What to drink at the open bar?
December 18, 2010 7:53 AM   Subscribe

What should we try at the open bar?

Tonight is my partner's company holiday party. It is always very fancy, with a vast array of really good food, and a full open bar. We are not big drinkers, so it's a big deal for us at this party to get, say, two alcoholic beverages in one night. Tonight we would like to try something new, and are looking for recommendations. We're both the kind of people who just don't know what to order at a bar, so end up defaulting to the same few things.

Things I like, to give you some ideas to build on: kahlua and cream, gin and tonic, Cosmopolitans, boozy coffee drinks.

Things he likes: kahlua and cream, the occasional beer.
posted by not that girl to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Buttery Nipple.
posted by smcameron at 7:56 AM on December 18, 2010

Tr a White Russian. It's Kahlua and cream with vodka.
Also: I'm kind of 'meh' about gin and tonic, but have recently discovered vodka tonics, and like them very much.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2010

A kir royale, definitely. It's a sweet, light-weight drink that is nonetheless well liked and respected by connoisseurs.
posted by oddman at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yeah, try a White Russian.
Also, properly made, an Irish Coffee is sooo good.
Whiskey Sours are also sweet, easy to drink, and wonderful.
posted by bluejayk at 8:05 AM on December 18, 2010

Jack & Coke.
posted by Remy at 8:06 AM on December 18, 2010

Chocolate martini!
posted by Sabine3283 at 8:07 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of 'meh' about gin and tonic

While I'm pretty happy to drink a well gin and tonic, you might like it better if you use better gin like a Sapphire and Tonic or a Hendrick's and Tonic.
posted by grouse at 8:10 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Might be a good opportunity to have a champagne cocktail (1 cube of sugar placed in a flute glass, add a dash or two of Angostura bitters, carefully fill with chilled dry Champagne or sparkling wine, and garnish with a cocktail cherry), since a lot of bars don't keep open bottles of champagne.
posted by jedicus at 8:14 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

People who like White Russians often also like Sidecars.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:15 AM on December 18, 2010

Bellini, if they've got the fruit.
posted by kcm at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2010

If you like a gin and tonic, you might like a gin gimlet, which is gin and lime juice. A vodka gimlet is also delightful.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 8:22 AM on December 18, 2010

gin gimlet
posted by J. Wilson at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2010

another off the g & t theme: tom collins
posted by J. Wilson at 8:27 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Kahlua and cream? Try a Colorado Bulldog.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:27 AM on December 18, 2010

Umm... open bar on someone else's dime? Try a nice brandy or whiskey at the end of the evening and leave with a warm, rosy glow. Remy XO or Johnnie Walker Blue.
posted by pentagoet at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2010

If it's a real bar: Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or gin martini

If it's one of those tables with mixers and booze: scotch and soda
posted by monstrouspudding at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2010

Seconding both a Kir royale and a Tom Collins. Those are my two favorite drinks. Champagne cocktails are good too. All three are somewhat... kitschy. But in the best way!

Oh, and make sure the Tom Collins is made with lemon juice and simple syrup. Collins mix isn't good enough.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Building off the vein of a Cosmopolitan and Gin and Tonics -- if the open bar has a good bartender, try an Aviation. Gin, maraschino liquor and lemon. If you like the combination of the sweet and sour that is in the Cosmo but have gin as your base liquor, it's a worthwhile option.
posted by bl1nk at 8:58 AM on December 18, 2010

To build off the whiskey sour suggestion, if you like sweet&sour-- amaretto sours and midori sours (aka ecto-cooler) are my favorites. They are really sweet.

For your SO, has he had a black & tan before? It's a way to have beer while making it something a little more interesting.
posted by parkerjackson at 9:15 AM on December 18, 2010

A brandy Alexander would be another thing to try if you like sweet creamy drinks.

Unless it's at a restaurant, I'd stay away from Irish coffee and the like. Even very good bars often have inexplicably terrible coffee.

Oddman's point about the kir royale being a lightweight drink is an important one. A lot of the stuff we're recommending is very strong: f'rinstance, a generously mixed brandy Alexander isn't that far removed from straight liquor, and a martini is straight liquor — just two kinds in one glass.

