Taste

When Men Knew How To Order

Three steps we can all take to avoid looking stupid when ordering at a bar.
07/10/2017 09:56pm ET | Updated July 11, 2017

Photo Courtesy Jarr Bar, Seattle, WA

Okay fellas, take a knee. Here's what I'm noticing and am reaching out to see if you are too. We love Don Draper and James Bond, but not because they can both wear a charcoal suit. They certainly can. We love them because they're men. More importantly, they're men who we in some way aspire to be. We've all seen James and Don order martinis and Old Fashioneds and look cool doing it. That's why they're Draper and Bond. But it's not the suit, the drink, or the girl on their arm that makes them cool. It's the fact that Draper and Bond know what they want and have the conviction to ask for it. These characters are beloved because they harken to a time when men were men and knew how to order. Are we going to let these two ideals of masculine decision making be relegated to the past? Or to the realm of fiction? I hope not. Because we can do it too. And it's not as overwhelming as it may seem.

But before we get to that, let me express to you, I know where you're coming from. I've felt that feeling of being overwhelmed in a bar or restaurant too. In part, I blame the movies. In every movie we've ever seen, Clint Eastwood strides through swinging saloon doors, orders “a whiskey,” and the old-timer in the white coat and bow tie doesn't ask the Man With No Name, “What kinda whiskey?” He pulls a bottle and starts pouring. Well, the movies lied to us. Because now, there's an assembly-line blonde with scary tattoos standing behind the three feet of mahogany staring at us, asking, “Do you have a whiskey preference?” The subtext being, “you should have a preference. You should know what it is. And you should know how to order it.” This is typically when our feeling of panic shifts from first into second.

And I'm not up on my high-horse here, scaling Mount Pius, wearing a monogrammed smoking jacket made out of quilted crushed velvet with black collar and piping. I've experienced the same panic as you likely have. Luckily, I had the benefit of working in many bars and restaurants over the years so I was able to educate myself by sampling a wide variety of spirits. I was in a privileged position of being able to grab the bottle off the shelf and pour myself a sip. Or two. I know we don't all have that luxury, but we can certainly buy three bottles of Gin, Google what “London Dry” means, and find if we like it or not, right?

It comes down to this – We don't want to look stupid. Our inner-monologue probably sounds something like, “I've seen Don Draper order Old Fashioneds. I've seen other people order Old Fashioneds. That must be a drink. It doesn't matter what spirit's in it or what the hell Angostura is. I exchanged money for alcohol, the scary girl with scary tattoos didn't make fun of me, and I have a drink in my hand. Job well done, right?” You tell me. I once ordered an apple martini in an Irish pub because I was afraid of looking stupid. Mission accomplished! The first step I took in better cultivating my experience was to begin taking an interest in having an experience. And it started with what I was drinking. My thinking was that confidence comes through education. So, I started to educate myself. Here are three steps we can all take to give ourselves a baseline:

1. Shaken or Stirred?

That's not a question we'll ever hear because we'll have already ordered our martini stirred. Because that's how we like it. One shakes vodka, and stirs gin. And men drink gin martinis damn it! We all know how Bond likes his drink – weak and watered down. I mean, the whole point of stirring a martini with a special spoon is to chill the cocktail without diluting the drink. I hope we can all agree that you shouldn't be able to skate across the top of your martini like Kristi Yamaguchi turning a triple salchow-double toe loop. As majestic as she may be.

2. Why Do Garnished Wages Sound Like a Good Thing?

Feel free to start with a page out of my playbook. I like my gin martini stirred, with vermouth (with a gin/vermouth ratio of 2.5:.5), and served up. The last step is the garnish. Try ordering your martini how you like it with an olive one night. Another night, order your drink with a twist. On the third night, order your martini with a lemon peel. Taste how the garnish is more than a decoration or a way to get an amuse-bouche included in the price of your drink. Does one particular garnish affect the palate of the drink in a more appealing manner to you? That's your drink. And we're two steps closer to ordering like a man who liberated a continent.

3. Don't Pass the Buck

Lastly men, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions because the hones for our experience lies with us. It's not up to the hipster with the Sam Elliot mustache or the woman with funky Warby Parker frames with no lenses to guess how we like our drink prepared. They shouldn't automatically know because we're all special little snowflakes. Maybe we were never taught these things. I certainly wasn't. But that doesn't mean we can't take it upon ourselves to learn the ideals of yesterday and make them relevant again today. Come on guys, do we really think bartenders should have to ask grown men how we like our martini? And do nineteen-year-old-Rhinna-loving cocktail waitresses really have to ask us how we like our steak cooked? Medium-rare, by the way. But that's a conversation for another time.

It comes down to being a participant in our own lives. It matters what we drink. It matters what kind of experiences we craft for ourselves. I'm not saying we all need to be pretentious pricks who order like Meg Ryan. I'm merely suggesting we take an interest in how a drink is made, and how a steak is cooked, and how a suit is tailored. It makes an experience so much more enjoyable. And that's what this is all about – being able to create your experience. We may not all have a tailored suit, but ordering doesn't need to be intimidating or scary. It only requires taking an interest and a little fun experimentation on our parts. So, before the next time one of us utters the three truly most unutterable words in the English language – jack-and-coke – let's remember, a man is cool because he knows what he likes and has the conviction to order his drink his way. So order up. The next round's on you. What will it be?

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