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18 top bartenders tell us their favorite cocktails to order

From Istanbul to L.A. to Shanghai, the world’s best bartenders tell us their go-to favorite cocktails on a night out

Photograph: Beth Levendis
Death and Company

An American bartender, a Turkish bartender and a Chinese bartender walk into a bar….What do they order? That’s what we sought to find out when we reached out to some of the best bartenders in the world—from London to Sydney, Chicago to Istanbul—and asked them for their favorite cocktails to order on a night out. Not surprisingly, classics dominated the responses, with bartenders ordering much-loved drinks for their simple pleasures (and to test if the guy or girl on the other side of the bar really knows how to make a martini or Negroni perfectly). More surprisingly, some said their drink of choice was a cold craft beer—though there was always an occasion for something fancier. The key was: keep it simple. If you want to drink like the master mixologists behind the best bars in New York, L.A., the U.K, China and beyond, here is what you want to be ordering.

RECOMMENDED: See America’s best cocktails

World’s top bartenders’ favorite cocktails

1
“Make mine a Negroni!”

“Make mine a Negroni!”

Ivy Mix, co-owner and head bartender, Leyenda, NYC
“I tend to order a Negroni or a white wine spritzer (yeah I know). It depends on where I am at but I can order a Negroni almost anywhere. While it is a hard drink to make perfectly, it is also a hard drink to completely mess up. And it is a great drink to gauge your bartender with: What gin is she using? What vermouth? Then, the white wine spritzer is my go to for when I'm out and need hydration and longevity in my drinking. I can order it in any bar (dives especially) and it always makes the cocktail geeks look at me sideways. Want to make it more interesting? Make it with fino sherry!”

Kevin Patnode, Kühlanbeyi, Istanbul, Turkey
“My go to drink is a Negroni when I’m out because it’s really hard (although I’ve had a few bad ones) to mess up. I usually drink mine in equal parts, so dictating the recipe is simple and just about every bar in the world can make that drink. It’s really a perfect drink for most seasons and if I’m having drinks in the day, sometimes I’ll drink its predecessor the Americano—swap the gin for soda water—for something a little less boozy.”

Paige Aubort, The Lobo Plantation, Sydney, Australia
“I’m a sucker for simply made, boozy drinks that get straight to the point. I still remember the first time I sat at a bar and my wiser, more experienced companion ordered a Negroni for me. He said that I may not like it at first, that I may not automatically warm to the flavors, but that a week from now I would be somewhere far away from this bar craving a particular taste. And goddamnit he was right.”

2
“Make mine a daiquiri!”

“Make mine a daiquiri!”

Elliot Ball, Cocktail Trading Company, London
“First, any bartender in a decent bar can knock a daiquiri out, which takes care of my end. The rum used also gives them an opportunity to put their own twist on it, so I still get some venue character. It also tends not to be outrageously expensive, and it’s simple and easy to make, so doesn’t go pissing the bartender off when they’re in the weeds. Finally, if I see some mates, I can double up—you can shake three or four at once with no extra effort. Oh, and it’s damn tasty—rum, fresh lime, sugar, shaken.”

Jillian Vose, The Dead Rabbit, New York City, NY
“For a bar I’m unfamiliar with, it’s a good indicator that the bar staff understands balance and technique if they make a solid daiquiri. I’ll be more inclined to order an original drink off their menu if their daiquiri is delicious. Still, being that part of our job as a bartender is cocktail development and quality control by tasting on a very regular basis, cocktails are not what I drink in a social setting all the time. You can catch me drinking a glass of wine or a Guinness most nights if I’m out and about.”

Eden Laurin, The Violet Hour, Chicago, IL
“My favorite drink is a daiquiri—though the second drink I order is almost always a shot of whiskey (I am a bourbon woman). A daiquiri is simple, straightforward, refreshing in the summer but perfect in Chicago’s winters. It breaks through the desolation of our cold season with a snap of lime. Although only three ingredients, it’s easy to manipulate and riff on. This keeps it fun to play with and diversify, but still easy to find balance.”

3
“Make mine a martini!”

“Make mine a martini!”

Luke Andrews, The Whistler, Chicago, IL
“It’s usually my first drink of the night before dinner. If I order one while out I rarely specify proportions unless asked, but at home I like a 3:1 ratio with a touch of orange bitters and a lemon twist. I’ll take it with a crisp cocktail onion or, later in the night, with a Castelvetrano olive. The drink itself just gets the job done and is beautiful in a way that no other cocktail is. Of course, it has its time and place, and you would be foolish (as I often am) to ever drink more than two in an outing. If the place isn’t up to snuff or the dry vermouth looks like it has been on the back bar since they opened, I lean more towards a highball such as a gin and tonic or a scotch and soda.”

Cari Hah, Big Bar, Los Angeles, CA
“While I typically drink neat spirits when I go out, if I do order a cocktail, it will be two orders: First, a signature menu cocktail of the bar—I know that people put their creativity, hard work and love into their cocktail menus so I always want to show my respect to that effort—and then a 50-50 martini (if they have good dry vermouth). I am a huge fan of vermouth and martinis so I like to see how people make them. It is a seemingly simple drink but it can go wrong in many, many ways. If a bartender can mix me up a properly chilled and correctly diluted 50-50, then I know they got some chops.”