If you don't drink much, you might want to pick something light to be your default drink. That way you won't find yourself ordering a martini when you're already-a-bit-too-tipsy just because it's the first thing that pops into your head.

posted by nebulawindphone at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're generally not big drinkers, I would limit yourself to only one or two cocktails off this list. I'm a regular drinker and can't deal with more than at most two cocktails a night. I have made the mistake of, "Open bar! I can have whatever I want!" at a work party before. Ended the night projectile vomiting in a taxi. So, yeah. I now only drink beer and wine at work parties, even if it means I'm not taking the best advantage of endless free liquor.

If I were you I would especially skip the college girl drinks like Whiskey Sours and WhateverTinis, and not bother with kindergarten stuff like Jack & Coke. That's just going to get you trashed, and without anything to even enjoy (those drinks were invented to get people wasted without tasting the alcohol; the experience of drinking them is not that interesting).

I agree with everyone who's suggested champagne cocktails and serious stuff like good whiskey or the classic cocktails (gimlet, manhattan, old fashioned, etc). But I'd limit yourself to ONE TASTE if you're doing something heavy on the hard liquor. Your staple drink should be something lighter - champagne is always festive.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on December 18, 2010

Also, if your partner likes "the occasional beer" this would be a great time to try beers he might not otherwise get. Especially if it's a really serious open bar with a full selection of things on tap. I'd especially suggest anything Belgian. You might like that, too.

Same for wine - if you guys aren't wine drinkers (and it's a SERIOUS party), this would be a great time to try different stuff. Though that can be a little dicey since a lot of the time they're just pouring out of those single-serve Woodbridge Estates thingies, which is going to be crappy and not the best use of an open bar. If there are a lot of different choices being poured out of full bottles, though, definitely try different wines.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on December 18, 2010

Agree with champagne-based drinks. I'd go for a French 76. Just watch it, because champagne mixed with hard liquor can be really, really deceptive.
posted by BibiRose at 10:10 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you like Kahlua and cream then you might try a Brandy Alexander, a mix of brandy, creme de cacao and cream.
posted by biffa at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Black Manhattan.

And you don't have to finish every drink, remember. If you want to try lots of different stuff, and you're feeling wasteful, sip and taste and then move on. Heck, you could even spit after tasting.
posted by incessant at 11:00 AM on December 18, 2010

White Russians also have that additional 'Big Lebowski' charm to them. Don't consume too many at once.
posted by ovvl at 11:34 AM on December 18, 2010

My problem with the open bar at a catered event is that it never seems to be stocked well enough to make good drinks. And then the person tending it has little or no idea what to do besides squirt soda/juice/sourmix from the multi-tap and count while pouring. If they're experienced they can do both at the same time.

At a catered event, odds are that bar isn't plumbed for a sink. Without running water or a drain, they probably won't be using cream or egg white or eggs. Scratch that Brandy Alexander and that Tom & Jerry and that Pink Lady and that Cynar Flip.

Appraise the bar, then: does it look collapsible? If the event is in a private room of a large restaurant, you might have access to that restaurant's whole drink menu. If the event is in a nice hotel, you might might have access to the menu of a bar in that hotel. A bit of research or recollection might help.

Once at the event, the trick, I've found, is to carefully and casually scope out what's behind the bar (without taking up time standing in front of it) before making an order. Look at the drinks other people are walking around with, and watch the bartender
- an up (stemmed cocktail) glass, brown contents, maybe dark blob garnish = prob a Manhattan: check that the bartender is pouring from two bottles (whiskey and vermouth)
- an up glass, red contents = prob a Cosmopolitan, the bar has vodka, and at least sour mix: check if the bartender is pouring from a juice bottle or using a squeezer
- an up glass, clear contents, maybe green olive = Martini, the bar has vodka, maybe gin; again check for pouring from two bottles (is there vermouth?)
- rocks glass, ice, brown contents, is there pulp floating in it = either a whiskey over ice or some kind of Old Fashioned
- champagne flutes? perhaps champagne cocktail or French 75

Do you hear drinks being shaken? that's the sound of a party.
Or was that the squirt of the soda gun and despair?

