since there’s a greater chance it’ll end up actually cold – but no more than three shakes is usually what happens at a crap bar/restaurant. 🙂

  6. Brian says:

    (and I ‘hate’ that it’s called a ‘Gin Martini’ – it should just be ‘Martini’ but so many people are confused. “Get off my lawn you kids!” – Sorry, one of those days.)

    • I agree. Vodka Martinis just don’t seem right to me, honestly. In fact, the last time I restocked my home liquor cabinet, I realized how seldom I actually use my vodka. I never make drinks with it these day. All I do is infuse it with things (horseradish, especially).

      • Brian says:

        Ooooh, horseradish-infused vodka… now you’re talking.

        but can you do anything with it *other* than add it to a Bloody Mary, I wonder?


      • I like horseradish vodka as a shot, or, more often, to sip. It’s got heat, but it’s also got this aromatic, earthy flavor that I can’t get enough of. I’ve never tried it any cocktails besides a Bloody Mary, but it’s got some potential.

  7. kara newman says:

    Whiskey sour. Or Bourbon and ginger ale, with a squeeze of lime.

    • Nice choices. I love a good Presbyterian (whiskey and ginger ale — I skip the club soda). And fortunately, you don’t have to call it a Presbyterian to get a bartender to make it for you.

      I guess I lean toward the all-liquor drinks when I’m in certain bars because I crave boozy flavors and I don’t trust the bartenders to pour generously. One way I’ve seen barflies avoid this problem is to order a whiskey with a ginger ale back (for example). You drink a little ginger ale and pour the whiskey in to fill the glass.

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