What drink you order says a lot about you. Christina Hendricks, the first lady of Mad Men and sworn Scotch fan, said it best when we interviewed her late last year: Ordering Johnnie Walker at the bar is "sexy, and it's confident, and it's also very classic."
In that spirit (pun intended), and in the hopes of keeping you a welcome presence at your favorite bar, we interviewed Aidan Demarest, a Los Angeles-based bartender and drinking expert, to provide you with a guide to ordering like a man.
Q: What does every man need before embarking on a night out at the bars?
Aidan Demarest: A plan. [One] that involves a great idea and a possibly terrible idea, just in case. [Start at] a bar that [you] know is great, a standby that’s got a great crowd, great drinks, a great location. Then [throw in] some risk. A backup with a few risks thrown in leaves potential for greatness. It's usually that surprise location that delivers that "I had the most incredible night last night" night.
Q: What does a man’s bar order say about him?
AD: Volumes. I’d say [that] with your drink order, a woman can decipher your education, work, passion, and pay grade. Your drink and your shoes are probably the two biggest indicators.
It’s the spirits [that are ordered] that says that the person knows something about what they’re drinking. Instead of ordering a scotch and soda, they pick a category. They know exactly what they want, and [have] a reason. If somebody walked in and said, "I'll take a Ward 8 with Johnnie Walker Black, I would think they would know what they were doing. It’s also a great conversation starter. If you order something a little more obscure and there is a woman next to you that you want to talk to, it usually will start a conversation. Even if it's an inexpensive drink. [It's fine to] walk into a great South American place and order a Pisco Sour because you know they make a great Pisco Sour.
Q: You’re known for your deconstructed cocktails. What is the appeal of drinking a spirit neat over a mixed drink?
AD: I love drinking well-made liquor and I love cocktails. So "deconstructed", to me, just means serving the spirits neat, and a chaser on the side (it could be ginger beer, or it could be a complicated sour, or a fresh juice situation). The appeal is that you get to taste the work that went into the spirit.
I think a lot of people drink great brands, but they don’t know why. And until you drink it neat, you don’t. Johnnie Walker, Ketel One — they have these brands they love, but they don’t really know why, or what that flavor profile is. To me, [ordering something neat signifies] the difference between a drinker and a knowledgeable drinker.
Q: Name three things a man should never do in a bar.
AD: I have an easy three: talk loudly, talk politics, and talk on the phone. If you’re the loudest person in a loud bar, you’re trying too hard.
There’s just no point in talking politics. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t agree with you. And you’re not going to change their mind. Nobody went into a bar a Democrat and came out a Republican.
And the phone, I just don’t like it. I don’t mind a quick call, but if you’re just working the phone the whole time [you're at the bar], go home. Get out. Women really don’t like it. Nobody thinks you’re more important or interesting. And if you’re a stock broker, then what are you doing there? A couple of quick calls to somebody looking for directions or something is fine, but somebody who’s just killing time until the rest of their group shows up [by talking] on the phone? Go somewhere.
Q: If someone is trying to kill time in a bar while waiting for friends, what do you recommend they do?
AD: Well, I read the menu. I scan the wine list. I’ll read the paper. I’m always fascinated by somebody who’s reading the paper somewhere, you know? I think it says a lot about them. I kind of envy anyone who has time to sit in a bar and read a newspaper. And I just assume that they are somewhat intelligent and successful.
Q: Say you’re out with a group of five friends — how does buying rounds work? What’s the etiquette?
AD: If you’re talking about money, then you’re avoiding it. If I’m gonna get a round, I just get it. So, if I sat down, and I knew I was leaving after the next round, I’d be like, “I’m gonna get this round," and give the waitress my card. If you stand up and say, “Does anyone want any money?” you really don’t want to pay money.
A gentleman would just pay his round, and not offer it up on the table. By standing up and breaking out money, you’re basically saying, “I’ll get you next time,” — which is actually fine with a group of friends who go out together all the time.
Q: What should you never say or do to a bartender?
AD: Never say that you’re going to "take care" of [the bartender]. Letting them know that you want better service [now] because you’re going to be tipping them in the future? 99.9 percent of the time it’s not what I would consider a good tip. And the fact that you had to ask for it, whether or not the service is good or bad, tells me that you don't warrant the sort of attention you want.
And then there's the verbal tip, which means, "In lieu of a tip, I’m going to tell you what a great job you’re doing." Or [it can mean] "I’m going to tell you how I'd run this bar."
Q: What is the standard tipping protocol at a bar that serves premium liquor like Johnnie Walker Double Black? Is it still a dollar a drink, or does it depend on what you order?
AD: If you are taking up any real estate at a bar, I feel you should tip. If you walk up to the bar and ask for a glass of water, I don’t think that requires tip. [How much you tip also] depends on how long you’re there. If you’re just popping in to say hi to some people, and they’re drinking and you’re not, then yeah, a dollar’s fine. If [the staff is] refilling your water, and you’re been there for two hours talking to somebody, and you’re not drinking, then tip like you had been drinking the whole time. Because you took a space from someone else.
Q: If someone orders a drink, and they don’t like it, should they send it back?
AD: Well, if it tastes the way it should, and you ordered it unsolicited, then it’s yours. But if you’re offered it and it’s off for some reason, I always want to know so that I know what went wrong.
Q: If you’re trying to approach a stranger at a bar, does the classic, “What are you drinking?” line still work? What’s a good way to get someone you don’t know to talk to you?
AD: I don’t think “What are you drinking?” works anymore, unless you’re in a tiki bar, and they have some fascinating drink in front of them that’s on fire. I think “Can I buy you a drink?” still flies. I don’t think anybody’s insulted by that. “What are you drinking?” sort of falls into the "What's your sign" category.
[Going out to] cocktail bars (more so than clubs) is an interactive group event. You’re all together in it. You’re talking to the bartender and the people that you’re with about drinks. I don’t think I’ve left a bar in the last five years where I didn’t turn to somebody next to me and ask, “How is that?” or “Do you like that one?” If you want to talk to somebody, watch what they order. And even if you are familiar with it, act interested. That’s an easy way to get [the conversation] rolling: “Did you like that? I might get one too. Can I buy you one?" Boom: you have a mutual interest and a reason to buy [them] a drink.
Need your next drink order? Look no further than the bold flavors of Johnnie Walker Double Black.
Aidan Demarest has managed some of Los Angeles's most successful and critically-acclaimed bar programs. He is a board member of The Sporting Life Los Angeles and a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.