What to order—anywhere
In 585's newest column, Critical Drinking, the co-owner of Good Luck and Cure gives practical imbibing advice
So, you’ve been asked to meet someone for a drink.
Perhaps it’s an old friend, or a date, or Steve from accounting. And they’ve picked the place—could be a joint that you’ve been meaning to visit, or one you conscientiously avoid, or a spot you just plain have never been. No matter the company, and no matter the locale, one universal rule applies: order the right drink.There’s one for every kind of establishment.This isn’t to say it shouldn’t be your drink; it’s just that your drink needs to be right for the place. So make it a goal to have a few options. Just as a negroni sbagliato should not be ordered in a biker bar, vodka sodas are not to be ordered in speakeasies. We live in an exciting time, in an exciting town with quality taverns. Thirst must be quenched, and there’s always a right way to do it.
As you read this in the twilight of summer, think back to that time a month or so back when you were invited onto your friends’ boat. (If you’ve never been invited on a boat, there may be a reason. In this case, you should maybe stay out of bars.) When boating, your livelihood and course are in the tiller hand of the vessel’s skipper. Bars work the same way. You step into a bar, and if luck serves you right (meaning your companion chose a bar with bartenders, as opposed to one with human vending machines), your bartender is your captain, so to speak. (Note: never call your bartender “captain.”) Some bars focus on wine or an encyclopedic offer- ing of beers. Other saloons shake and stir cocktails vintage and esoteric. And many drinking holes don’t specialize in anything other than a little bit of everything. Some blast art metal on the sound system; others display taxidermy. Some taverns tile their back bar with cheeky threats and irreverent bumper stickers, while dives simply use a patina of age-old grime as their only decor.
So, what are you drinking? If there’s a menu, look at it. It was written by some enthusiastic individual to showcase the vision of this particular establishment, to show off what it does best. At a cocktail bar, order something with a spirit you like working with. If you’re a vodka drinker—no problem. Try something with whiskey or gin (they are cousins, after all) and just know that asking for a vodka-Red Bull is akin to, back on that boat, asking if there are sharks in Lake Ontario. Should the menu fail to impress, go classic. Order a manhattan (with rye of course, as the gods intended) or an old fashioned, no fruit, or a Hemingway daiquiri.This immediately earns you a nod from your bartender and might even impress your companion enough that he or she says, “I’ll have the same.” However, there’s a line to walk here. Leave the mixology to the folks behind the bar—unless you can order a bespoke drink with the same gravitas of Daniel Craig ordering his vesper in Casino Royale, don’t go there.
In a beer joint, you know what you like, so put it to use against the list of nifty micros and nitros. Don’t order Blue Light; this is not a Shurefine. Check out a pilsner, or a Kölsch, or that foreboding triple IPA if you’re into bitter. Aside from their dastardly World Cup team, anything from Belgium is usually fantastic. Also, avoid asking to put a slice of anything into your beer (because you are not a nineteen-year- old girl).
No menu? No problem. The back bar is the menu.Your intuition is enough to let that row of cans or pyramid of dusty bottles show you the way. Some things never fail: whiskey and ginger, or Campari and soda if you’re feeling fancy.And if you ask the bartender to haul down that bottle of Laphroaig that’s been up there since ’98, go for it. Spare the lessons on the merits of Islay Scotch; no one cares. If all else is lost, a simple shot with a beer back always earns you a bit of street cred. Just make sure it’s Genny, not Blue Light, because this is not Canada, despite wherever you sailed this past summer.
Charles Cerankosky is a cocktail enthusiast and co-owner of Rochester restaurants Good Luck and Cure.