Face it: you can’t control everything. There will be occasions when you’re out with friends, someone else has picked the place, they have a mediocre-at-best menu, and you’d like to have a drink with your friends but not come off like a cocktail snob. Here’s some tips to help you get a decent drink, even at mega-chain restaurants…

Good ideas:

  • Look for these items at the bar: Angostura bitters, fresh whole citrus, obscure liqueurs like Luxardo maraschino (an easily-recognizable bottle), or more than one vermouth brand. If you see those, you’re probably safe ordering a classic cocktail and getting a decent rendition.
  • If the bar has a cocktail menu, look it over and see if there are any drinks that don’t use sour mix (AKA “sweet & sour”). There’s no one catch-all sour mix that can apply to all drinks. Avoid this Gatorade slop like the plague. The bars that make their own sour and use it judiciously are few and far between.
  • If everything looks like crap, you’re best going with a beer and a shot. Or even simpler, get a good-quality spirit neat like Johnny Walker Black (a great blended Scotch) or a sipping rum like Appleton 12. Ask for it without ice and a water on the side. Drizzle in just a few drops of water and give it a swirl to open up the flavors. No big deal.

Really bad ideas:

  • Insist on a drink being made to your specifications (it’s OK to specify your favorite base spirit, but don’t get into proportions or other nitpicks).
  • Expect every desired option at every bar you visit.
  • Order your obscure favorite in an attempt to impress your friends (if the bartender is scrambling to look up your drink in their spiral binder, you’re most likely going to strike out).
  • Ask for a labor-intensive drink (like a Mojito, Mint Julep, or Zombie) when the bar is crowded.

Oh, and always tip 20%. Yes, even if your drink sucked. Next time, you’ll know better – consider it the cost of learning.

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