The Newcomers Guide To Unlocking The Best Experience At A Cocktail Bar [Part 1]; Or How To Actually Have A Great Time At A Bar 101
Bars are great places to meet friends, colleagues, catch up over drinks, or even make friends, or simply a great place to hang out. It’s classy, with nice seats, a glow about the bottles of alcohol, gorgeous labels, a quiet spot for you, with just the right amount of background music or chattering to give a sense of atmosphere - simply a great ambience to be and to live in the moment.
While most of us have been to bars, we haven’t always had the easiest or most comfortable of times. As incredibly mellow the setting, we sometimes find ourselves at a loss of what to order, and suddenly the friendly, smiley bartender almost appears pressurizing. You quickly gaze to the rows of bottles hoping for one to catch your eye, but alas there is no easy answers, you feel daunted. You look around and everyone’s busy talking to their friends – animatedly waving their hands to illustrate their week’s worth of stories – you feel a sense of intimidation. You flip open to the first page and choose a drink – any drink would do to kill this social anxiety at this point.
The right questions magically turns this from a Bingo sheet to a cocktail lover's paradise. (Image Source: Jigger and Pony)
Or perhaps you ask for a recommendation, only to be slapped back with a “well, what do you usually like?”, to which you can only conjure mentally a can of coca-cola or a cup of iced green tea. “Something fruity?”, you push past the self-consciousness.
Finally the bartender goes off to pick up your order and you are hit with a wave of relief. Is this the fun people always talk about when they gush about bars?
Whether this tastes good (and it did) depends largely on whether you knew what you were getting yourself into. And I'm going to show you how.
The guardian of the bar returns with your drink, you take a sip as your friend goes straight for a big mouthful, and OOF! You have to hold back spitting it out, like something straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
We’ve been there, that isn’t the fun people always talk about.
So here’s a guide on how to unlock a great time at a bar, collated from our own personal experiences.
For the Cocktail Bars
Cocktail bars are terribly fun – interesting drinks with even more interesting stories and concepts behind them. But of course, it’s also terribly easy to get lost in these array of wild names – Sidecar, Bloody Mary – what do these even mean?
Most cocktail bars would always make available the universally popular cocktails, and on top of those, have a host of in-house recipes for cocktails you can only find at the bar you’re at, to keep things special.
The Raffles Hotel put Singapore on the map with their house special - the Singapore Sling. (Image Source: Raffles Hotels)
Tip #1: Decide on whether you’re looking to try a popular standard cocktail or a house special cocktail. Do consider trying the house special if you’re in a popular bar (just ask them for what they’re known for!)
If the house specials don’t pique your interest, try one of the standard cocktails.
(Image Source: Taste Atlas)
Some of the most universally popular standard cocktails are:
- Mojito – Light, fizzy, minty, refreshing, aromatic (For easy drinking)
- Sidecar – Richer, tart, sweet, citrusy, fruity (For a great mouthfeel)
- Singapore Sling – Zesty, slightly sweet, herbal, bitter, punchy (For the all cocktails in one experience)
- Old Fashioned – Sweet, creamy mouthfeel, slight bitterness, vanillic, smokey (For those tipping their toes into whisky)
- Mai Tai – Tropical fruits, zesty, refreshing, lighter body, punchy (For a taste of Hawaii)
- Margarita – Sweet slush, zesty, floral, sweet, salty, slightly vegetal (For those who love tequila)
- Martini – Light, herbaceous, sweet, umami, tart (For gin lovers)
- Bloody Mary – Vegetal, savory, spicy, salty, umami (For umami bomb lovers)
- Cosmopolitan - Sweet, tangy, tart, berries, light (For those with a sweet tooth)
- Bellini – Sweet, nectar, fizzy, easy to drink, slight tartness (For those who barely want to drink)
- Manhattan – Strong, slightly bitter, herbal, light sweetness, slightly musky (For those on the cusp of jumping from cocktails to full proof alcohol)
- Tom Collins – Citrusy, fizzy, refreshing, slightly herbal, lighter (For a hot day)
Tip #2: If you can’t pick one, simply ask the bartender for a cocktail that is made with your preferred spirit (whisky, gin, vodka, rum, etc), as cocktails are typically built upon a selected base spirit.
Tip #3: For the complete beginners, give the bartender these key information: 1. Your taste profile – Sweet, Sour, Savory, Bitter, Salty, Umami 2. Texture – Smooth, Light, Heavy, Creamy 3. Your desired strength of the alcohol – Light, Medium, Strong
If all else fails, point at this picture and tell your bartender you want this but in a cocktail. (Image Source: Normadic Matt)
Bonus Tip: If all else fails, give the bartender a vibe, “Something bold”, “Light, fun”, “Celebrations”, “More serious”, “Like a flower garden”, “I’m on a tropical island”.
Once you’ve made a serious effort to pick a cocktail you might like, take notice of whether you liked the cocktail or not. The next time you order, you’ll already know if you want the same cocktail you had, or ask for something like what you just had (if you’re feeling adventurous), and if you hated it, tell the bartender you hated that sort of cocktail, and ask for a recommendation.
Ultimately, you’re trying to get your bearings and it’s a fun game of trial and error to find out what your perfect cocktail is.
And that’s how you get the most of your cocktail bar experience!
Filling a bookshelf? We picked these for you.