Five Drinks You're Safe to Order in Any Bar (Vodka and Soda Aside)

Categories: Last Call

Malibu Bay Breeze.JPG
JK Grence
The Malibu Bay Breeze, a drink that's good in any bar.

Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, where JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.

I love elaborate cocktails. I'm also more than a bit of a stickler when it comes to classics being done right (but that's another column). And, I've come to find that I enjoy a nice low- (or no-) class dive when I go out drinking. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I could take my chances on a Manhattan, but odds are good that I'm going to get a slap-dash glass of warm booze with the barest hint of vermouth and no bitters at all. I've given up on finding that particular holy grail. I could do what everyone else does and just order vodka and soda, but I'll be damned if that isn't the most boring drink order on the planet. I'll take the badly made Manhattan over one any day.

So, what can I order that any bartender can make well, and still keeps my interest? I found five that I know I'll enjoy, no matter whether I order them in a swank lounge or the sleaziest of dives:

5: Brave Bull
The easy way to order a Brave Bull is to ask for a Black Russian made with tequila instead of vodka. Yes, tequila and Kahlúa. The two pair quite nicely, with the tequila's herbal, grassy notes giving a bit of brightness to the sweet depth of Kahlúa.

4: (Malibu) Bay Breeze
It's a shame more bartenders aren't familiar with the Bay Breeze, a highball made with cranberry and pineapple juice. Bartenders who are familiar with the Bay Breeze will usually reach for vodka when they make one, but it's much better when made with rum. With Malibu coconut rum, it's better still. A lime wedge to squeeze in is essential. If you're having it with Malibu or the bar uses that awful stuff that passes for cranberry juice from the soda gun, get an extra wedge so it doesn't come out candy sweet. I wouldn't order it in a biker bar, but I'll go for one pretty much anywhere else.

Colorado Bulldog.JPG
JK Grence
Colorado Bulldog
3: Colorado Bulldog
I love a good White Russian. (The Dude abides, yes, I know.) Problem is, the bars that make good White Russians are few and far between. Why, you ask? A White Russian should be made with cream, and most bars only stock milk. What's a drinker to do? Add a splash of Coca-Cola to a milk-based White Russian, that's what. The Coke on top turns a mismade White Russian into a properly made Colorado Bulldog. The little bit of bubbles gives a surprisingly pleasant nuance to the drink.

2: Mismo
This is as close as I'm willing to get to vodka and soda: Rum and soda. Bet you didn't know the combination even had a name; ask me how it got the name some time, it's a great story. I'm surprised this combination isn't more popular. It's oodles more interesting than vodka and soda, and much more refreshing to boot. Two keys: First, stay the hell out of the well. Bad rum is much worse than bad vodka. Second, make sure you get a wedge of lime to squeeze. Rum and limes are as timeless a combination as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

1: Whiskey on the Rocks
Yeah, whiskey on the rocks. Get over it. It's the universal equalizer, coming out exactly the same way in every single bar on the planet. And by my palate, it tastes pretty darn good.

I'm curious, what's your favorite to order in a questionable establishment?

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Whiskey! You had me at whiskey on the rocks. I am a big fan of whiskey. I am curious to try the Brave Bull. We just moved to the desert and it seems tequila is all over the place. That sounds dangerous, but at the same time intriguing. I wonder what foods that would pair with... thanks for the great list of cocktails!


Typically a Screwdriver would always be an easy one, but then of course it marks you as an unsophisticated drinker aka underage. Black Russian solves problem of milk versus cream issues. And then there's the old tried and true gin and tonic, tall.


 @Sidney If you like Black Russians, you should try a Brave Bull some time.


I've learned that a Screwdriver is a dicey proposition in a dive. Most places are OK, but every now and again you come across a bar that uses the bar-pack shelf stable orange juice. That stuff is, to put it frankly, hideous. And you'd be surprised how many bad G&Ts I've had. It's enough of an annoyance for me that I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago.


What bartender isn't familiar with a Bay Breeze? And who makes it with vodka?!


 @FerrisAgain You would be surprised how many aren't familiar with a Bay Breeze. It's almost always made with vodka, thanks to marketing efforts, I believe between Ocean Spray and either Smirnoff or Stolichnaya.


Love this story, JK. And thanks for reminding me of the Colorado Bulldog! Blast from the past!


 @lucybuck Yeah, the Colorado Bulldogs are as shamelessly retro as, well, a White Russian, but man they're good.

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