Even though each bar is different, some cocktails are safe bets, while others often miss the mark.
Negronis and martinis are classic and simple to throw together at nearly any bar.
Bartenders generally don’t enjoy preparing some drinks, like a Long Island or Ramos Gin Fizz.
I’m a professional bartender, so I can tell you that the only cocktails that are sure to be good at every bar are simple two-part washes, like a vodka cranberry or rum and Coke. But even those combos can be risky at certain dives.
Every bartender has their own unique personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and each bar has its own customer base, inventory, and brand identity — so most cocktail experiences aren’t going to be uniform. When in doubt, see what other people are drinking and the menu, or even ask the staff for recommendations.
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That said, there are a few tried-and-true orders that are universally delicious, and some that typically don’t hit the mark.
The classic Negroni is a great cocktail to order at practically any bar
With no fresh fruit or shaking required, the Negroni is a quick build that packs a boozy punch.
Even if the bartender doesn’t know the recipe, it’s easy enough to explain. Just stir equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth over ice.
Order a daiquiri if you’re feeling more of a vacation vibe
Many bartenders add their favorite variations to this classic sipper, all of which are delicious.
Frozen or shaken and with fresh fruit or herbal tinctures (concentrated extracts), this combo of rum, sugar, and lime is hard to mess up.
A martini is a staple cocktail and another solid choice at almost any respectable bar
Not a fruity or a French martini, but an extra-cold, dry-gin classic hits the spot every time.
You only need one to catch a buzz, too, so this is a great drink to order if the wait is long or if the bar is busy.
Just be specific when ordering so the bartender doesn’t have to ask multiple follow-up questions, or worse, wing it.
But just because a cocktail is popular doesn’t mean it’s going to be good, like a Long Island
When prepared with quality ingredients and fresh citrus, a Long Island can be a decent drink. Unfortunately, it’s seldom made that way.
Long Islands usually consist of bottom-shelf liquor and a sugary sour mix. In my experience, bartenders just don’t like this cocktail, and some will even badly make them on purpose to discourage people from ordering more since they have too many ingredients.
Instead of ordering a Long Island, try a Moscow Mule or a Fernet and Coke.
Although great for hangovers, a Bloody Mary is not a drink you want to order from just any bar
Unless it’s made fresh and stored properly, tomato-based Bloody Mary mix can be suspect.
At a busy bar, if you’re lucky, you might get a few old olives and a slice of celery in your glass. If you’re unlucky, you’ll get warm tomato juice and cheap vodka.
Save the Bloodies for brunch when the bartender is expecting to make them and has everything freshly prepared. If you must nurse your hangover in the afternoon, order a mimosa.
Generally, bartenders don’t enjoy making the Ramos Gin Fizz
Some bartenders will insist that they love making the Ramos Gin Fizz — a New Orleanian cocktail that requires fresh egg whites and heavy cream, plus two separate, vigorous shakes — and they’re likely either lying or are not allowed to tell you the truth.
This cocktail is (literally) a pain in the neck to make, and then other customers want to order it when they see it. It’s a vicious cycle.
The worst part about this cocktail is that if it’s not properly prepared, it comes out a flat, milky mess. Skip it.
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