1. What should I have?
You walk into a bar and sit down. If itâ€™s a newer restaurant bar these days, more than likely the bartender will hand you a cocktail menu, a listing of their house specialty drinks. You look at the bartender, and you say:
â€œWhat should I have?â€
First of all, I donâ€™t know what you should have. I donâ€™t know what you like, what youâ€™re â€œallergicâ€ to (sorry, nobody is allergic to tequila, you just had too much JosÃ© Cuervo one night in the dorms), or even your name. What should you have? Uh, beats me, what do you like? What do you usually drink? What do you feel like trying tonight?
There isnâ€™t much of anything a busy bartender likes to do less than try to order for you. Hell, I canâ€™t even figure out what Iâ€™m having when I go out after work.
So, instead of asking me what you should have, give me some direction. Feel like tequila? Ask me which one Iâ€™d recommend. Heard a lot about Cosmopolitans but never tried one? Ask me what vodka you should have in one.
But, whatever you do, never, ever sayâ€¦.
2. Surprise me!
Itâ€™s 10 oâ€™clock. The bar is slammed. Iâ€™m working on two drinks for the couple next to you. My cocktail waitress has just come up to the bar and is rattling off drinks for the table of six that just walked in. The printer from the restaurant is chattering out drink orders from the servers. My keg of pale ale just blew, and Iâ€™ve got to find someone to help me change it.
Then you walk in. You come up to the bar, and I ask you what I can get you while Iâ€™m emptying the dishwasher with my one free hand. You look at me and tell me to surprise you.
Really. Next. When I worked at huge clubs, we would just skip over people that didnâ€™t know exactly what they wanted. No joke, we would go to the next person, or group, and come back in five minutes to see if they had decided. Now, in nicer establishments we have to be a lot nicer than that, but not much. And, no, Iâ€™m not going to surprise you, because more than likely itâ€™s not going to be the exact drink you wanted and the house is going to end up eating the cost. So Iâ€™ll give you a minute. Look at the cocktail menu. Think about it. Look at the bottles. And when you do decide to order that vodka/cranberry, for the love of all that is holy, donâ€™t say:
3. Make it strong.
Thereâ€™s nothing worse than someone looking for a free drink. And asking me for a strong drink, stronger than I make them, is asking me for free alcohol.
Listen. Everyone in the bar tonight wants me to make their drinks strong. But I have strict orders to pour only a certain amount of alcohol. So, itâ€™s make some stranger happy and give them free booze, or make my bosses happy? Iâ€™m going to have to go with the job security. Sorry. Itâ€™s nothing personal, really, but I like my job a hell of a lot more than I like you, so Iâ€™m going to pour you the same ounce and a half I pour for everyone.
So do you really want a strong drink? A drink thatâ€™s got, say, twice the amount of alcohol in it? Then order a double. Itâ€™s going to cost you double, but youâ€™ve got a stiff drink in your hands. Capice?
The worst is ordering a strong martini. Listen, a martini is entirely composed of alcohol. Thereâ€™s no plausible way of making it stronger than it already is, so donâ€™t ask. And I canâ€™t really make you a double because it wonâ€™t fit in the glass.
Let me ask you something. Are you tipping? Are you tipping really, really well? Are you tipping so much money on every drink that itâ€™s making you uncomfortable? Then maybe, just maybe, your bartender might put a little bit more love in your drinks. Maybe.
But donâ€™t ask. And definitely donâ€™t ask meâ€¦
4. Want to hear a joke?
I donâ€™t. I really donâ€™t. First off, Iâ€™ve heard them all. Really. And I donâ€™t say this as some sort of challenge, as if I want you to try to stump me with your repertoire of shitty jokes. Iâ€™ve been doing this for a long time, and I used to work the day shifts. Iâ€™ve heard them. All. And let me tell you, theyâ€™re all racist, sexist, homophobic, or just plain stupid. So donâ€™t tell me a joke. I like you, you like me, and Iâ€™d hate for that to change. So save the jokes for your friends.
The funny thing about that is, the people that ask that question really donâ€™t care what the answer is. Iâ€™ve tried telling people that no, I donâ€™t want to hear a joke. They just tell it anyway. And Iâ€™m forced to walk away in the middle of it. Really, itâ€™s going to make us both look bad. So save your breath, please.
Iâ€™m sorry if that doesnâ€™t seem fun to you. Perhaps you want to have some fun, and youâ€™re out on the town. Thatâ€™s great. But please, donâ€™t ask meâ€¦
5. Whatâ€™s going on in town tonight?
I donâ€™t know.
I have no idea. I work every single weekend. I work New Yearâ€™s Eve. I work St. Patrickâ€™s Day. I work Cinco de Mayo. I work every night that you and everyone else in the world is going out and having fun.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, I prefer it that way.
Really! I love being the only sober one at the party, I love being in the middle of all of the action, I love the loud music and the noise and the energy. I love it all.
But I donâ€™t know what bands are playing down the street, I donâ€™t know which bar is â€œgoing offâ€ right now, I donâ€™t know where all the cool kids are or where all the beautiful people are going tonight. Because it doesnâ€™t matter to me. Iâ€™m working. I donâ€™t read the entertainment section of the paper. I donâ€™t have some secret network with all of the other bartenders in town that informs me where the action is. As far as Iâ€™m concerned, youâ€™re looking at it.
