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Ordering something different at the bar

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OK, so I'm looking for suggestions for cocktails that are (a) something different or unusual but (b) could be ordered at just about any reasonably well-stocked bar with a decent bartender.

From time to time I come across great cocktail recipes but am never sure if I can expect your average bartender to know what it is or pull it off if they did. I'd like to branch out in my cocktail orders (and not just order from a special cocktail menu provided by the bar) - so am looking for some good ideas that you think most bars (say, at a decent restaurant) would be able to pull off.

I'm talking way beyond your caipirinhas and mojitos, your old fashioneds and your sazeracs. Anything interesting, odd, oldie-but-goodie, almost forgotten but still old standbys, up and coming?

And say you have the perfect cocktail suggestion - but I get a blank look when I ask for it at my local. How do folks feel about telling a bartender how to make a drink that YOU know the recipe for but they don't?

Thanks!

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  1. I think you might be hard pressed to find someone to even make a decent Old Fashioned. As this article indicates (http://www.drinkboy.com/Essays/Passin...) most bartenders don't have a clue how to make one. Same goes for Manhattans (often either swimming in sweet Vermouth, or alternatively almost straight Bourbon or whiskey, and either way often lacking bitters) or even a classic Martini --it is actually meant to have Vermouth in it, not just a bottle standing on a shelf in the neighborhood. I've found that a bartender that can make the classics well, generally takes the time to make some not so common drinks correctly as well. You could try a Negroni, which has many fans on this board, but is often made incorrectly. (The standard recipe is one part each of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari --it nonetheless often ends up gin with a splash of the other two liquors.) A Whiskey Sour made with real lemon juice instead of Sweet & Sour mix can be a treat. A drinkable (i.e. not overly sweet) Singapore Sling is a real challenge to find too. Try a Perfect Manhattan -- one quarter ounce each of dry and sweet vermouth with 2 ounces of rye whiskey and orange bitters ( if either is available). I often hesitate to tell a bartender how to make a drink because it almost never comes out well. Good bartenders know classics -- old and new -- and make them well, they don't need instruction from me. A bartender that needs me to tell them how to make the drink, isn't generally going to be able to execute the recipe properly anyway. (There are some exceptions of course -- I've had an old time bartender or two get interested in making a Mai Tai from scratch. (Lime juice, dark and light rums, Orange Curacao and Orgeat syrup -- amaretto in a pinch for the latter.)

    1. Double post -- had to delete -- sorry.

      1. I think that BHAppeal made several good points. What is your location? Do you have any really good cocktail bars? Ones with real mixologists / cocktailians on staff?

        I you order a drink like Blood in the Sand or an Aviation, and the bartender doesn't have a clue, they should ask you what the recipe is or look it up in a bar book. If they don't have a book or three with recipes or the bartender doesn't show a willingness to work with you, then run. You could possibly coach them, but a lot depends upon the bartender. Are they interested in making real, fine crafted cocktails? Or just serving the masses and slinging sweet sticky things?

        I think I may be turning into a cocktail snob lately so take that in mind. The past year or so I have been going several times a month to very good bars known for their cocktails and now I won't order a cocktail at a regular bar most of the time. After you have had a really good one you can't drink poorly made sludge. Also my home consumption of cocktails has increased, as has my bar, and I now collect bitters and other crucial ingredients to play with.

        I would experiment at home, then you can try coaching a willing but clueless bartender and have a good success rate.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JMF

          I'm in Boston and there are lots of good restaurants with great bartenders. I'm often at a loss for what to order that isn't (a) totally obvious or (b) from the special cocktail menu. The Aviation is a great example of what I'm looking for - something different, but common _enough_ that it should be possible to make one well at a decent bar.

          Just had to look up a 'Blood and Sand' - sounds interesting!

          I make a bunch of cocktails at home that I'm not sure I'd ask for at a bar - maybe because it seems silly to go out and drink the same stuff I can make myself at home.

