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Ordering Cocktails at Restaurants - Consumatorium

Ordering Cocktails at Restaurants

We took a little road trip this weekend to southwest Colorado, enjoying a little skiing, hiking, and hot springs. On Sunday we went out for a nice dinner, and the food was excellent, but the cocktail situation left a lot to be desired. A quick glance suggested that the restaurant had a “full bar,” so I tried to order a Welcomed Pause – not by name, but by ingredients (“2/3 gin, 1/3 Amaros – whatever you have”). The waiter said they didn’t have Amaros, so I tried again with my simplified version of the El Monje Loco: 2/3 tequila, 1/3 Benedictine or B&B. Hey, I’m not fussy. Anyway, it turned out that they had neither Benedictine nor B&B, so I said ok, never mind, just make me a Manhattan. I started to lose it a little when the waiter asked me what kind of bourbon I wanted in my Manhattan. By this time Maureen was starting to roll her eyes, and not at the waiter. Anyway, I told him whatever, just bring me a Manhattan. I don’t know what the drink actually was, but my best guess is that it was Bourbon shaken on a lot of ice – there was certainly no vermouth.

They clearly had their third-string bartender working, as this was quite a nice restaurant, and I’m sure they can normally make a Manhattan. I had started with expectations that were way too high, but even the simplest mix turned out disappointing. Also interesting was the fact that they had quite a strong selection of single-malt scotch – which I didn’t notice until we were leaving, and I wish I had known. And also to be fair, this was in a small town in the mountains of Colorado, so you can’t expect them to be trendy.

But this brings up an interesting question. How does the discerning cocktail consumer order cocktails in a restaurant? If they don’t have a menu of specialty cocktails, they are certainly not a “mixology” haven. One must then assess the contents of their bar to determine their level of sophistication. Perhaps one could use our Starting Your Bar post for a vague sense of this. Most bars will have bourbon instead of rye and that’s probably something one must live with. Once you have assessed the bar contents, check out the bartender or bartenders. If the most experienced member of the bar staff does not have refined motions and confidence, you need to order a simple beverage – probably a martini or a highball. If more experienced, you might be able to order some of the slightly more complicated drinks from the IBA list.

In the end, though, you need to have some fall-back cocktails that rely on basic ingredients, are simple to mix, and difficult to make unpalatable. Hopefully some of our efforts will help you do that.

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Dave JilkAbout Dave Jilk (76 Posts)


  1. It’s often difficult to find a decent craft bar when you travel. In fact, depending on where you live, it may difficult to find one even around where you hang out. When you’re in a bar, you can get an idea of what’s important to them by the ingredients they’re using. If it’s all low-end liquor and high quantities of synthetic mixers – think “sweet and sour mix” – don’t hold out much hope. Even when they have high end liquor displayed, they still may be using gallons of mixers in each drink. This recently happened to me on a cruise. The quality of the ingredients was great, but the drinks were mostly juices and mixers.

    So, as Dave says, if you’re not in a craft bar that prides itself on its drinks, have a few standbys that almost every bar has the ingredients for and are straightforward to prepare. Consider, a Martini, Manhattan, anything and soda, tonic or cola and, if the ingredients are reasonable, something straight up or with water. Most run-of-the-mill places will also prepare a wide variety of vodka drinks, so also consider those.

    Apparently, Dave doesn’t mind talking a bartender through a drink that he/she doesn’t know. I don’t have that level of patience. Gin and tonic please!

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