So donâ€™t ask, because I donâ€™t know and I donâ€™t really care. Just have another drink, and have some fun. But when you do order that drink, donâ€™t ask forâ€¦
6. A Twist of Lime.
You donâ€™t want one.
Listen, a twist is a little strip of the peel of a fruit. What you really meant to ask for is a wedge of lime. A lot of drinks come with lime as a garnish, so you donâ€™t need to ask for them. Typically these drinks are gin and tonics, Cape Cods (vodka and cranberry), rum and Cokes (and the Cuba Libre) and your kamakazes, gimlets, etc. These come with wedges of lime.
The generic â€œtwistâ€ is always lemon. Always. The lemonâ€™s rind is thick and easy to twist. We use a tool called a twister, stripper, or channel knife to cut them off of the fruit. Lemons work well for this. Limes donâ€™t. Limes have very thin skins, so planing off the skin only results in an ugly mess.
A twist is typically used in martinis to add just a mere whisper of citrus to the drink. A martini is a delicate concoction that goes well with a twist of lemon. You can rub the twist around the rim of the glass so that every taste is imbibed with a hint of lemon. Itâ€™s divine.
Most drinks donâ€™t lend themselves to a twist. A rum and Coke with a twist is a waste of a twist, but I guess you could do it. But a rum and Coke with a twist of lime? Itâ€™s ridiculous. It shouldnâ€™t happen. Lime twists donâ€™t exist in the real world, theyâ€™re like unicorns or talking cats.
I can make one for you, but itâ€™s going to be a lot of extra work for me, and youâ€™re not going to get the drink you really want. So please, just ask for lime, or a wedge of lime. You and I will both be a lot happier. And youâ€™re going to like me a lot more when Iâ€™m happy.
Itâ€™s an honest mistake, I suppose, and I always ask people if what they really meant was a wedge of lime. And most of the time they do, so Iâ€™ve saved the world yet again. But thereâ€™s a far more nefarious garnish out there, one that is brined in pure evil. Iâ€™m talking about theâ€¦
7. Olive Stuffed with Bleu Cheese
Look, I donâ€™t know who invented this little piece of trouble. I suspect that it came from Napa Valley or Santa Barbara, at some over-the-top, edgy, high-end bar with a hammered copper top and a hell of a lot of crystal glassware.
And Iâ€™m sure it tastes pretty good fresh from an hors dâ€™oeuvres tray. But I have a real problem with dairy products in my martinis. They cloud the drink, thereâ€™s veins of bleu sticking to the sides of the glass, and it looks like a big shitty mess.
I know, I know. I have olives right there. And thereâ€™s a fully-stocked kitchen at my disposal. Oh, and look! Thereâ€™s a filet mignon on the menu and itâ€™s topped with bleu cheese! See how easy that is? I could, waitâ€¦ waitâ€¦ I know! I could drop everything Iâ€™m doing, walk all the way back to the kitchen, and just ask the pantry chef for some bleu cheese! Then, he can drop everything heâ€™s doing, dry off his hands from the salad he was just rinsing out, find a little plate, and put some bleu cheese on it for me! Then, I can walk all the way back to the bar, grab an olive – NO! THREE OLIVES! – and carefully take the pimentos out. Next, I can surgically stuff some olives with the bleu cheese.
Now I have to make the drink. But I guess Iâ€™d better hurry, because in that time Iâ€™ve amassed a stack of tickets I have to fill.
Do yourself a favor. If you really want to treat yourself to the foul mess of a martini with bleu cheese-stuffed olives, do it at home. Here at my bar, have a real martini, a martini garnished with a regular old olive out of the jar, the way it was intended.
And if you do have a martini, remember, never sayâ€¦
8. This Vodka Martini isnâ€™t Dry Enough
Vodka martinis are bullshit.
Did I just say that? Yes, I did.
Iâ€™m not a big fan of vodka. It doesnâ€™t taste like anything other than that with which itâ€™s mixed. Itâ€™s boring. Itâ€™s the vanilla ice cream of mixology. That said, a chilled shot of vodka is probably the only way Iâ€™d consider enjoying it, which means a martini isnâ€™t that far off.
Okay, maybe theyâ€™re not complete bullshit, but theyâ€™re definitely a sissy-fied version of a gin martini, which is a brilliant concoction. Gin drinkers enjoy the subtleties of their spirit, they look for the complexity in the delicate balance of aromatics in the gin. Vodka drinkers donâ€™t want to taste a thing. Thatâ€™s why I, and every bartender I know, skips the vermouth in a vodka martini. Vodka drinkers canâ€™t handle it. So we leave it out. Almost always.
So, when you send your vodka martini back because it has too much vermouth in it, youâ€™re going to look like an idiot. Why? Because Iâ€™m going to personally walk that drink back to your table and announce in front of all of your friends that your drink never had anything but vodka in it in the first place. And all the ranting and raving about the evils of vermouth (bullshit, vermouth is delicious) and how you can tell when even the smallest drop has tainted your precious vodka, all that crap that you engaged your companions in while you thought I was remaking your drink is going to come back to haunt you. And youâ€™re going to be really sad.