          Vodka gimlet is a great idea that I haven't done in a while. Best vodka for those being ... ?

          1. re: Sgt Snackers

            You should look trough some vintage coctail recipe books at early1900's-190 recipes and 1940's-1960's recipes. Some of them are really nice, elegant and classy, that are coming back into style again.

            ln real cocktail bars some of those specials can be very good and help you to determine tastes you like. When I read one of those menus I look for several things in the ingredient lists. No more than three spirits and those usually of the same color, bitters, fresh squeezed juice in small amounts, vermouth or some other herb or bitter wine based liquor (Pernod, Lillet, Punt e Mes, etc.) This clues me in to their menu and if the drinks are going to be good, or fruity, sickly sweet, silly stuff.

            I had a magnificent drink a few times at The Pegu Club here in NYC. It won't be known elsewhere though. It's a variation on an Irish Kilt called a Jersey Kilt. 1:1 Smoky Islay Single Malt (they used Laphroig a few times which I liked best) to Lairds Bonded 100 proof Apple Brandy, dash of Peychauds Bitters, a little simple syrup, and gently stirred.

            This drink is very sexy, elegant, and masculine at the same time (I'm not saying woman won't enjoy it but that's just how it feels) with the smoky taste, hints of sweet and apple mellowing it out, very smooth. A drink to sip for an hour.

            I will get back with a few drinks and recipes that I think are interesting. You might want to check out a few of the best cocktail sites like:
            Gary and Mardee Regan's - http://www.ardentspirits.com/ardentsp...
            Drink Boy (Robert Hess) - http://www.drinkboy.com/
            Liquor Snob - http://www.liquorsnob.com/
            The Art of Drink - http://www.theartofdrink.com/blog/coc...
            Drink Boston - http://drinkboston.com/

        2. For many years now I've been a big fan of the rusty nail. Quite tasty and very easy to explain to a bartender who doesn't know what it is (3 to 1 oz of scotch to drambuie with a twist). Any half-decent bartender will ask you how to make a drink you order if they don't know what's in it and there's not reason not to up and tell em. I'm very particular about my manhattans, and I have no problem being very specific if I think I'm somewhere where I suspect the bartender isn't going to do it right (that was galvanized many years ago when I was out with a friend who ordered a manhattan, neat and was brought a manhattan, on the rocks, that had been made with dry instead of sweet vermouth. Talk about a cocktail monstrosity).

          1. two thoughts: a vodka gimlet (up), as cold as the heart of the witch of endor; a red snapper (bloody mary) equal to, or better than, the king cole bar in nyc.

            1. Here are a few cocktails that are interesting

              The Jack Rose is a classic, the others are very good too
              http://drinkboston.com/category/apple...

              1. One suggestion: ask for your whiskey cocktail -- Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Sazerac, Brooklyn, Sour, Collins, etc. -- to be made with rye. It's America's original king of whiskeys (George Washington distilled it), but it took a body blow during Prohibition from which it never really recovered. Bourbon stole its seat as America's favorite whiskey, to the point where few bartenders know what rye is, or the fact that most of those classic cocktails originally called for rye, not bourbon or Canadian whiskey (another common substitute for rye which it hardly resembles). They're straight (unblended) whiskeys with at least 50% rye grain in the mash, which makes them rather less sweet and mellow than bourbons or blends. They really punch up those old drinks, and make a nice sipping whiskey, too. Brands I like that aren't too hard to find include Old Overholt, Rittenhouse, Michter's, and Sazerac.

                As for instructing a bartender, it only makes sense if the bartender is any damned good to begin with. I can't tell you how many times I've explained a Negroni, which is very simple (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Camparai, shaken over ice and served straight up in a chilled cocktail glass with a twist of orange), then watched the idiot make it in Dry Martini proportions anyway, resulting in a pale-pink, awful drink. If the bartender is one of those rare serious professional types, I'm happy to explain an unfamiliar drink, and they'll be happy to learn it. Too bad those folks are so rare.