What to Order at Different Bars

Does the bar or restaurant I’m in effect how I should order drinks?

Now we are really getting into opinions… In my opinion there are only Five categories of ‘places to drink’. All bars and restaurants fall into these categories and each one changes how I would recommend you order drinks. In order of ascending niceness, I give you The Categories:

Before you go on… have you read Part 1?

Dive Bars

…Or neighborhood bar or corner bar or really anywhere that you feel like you could show up in pajama bottoms at 7:00 and it wouldn’t cause a stir. Jukeboxes, Door Security, Loud Music, Regulars that might as well be furniture for all they move, and rock bottom prices are all hallmarks of classic dive bars. I for one, never order a cocktail at a dive bar. Beer or Liquor and Mixers all the way. Not to disparage these bartenders, they might know how to make an excellent cosmopolitan or Mai-Tai… but I can guarantee you that they don’t want to. I can also tell you that that martini glass they are using (if they have it) has been sitting in the same spot for several months. If it’s cocktails you want, go somewhere else tonight.

image of a man sitting at a bar, looking at TV above bar with neon lit bottles behind bar.
This guy hasn’t moved in 20 years
Photo by 


Now, I also wouldn’t order cocktails at a bona-fide club, but for totally different reasons. Partially, this is again because the bartenders are busy and don’t want to make complicated drinks. In a high volume environment, taking the time to muddle a Mojito or stir a Manhattan can completely throw off your mojo. I also don’t like to do cocktails here either. It’s a pain in the ass to order complicated drinks when I can’t even hear myself think, much less hold a conversation. I have two simple philosophies at clubs: No more than 3 types of drink. All orders should be 2 or 3 word orders. An example of what I might order would be “2 Makers and Coke, 1 Titos and Red Bull, and 1 Patron and Cranberry.”

Image of people dancing in a club with dim lights, smoke, lasers, and disco ball.
“Hi, I had this really cool drink the other day at another bar… I don’t remember what it was called but it was red and had lemon juice…”
Photo by 
Sarthak Navjivan
Note several things that make the bartenders job easier and faster…
  1. Have the order ready when the bartender gets to you. You should know your groups order before you even step up to find a place.
  2. Know your brands if you care about them. Some club bars will give you Well Liquors which might taste bad. I’ve been to some that give you Grey Goose when you say “Vodka Cran”. Be Specific.
  3. Keep it short. YES the bartender CAN remember 6+ different drinks and YES if that is what you guys want then go for it. Just keep in mind that it will take a lot longer to get “1 Whiskey Coke, 1 red wine, 1 Bud Light, 1 Belvedere Cosmo, and 2 Mojitos, 1 of which needs to be sugar free.”
  4. 1 person handles the ordering and paying. If you don’t want to buy your friends drinks, then don’t order all together. If you do order all together, the bartender will put the bill all together… and be very irritated when you all take 10 minutes to sort out who owes what and how to distribute the cash and cards. They will be even more irritated when you do it 6 more times in the next hour and a half.
Photo of a brown owl with partially closed eyes that looks angry
My exact face when I see three of you pull cash out of your bra to split the bill
Photo by 
Adnan Shahid

Corporate Restaurant Bars

For the most part, the difference between a ‘corporate’ restaurant and an ‘upscale’ restaurant refers more to the style than necessarily the ownership structure. A ‘Corporate’ restaurant feels and acts like an Applebees. It may be a local version, but the important thing is that it feels like it.

Image of exterior of Applebees Restaurant at night
“Manhattan? No sir, this is California… I think you got turned around somewhere”

Here is where you can finally start ordering cocktails… sort of. Personally, I recommend sticking to the usual liquor and mixers, but you can also order their house drinks with relative security. House drinks usually include at least one margarita listing, more if it’s a Mexican food place. They will have spiked lemonade, a ‘tropical’ drink, and a Moscow Mule twist. Depending on where you are at, they might throw in some breakfast cocktails too like mimosas and Bloody Marys.

The point being that you can safely know what you are getting at these bars. The cocktails will all be just a little too sweet for the experienced drinker and sometimes too sweet for the inexperienced drinker. If you get to know the bartender at one of these places well, then you can start to branch out into other classic cocktails that you are sure they can make.

Image of a beautiful blonde woman sitting at a bar with a drink in her hand
Pictured: All the qualifications some bars require.
Photo by 
Diego Rosa

Also, it doesn’t hurt to let your bartender know you are interested in trying something new (if you are a regular) and let them do a little research. Usually the bartenders at these kinds of places are simply servers who got promoted and got roughly 3/4 days of training in the bar… Most of which will be procedural rather than cocktail-focused. I should know, it’s how I got started. Give the bartender a chance, communicate clearly, and they will most likely do their best to make your drink the way that you want it.

Upscale Restaurant Bars

When I walk into an upscale restaurant, I have full confidence that I can order a Manhattan or a Martini or Old Fashioned and be pleased with the results. The person behind the bar is an industry professional… or at least they got much more rigorous training than the guy at Applebees. The managers are also definitely industry professionals and should be a great resource for bartenders trying to make classic cocktails.

Image of a bar with several bartenders in nice attire working
If they make you wear a tie, they probably bothered to train you at your job…
Photo by 
Taylor Davidson

The house cocktail menu here will also be of a higher quality, usually having their own twists on Smashes, Tiki Drinks, and Sours. In today’s cocktail culture, these drinks should be well balanced and made with quality ingredients. I would definitely trust this bartender to ‘Surprise Me’ with a great cocktail, but I usually have something in mind already when I’m ordering drinks at a place like this.

High-End Bars

Depending on where you live, you might have access to a lot of high end bars. New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans are going to have some of the best cocktail bars in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are exclusive. I live in Phoenix and we have several incredible places to get cocktails: Bitter and Twisted, The Breadfruit, Undertow, Honor Amongst Thieves, and many more. Luckily, at least in Arizona, “high-end” doesn’t mean you have to get dressed up. At all of these places you will find a mix of hipster, casual, business, date night, and sometimes downright strange. Come as you are and always let the bartender surprise you.

Sometimes the strange people are not customers…
Photo by 
Ash Edmonds

Not only are the bartenders here extremely talented and well trained, but they are also very passionate. You don’t get to be a bartender here by dicking around. Not only are the cocktails on the menu going to be incredible, but you can safely rely on the bartender to have some experience with the more unusual classic cocktails. A Corpse Reviver, Sazerac, or Champagne Cocktail shouldn’t even make them blink. They should have a preferred method of making (and drinking) Martinis and Manhattans. They have strong opinions and probably plenty of fun facts about alcohol and cocktail history. If you truly want to experiment and branch out with cocktails, this is the place to go.

Published by Spirit Sirens

Head Mixologist and Class Coordinator at Lucidi Distilling Co. in Old Town Peoria, Arizona. In my free time I eat good foods, drink good drinks and make mead with my brother. Soon to be on YouTube with Lucidi Distilling Co. making drinks and talking history and under Spirit Sirens, where myself and my partner Mariah talk about women in the alcohol industry and our experiences!

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