4
“Make mine a Last Word”

“Make mine a Last Word”

Ali Reynolds, Spitalfields Bar, London, U.K.
“I love a Last Word with mescal—the rest is green chartreuse, maraschino and lime. I also love a good Tanqueray martini, dry with a grapefruit twist. We sell a lot of pre-dinner martinis, and the mescal Last Word is a good place to start to get people into mescal. I like ordering it because the first one I ever had was in Buck and Breck in Berlin, which is one of my favorite bars in the world.”

5
“Make mine an Americano”

“Make mine an Americano”

Pasan Wijesana, Earl’s Juke Joint, Sydney, Australia
“I keep it pretty simple if I ever order a cocktail myself. Between running a bar and being a dad I have little to no time for big hangovers these days, so my go-to drink is an Americano. It’s a lower-ABV-style drink and I can drink these pretty much all night without too much damage being done. Nerdy side note: It is also the first drink that James Bond ordered in Casino Royale, even though it was quickly overshadowed by the Vesper.”

6
“Make mine a Manhattan”

“Make mine a Manhattan”

Cody Modeer, Ward Eight, Evanston, IL
“I’m a go-with-the flow kind of person, so normally I’ll order whatever the bar is good at offering. But if it’s a place where I know I can get a good classic cocktail (not someone’s personal twist on a classic cocktail), then I’ll most likely have a Manhattan. It’s just a true classic cocktail (which I prefer) that—when made properly—can set the backdrop for an enchanted evening. It’s so easy to make and yet it can be so hard to find a good one.”

Oskar Kinberg, Oskar’s Bar, London, England
“I order a Manhattan because…I like the taste of it! You have to like whiskey if you’re going to order one. For me, simpler is better and it’s a cocktail with just three ingredients: rye, sweet vermouth and angostura bitters.”

7
“Make mine a sherry cobbler”

“Make mine a sherry cobbler”

Yael Vengroff, The Spare Room, Los Angeles, CA
“I would have usually order shot of tequila or mescal or a glass of absinthe—I’m not much of a cocktail drinker when I go out. I like to drink fast and hard, and I think cocktails take too long to drink! When I want to take my time, though, I enjoy lower-proof cocktails so I can also have a shot of agave on the side. My favorite would have to be a sherry cobbler.”

8
“Make mine an old-fashioned”

“Make mine an old-fashioned”

David Putney, Capital Spirits, Beijing, China
“You can make an amazing old-fashioned out of rum or whiskey, which plays to the selection of whichever bar I may be patronizing. The key to a good old-fashioned is one part the quality of the particular base spirit, and one part the ingenuity of the bartender. It’s a classic cocktail in the most orthodox sense: booze, bitters and sugar, and yet no two bartenders make it the same way. It’s always my first drink when I visit a new bar.”

9
“Make mine something classic”

“Make mine something classic”

Tyson Buhler, Death and Co, New York City, NY
“I tend to stick with fairly common classics when I am out at a bar; the occasion also tends to dictate what I drink. Before dinner, an Americano or Negroni. Starting a night out with friends, maybe a martini to kick things off. In the afternoon, a daiquiri or two always hits the spot. I always drink depending on my mood, the weather, or my company.”

Jacques Bezuidenhout, The Forgery and Wildhawk, San Francisco, CA
“I have three that I order regularly depending on what kind of bar I’m walking into. Generally a Negroni is one of my favorites and one that most bars can make. Even if they don't they can be helped with a little direction. Then I love a great margarita, but that really depends on whether the bar does fresh-squeezed lime juice and if they carry quality tequila. Then, lastly, I love a well-made martini, but I am very careful about ordering it—most bars can make a good martini but few can make a great one. It is one of those drinks that requires some passion and attention to detail.”

Travis Yuan, Daily Routine, Beijing, China
“My favorite client is someone who orders a cocktail that is appropriate for the season; one shouldn’t order a mojito when there’s snow on the ground. As for my own taste, I usually start with a sour drink—a gimlet in the summertime and a whiskey sour during a cold winter in Beijing. Then I will jump to a drink requiring a strong shake, like a Last Word. When visiting an unfamiliar bar, I order classic cocktails for the initial two rounds and, if those are professionally prepared and I feel a connection with the bartender, then I move on to his or her variation on a Negroni or a Manhattan. Once trust has been established by the quality of the drinks, then why not just let the barman do the job? In my opinion, that’s how to spend your money wisely.”

10
“Hey barkeep—show me what you’ve got!”

“Hey barkeep—show me what you’ve got!”

Yao Lu, Union Trading Co, Shanghai, China
“I have always been a shot-and-a-beer kind of guy—there are some days where I suffer from cocktail fatigue and just want to drink something chilled and refreshing, and nothing is more satisfying than the simple things in life. With that said, when I am cruising between cocktail bars, I love to go through whatever is on the house cocktail list and drink the menu. It’s always fun and exciting for me to see what other bartenders are doing and how they are coming with new flavors and techniques—it’s always very inspiring.”

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