Parties & Entertaining

How to order a drink at the bar

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sidecar cocktail orange slice
The Sidecar is a classic cocktail
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Tips on how to order a drink at the bar so that you get what you want

A crowded bar of well dressed patrons can make you feel like you've stepped into the past. These days, posh bars offer an array of complex cocktails from muddled and rimmed to classy 1920s Sidecars in fancy glassware.

The more the place is hopping, the greater the pressure there is to order quickly and clearly.

Step into a bar at happy hour or on a Friday night and you'll see bartenders don't write a thing down no matter how busy they are. There's a simple formula to ordering a drink that allows them to stay in the zone of pouring, shaking and stirring without stopping. Learn how to order a drink at the bar and you'll get exactly what you ordered.

The Correct Way to Order a Mixed Drink

Type of liquor

Name of liquor brand if you want something specific

Mixer (soda or juice) 

If you're drinking scotch or another type of liquor without a mixer, specify whether you want it "straight" (without ice) or "on the rocks" (with ice). "I'll have a scotch on the rocks, please."

How to order a drink at the bar

Beer and Wine

Aside from water and non-alcoholic drinks, beer and wine are the easiest to order. For beer, try to get a look at the pull tabs so you know what's on draft (or tap) and what's by the bottle. Most places will have a house white and red wine, the kind they order the highest volume of to offer a slightly lower price per glass. Since wine goes bad quickly once opened, most bars will only offer a handful of varieties.

Mixed Drinks

After ordering, bartenders may ask you if you want "well". Like house wine, well liquors are the cheapest and sometimes lower qualities, but many people can't tell much of a difference between a great whiskey and a good one if their mixing it with soda anyway.

Since bartenders fill the glass with ice and pour liquor first, booze always goes first in your order. For example, if you want a common drink like a Jack and Coke or rum and coke, she'll pour a shot of bourbon or rum first before topping it off with soda. 

Mixed drinks typically consist of one type of liquor and one mixer so these are fairly straight forward as well. There are a few that call for two citrus juices. For instance, a Madras is Vodka, cranberry and orange juice. If you know what ingredients you want, but don't know the name of a drink, just list out the ingredients.

Fancy Cocktails

Complex cocktails are back in a big way. If you've been in a major city lately, you may have stopped by a place like the Brandy Library in NYC where bartenders show meticulous attention to detail right down to the kind of ice a drink requires to taste its best. Many of these places have a cocktail menu to help beginners. 

Cocktail menus are a mix of classic drinks and specialties created or customized by the bar. Many will include all of the ingredients and the price, which can be anywhere from $8 to $20 depending on where you are.

How to decide! A simple way is to read the ingredients and choose based on sweet V.S. savory, or whichever one has the base liquor you prefer.

Don't bother to order one of these at a dive bar, unless you're trying to make the bartender chuckle.

Rims and Garnishes

Similar to ordering a burger, classic drinks like margaritas and martinis will call for a few specifications. You'll have mastered how to order a drink at the bar when you can get a martini exactly how you want it. To do that, you just need to know some basics and experiment to see what suits your tastes:

Martini Tips

  • Gin or Vodka  
  • Do you want it dirty (with olive juice)  
  • Do you want it dry (with dry vermouth)  
  • Would you like a twist (slither of rind, usually from a lemon)  


Margaritas are a refreshing drink with few choices to make. Ordering one with salt means the top edge of the specially shaped margarita glass will be dipped in water then a plate of salt, which you'll taste in almost every sip. Simply say "unsalted" if you don't want salt.

Now that you know the basics, practice, practice, practice. Don't let others order for you or you'll never get comfortable talking to bartenders. Getting a drink when a bar is busy can feel like a sporting event, but don't get impatient. Raise your hand or finger until they make eye contact to let you know they see you and will be with you soon.

If the bar's not busy, ask your bartender for a recommendation. Many of them like to get creative and will enjoy making you something special or seasonal like an autumn cocktail. Whether the place is busy or dead, always remember to tip! 


Good Cocktails

Grub Street NY

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