What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Get a Drink Around Here?

Reader K writes: I’m a fan of your blog and I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. I travel to trade shows a few times a year with my bosses who are somewhat square and conservative, business-y, husband wife team — she always has a big cabernet, he has a Tanq-10 and tonic. And I’m usually pretty flummoxed on what to order in the strange hotels and airport bars where we end up.

It feels like I’m always having to explain the drink to the waitress (an Americano, please… no, not the coffee drink), raising eyebrows with a somehow inappropriate choice (apparently ‘only Jersey girls’ will drink sambuca after an Italian dinner), or they don’t have it (Chopin vodka should be in every bar, damn it). So I usually give up and get a good microbrew on tap or some Maker’s Mark on the rocks. But I’m pretty much the entire creative department in our small company and I don’t get out to bars much, so I’d like to have something a little more original that I can’t necessarily get at home. Bold, beautiful consultant with us always gets Stoli O, part-timer who’s also an actress always gets amaretto sours. And I… flounder. Doesn’t help that I’m also clumsy and terrified of spilling anything in a top-heavy martini glass.

Any advice on reliable, easy-to-order drinks for travellers who want to stand out a little? Particularly a young, female weirdo like myself? Thanks!

Such a tall order, K, but I feel your pain. Figuring out what to drink can be a real chore. Unlike a dinner menu, where you might have a dozen choices to deal with, a bar presents literally infinite variations that can make for a stultifying selection process.

At its most basic, I always think you should drink what you like, how you like it. If you like an Americano, order an Americano (even if you have to give the recipe). If you want Miller Lite, drink Miller Lite. I can’t really tell you what to drink because I don’t really know your tastes.

That said, I’ll try to offer some ideas that fit your desire to stand out a little bit from the cosmos-and-mojitos crowd…

Since you like Americanos, a Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth, Campari) might be a good choice. You might mix it up further by subbing in Aperol for the Campari. Or ask for a Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco, and a dash of soda). Add a twist or splash of the citrus of your choice and you’ve really made it your own.

I find that in a busy bar, you can’t go wrong with a single malt Scotch whisky. Most bars tend to have one or two bottles you aren’t likely to have encountered before, and if you spend a minute scouring the shelves or drink menu you’re likely to find something new no matter where you go. (If not, fall back on Oban 14, Macallan 12, or Glenmorangie “Original” — you’ll find at least one of these in every bar in the world.) Ask for a water back.

Want to stand out more than that? My two favorite cocktails are the Casino and the Sazerac — though both are a bit labor intensive and, in my experience, you’ll find many bartenders that can’t (or won’t) make them. In situations like this, especially busy establishments, it’s best to fall back on something simple.

Some easier/more common possibilities: An Old Fashioned (name your whiskey — maybe try a rye like Templeton if they have it), a Manhattan (ditto), or even a Corpse Reviver if you want to get a little funky. A Sidecar would also be very distinctive in the hands of someone under the age of 50. Again, name your Cognac.

Hope these help, and I invite the Drinkhacker readership to offer up their own advice on what our “weirdo” friend can drink to truly make her own.

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7 Responses to What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Get a Drink Around Here?

  1. You can order what I served the wrestler, Andre the Giant, back in the Summer of ’89.

    10 oz glass (that’s all we had)
    just a little ice
    Campari
    soda
    a little sweet vermouth poured on top of the mix before serving.

    Must have tatsed great – he drank all of our Campari at the hotel lounge I was working at. Name this drink as you see fit.

  2. When travelling, and especially visiting a bar as the guest of someone less particular than I am about drinks, I have almost always found it worthwhile to talk to the bartender and find out about their personal choices. If you show an interest in their craft (and assuming your barman has some talent), you might discover something new.

    While I’m at the bar, I like to scout the ingredients used in the common drinks. If the bartender is clueless or is using mass-produced fake syrups instead of fresh fruit, I will limit my cocktail selections to something simple.

    Keep in mind that in this case, “simple” does not mean “low quality.”

    The Old Fashioned is hard to screw up. For dessert, I also enjoy the Black Friar (2 oz Kahlua, 1 oz of a favorite blended or single malt Scotch, 1 oz vodka shaken over ice and strained into a martini glass). As an aperitif, the Cardinal can dress up many mass-market red wines (1-1.5 oz creme de cassis in a wine glass, top up with red wine, preferably pinot noir) turning something ordinary into something rather drinkable.

  3. This is all great advice. Thank you! I do have sentiments for Oban 14, and Negronis are love – and probably the exact drink I’m looking for. It might be a little dark and dangerous, but that’s part of the fun. I’m definitely going to find myself some Templeton and also give the Sidecar a spin, probably with Hennessy for accessibility until I get more familiar with brandies.

    The ‘Giant Andre’ doesn’t sound too different from the hasty Americanos I make for myself in the summer. Essentially Campari on the rocks, with less and less soda and sweet vermouth as the day progresses. I could get behind that.

    And the advice to scout out the hotel bar before ordering in front of the bosses is really key. If even just to figure out what’s on their shelves, what they like to make, and to explain that fascinating-sounding Cardinal in advance.

    I feel more confident already. I can’t believe I’m actually looking forward to my next trade show now. Thank you, Drinkhacker!

  4. JaegerBomb anyone? :)

    Else Campari and Tonic water (with quinine) does it for me.

  5. You really can’t go wrong with something simple. Negronis are awesome, and so are Sidecars. I’d add Harvey Wallbangers and, if it’s summer, a Lemon Drop, to the mix as well.

  6. I can certainly empathize with having to tell wait-staff and bartenders how to make drinks… heck, even living in Louisiana I frequently have to tell people what a Sazerac is (granted, I don’t live in New Orleans, but still…)!

    In addition to scouting the bar and its stock, I’d also advise scouting the bartenders themselves. I’ve found an inordinate number of folks behind the bar nowadays are incapable of making anything they are unfamiliar with. I ordered a Tom Collins recently at a restaurant and got something closer to a Gin Sour; ordered a Margarita, and it was fine.

  7. As a (until just recent) bartender in the great state of Wisconsin where you do more old fashions and screwing of bottle tops than actual drink craft, I found that if someone can explain to me what drink they want is and how its made, I’ll try and make it for them. If they like the first one I’ll make it the exact same way, if they don’t like it, I’ll give it to them on the house and make them something I can make or try again. Easy way to learn new drinks, customers are always happy because they got a free one, boss is happy because a customer is ordering multiple drinks, cops are happy because they’re meeting drunk driving quotas, everyone wins (that last bits a joke, don’t drink and drive).

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