Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | March 23, 2009

Signature Drinks

I think Anna Fricke’s Proof blog post on signature cocktails raises a good point: what you order in a social setting often does say a lot about you. Or rather, it is a statement about who you are. Moreover, the context in which you’re ordering makes a bigger statement. Ordering a strawberry daquiri at a dive bar says a lot more than it does when ordered at a beachfront cabana. Asking for a Martini or Manhattan at a fine steakhouse bar doesn’t say quite as much as when the same cocktails are ordered at your run of the mill Irish pub. It’s not shocking that certain drinks tend to fit into certain environments far better than others. The real test is when you’re in an all things being equal-type atmosphere – but does that place even really exist?

I can think of a number of different scenarios based on the types of bars I’d go to – but each demands a different context for figuring out what the acceptable range of orders.

  1. The Deep Dive – Normal drinks include beers, highballs, and shots/booze on the rocks.
  2. Decent Beer Bar – Same as the Deep Dive, but with a better beer selection.
  3. Nice Bar – Like the Decent Beer Bar, but you have a bartender who can make good cocktails & a meaningful wine list.
  4. Hotel Bar – A good Hotel Bar should be dissimilar from a Nice Bar, a great one could be like a Cocktail Lounge. Sadly most miss both of these marks.
  5. Cocktail Lounge – You’re here for cocktails and ordering a beer or a highball makes you look like a punk.
  6. Wine Bar – Like the name sounds, you should be coming here for wine and not much else.

That’s pretty much my normal range of bars. I’d say that the range of understandably signature cocktail orders varies with each of these bars. The question is, what do you want to say about yourself.

Personally I think you should order what you want, when you want it, as long as it will come in a drinkable form. If you’re at a bar that doesn’t have bitters and the vermouth is probably older than the average fourth grader, then maybe that Manhattan isn’t a great idea. There shouldn’t be pressure to order “the right thing” in a social context, only on ensuring that you can get something decent to drink at the bar you’re visiting.



  1. The setting also depends upon what the bar manager decides to stock.

    How many cocktail lovers in D.C. go to Cork wine bar because their bar manager, Tom Brown, is one of the best cocktail men in the city? I’m one of those people. Sure, the wines are great, but many of those I can buy and drink at home. I cannot craft outstanding cocktails the way Tom Brown can, so I go there to have that experience.

    Sometimes a decent beer bar might have one bartender who knows how to make drinks like Pisco Sours, Sazeracs, etc…

    It all depends upon what you’re in the mood for, but no one should go into a strange bar and expect any drinks other than what are offered on the bill of fare. If you can get a good Pisco Sour at a beer bar, it’s a bonus, but nothing to complain about if you cannot.

  2. Yeah, exactly right Joe. It was hard for me to make this list without giving specific examples. Obviously Cork is an exception to the wine bar rule – though surely there are some other wine bars that have staff which prioritizes great cocktails too.

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