Case the bar. You're looking not necessarily for the shelf of "display liquor", which is mostly base liquors and higher-end whiskey (although if you like single-malts or bourbon neat, nothing wrong with asking for that or "do you have a really good bourbon/scotch?"), you're looking for the liqueurs and vermouths that are at hand.
Say you spy behind the bar a bottle of lurid red stuff labeled Campari, or
a tall bottle in raffia with a white paper label (Maraschino), or
a squat brown bottle with red and gold (Grand Marnier, Cointreau if that bottle is square), or
a tall elegant pillar of a bottle filled with golden liquid (St.Germain), or
a lurid green bottle (Midori), or
a wide square bottle with a square top (Amaretto).
These are the things that make a cocktail something more than just an ethanol-delivery mechanism.

Hey, did the bartender dash from a hand-sized bottle? they have bitters (thank the gods!).

When I'm in that situation, these little observations start adding up into what I think I can get away with ordering and enjoying:
there's no vermouth or the Old Fashioned has pulp: get a whiskey over ice, dump the ice after a couple minutes
if there's vermouth and bitters: call for a Manhattan, hope for some vermouth to give it balance
if there's vermouth and Campari: call for a Negroni = equal parts gin, Campari, sweet vermouth
if there's real lemon juice and Maraschino: call for an Aviation = gin, lemon juice, Maraschino (if the bartender doesn't know the proportions, 2:1:1 will get you there, 8:3:3 if you're mathy)
if there's Cointreau and lemon juice: ask for a Sidecar = brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice, classically equal parts but I prefer 2:1:1
if there's vermouth, Grand Marnier or Cointreau: call for a Between the Sheets or Maiden's Prayer = specify equal parts rum, brandy, GM/C, lemon juice
if there's St Germain: ask what they are doing with it, and if they don't know, specify gin, cranberry, St Germain for a Cosmo-like, about 3:1:1
if there's Midori or Amaretto: ask for a Midori Sour or Amaretto Sour; I like it at 2 parts liqueur to 1 part lime juice
if you're lucky and see a bottle of Averna: ask for a Black Manhattan; 8:3 rye whiskey to Averna

get a glass of the most expensive whisk(e)y you'd never buy for yourself, and enjoy it slowly; if the bartender can't handle that, call for a White Russian or a Screwdriver or Rum & Coke
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 11:51 AM on December 18, 2010 [34 favorites]

Open bars like this tend to be not so good about the quality of the spirits involved, nor the most widely practiced bartenders. Gotta control costs, after all. Assuming that will be the case, I recommend drinks with relatively few ingredients that are robust to the quality of the base spirits. Drinks that have a solid citrus juice component are nice, since the bar will certainly have fresh fruits to squeeze into the drinks. In addition to what is listed above, I would suggest a sidecar: brandy, lemon juice, and orange liqueur. It is a fantastic drink that doesn't get made often enough, since few people keep mixing brandies around these days. Another tasty option is a traditional daiquiri, made with just rum, lime juice, and sugar. More of a warm weather drink, but no reason to let that stop you. Manhattans, as others have said, are another solid choice. I, personally, would avoid _____ sour drinks if the place uses sour mix instead of simple syrup and citrus juices. There is a world of difference between the two approaches.
posted by Schismatic at 11:59 AM on December 18, 2010

Tangy / somewhat similar to Gin & Tonic:
Sidecar, Tom Collins, bourbon sour / whiskey sour

Sweet, fruity / somewhat similar to a Cosmo:
Amaretto sour, Curacao and sprite, Melon liquer and sprite
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2010

Given that you like gin, I would try sampling a couple of old school classics such as a White Lady (gin + Cointreau + lemon juice, but make sure you specify how tart you like this), or a Negroni if you're feeling more glamorous (gin + sweet vermouth + Campari with twist of orange).

Also seconding a gin and tonic made with the good stuff such as Bombay Sapphire or Hendricks... but being a company affair, don't be surprised if they have only standard bar liquor on hand.
posted by braemar at 12:30 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. Prince of Cups, you're fabulous. We're looking forward to trying a couple of new things!
posted by not that girl at 2:27 PM on December 18, 2010

Channel Betty Draper and go for a gimlet.
posted by annie o at 4:53 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

An Old Fashioned. You will not regret it, if it's made right.
posted by Splunge at 7:04 PM on December 18, 2010

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