What drink should I order at a wedding open bar?
February 7, 2019 9:49 PM   Subscribe

I’ll be going to an open bar, black tie wedding this weekend. I always get flustered when ordering and end up just asking for a vodka coke/cranberry or one thing equally simple. What should I be ordering to take advantage of a nice open bar that won’t be a total pain in the ass for the bar tender?

I like vodka, tequila, white rum, white wine, some reds (though mostly with dinner). I tend to like mixed drinks that are fruity or sweet such as Long Island ice teas, piña coladas, dacaiquiris, margaritas, palomas, x and coke/cranberry/pineapple, dry and sweet ciders, champagne, sangria, etc. As much as I’d love a Mai Tai, I feel like I’d get some weird looks if I were walking around with one. (This is also my boyfriends cousin’s wedding so I don’t want any faux pas maneuvers).

I’m not a fan of gin, jaeger, bourbon (potentially ok if it’s a light pour or mixed with something else), whiskey, or most beers.

I could just drink white white all night but that seems like a poor use of a fun opportunity.

I’m 30 years old and know how to moderate what I drink and I’ll have a designated driver. I don’t plan on getting shit faced but it’s also alright if it’s a stiff drink. Wedding is in Virginia, is that matters.
posted by raccoon409 to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What's wrong with a Mai Tai? You could try a French Connection or Tequila Sunrise if you want something new.
posted by demiurge at 10:01 PM on February 7

A wedding reception open bar isn’t likely to have a ton of ingredients for fancy cocktails anyway, not taking into account the skill of the bartenders. If you asked for a mai tai the answer might well be “I don’t have most of the ingredients.” (Chances of orgeat: approximately zero unless it’s a tiki themed wedding.)

If they have a nice tequila, you could order it neat and drink it slow. Decent tequila is great as is. Or if you want something sweeter, maybe ask for a tequila sunrise. It is a slightly dated drink but pleasant and meets your criteria.
posted by Smearcase at 10:06 PM on February 7 [18 favorites]

A Manhattan is a great go to cocktail. Most basic bars will have the necessary stuff (bourbon or rye, vermouth) and it’s delicious. Order it “up” (no ice) like a martini if it’s chilly, or on the rocks in a tumbler if you wanna nurse it on a warm evening.
posted by notyou at 10:13 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]

I always get amaretto sours at weddings.
posted by melodykramer at 10:14 PM on February 7 [16 favorites]

I like tequila and tonic. Given the excellent observation above that a wedding open bar won't have a lot of fancy cocktail ingredients nor bartenders ready to make them, I'd probably stick with a highball like tequila & tonic or rum & coke. (Well, no, I'd have a Manhattan or some Scotch but you said you don't like whiskey)

So, a daiquiri, gimlet or margarita are lime juice, simple syrup and rum, gin, or tequila (respectively). A bar without a lot of mixer liqueurs might be able to handle it. Maybe not.

If there's Campari (possible, but not likely), the tequila riff on the Negroni is delicious (equal parts tequila, sweet vermouth and Campari).

If the tequila is anejo (not blanco), you can sub it in for bourbon in a Manhattan, as long as you drop the proportions from 2:1 to 2 ounces tequila and 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth. It's called a variety of things, so you'd probably want to order it by recipe rather than name. Bartenders will make a Martini with blanco tequila, usually in a 1 1/2 oz tequila to 3/4 oz dry vermouth and orange bitters.
posted by crush at 10:22 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]

Often at wedding receptions there will be a 'signature drink' or two chosen by the couple. The caterers will have made sure to have quality ingredients for these drinks, and ordering them will be easier on the staff. If you don't like it, you can discretely stash it and go back for something else. If you do like it, be sure to tell the bride and groom/brides/grooms--they'll be thrilled to know one of the many, many choices they've had to make recently is going over well.

We did Moscow Mules for our wedding (vodka, ginger beer, lime), and it's a pretty safe choice for a standard bar, although you might get ginger ale instead.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:25 PM on February 7 [17 favorites]

Mellon Ball.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:43 PM on February 7

Drink Cosmopolitans! This cocktail is usually a deep pinkish-red and served in a martini glass. I think it's a beautifu, classy drink and it's super delicious. I attended a wedding reception in Richmond just last summer and that was my drink of choice! Have fun!
posted by kbar1 at 10:44 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]

Like crush, I’d ask for a Manhattan or a negroni, but those are very spirit forward cocktails using liquor you don’t like. That said, a Manhattan is a great way to make friends with whiskey and free is the best price to try it out.

You could ask for a mojito, but that requires muddled mint. If they have a lot of mixers a midori sour is a nice sweet cocktail.

There’s nothing wrong with sticking with a vodka cranberry or a rum and coke. If you want to feel a little more sophisticated you can ask for a lime in you R and C. That makes it a Cuba Libre!
posted by pazazygeek at 11:14 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]

Vodka gimlet. Smooth.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:56 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]

Try a vodka, rum or whiskey with ginger beer or ginger ale with lime.
posted by mymbleth at 12:09 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Campari and soda. The bar will probably have some, it's super easy to make, looks great in a Collins glass, and it's delicious and complex. It's basically a glass of bitters but seriously, give it a try.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:25 AM on February 8 [5 favorites]

(Personally I steer clear of anything in a cocktail glass if I'm going to be moving around, because I inevitably spend the evening carefully balancing it like a circus acrobat and then spill most of it on myself anyway.)
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:27 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

I guess an open bar is great to try a drink you aren't sure you are going to like! Here are 2 yummy ones I never hear ordered.

Captain Morgan and cranberry
Ameretto and coke
posted by beccaj at 4:02 AM on February 8

Try ordering a sidecar: cognac/brandy, orange liqueur (usually Cointreau or Grand Marnier), and lemon juice. I would think that a reasonably well-stocked bar would have all three of these.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:25 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Snakebite! - Yukon Jack + lime juice, on the rocks
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 4:58 AM on February 8

Note that just because it's an open bar a) it's not necessarily going to be a fully stocked bar and b) the bartenders are not necessarily going to know how to make anything fancy.

For my wedding, we used a full service venue where I supplied the booze, and they supplied the mixers. So I had plenty of booze and there were plenty of options, but the fanciest cocktail on the list was our specialty wedding cocktail. Other than that, people could get dirty martinis, rum and cokes, or G&Ts to their hearts content, as well as plenty of beer and wine!

In terms of bartender experience - I used to work for a caterer and the bartenders were often former servers who didn't know much more than how to pop open a bottle of wine or pour cranberry and vodka over ice. They were often using the catering bartender experience to get a real bartending gig.

That said, I've also been to weddings where the venue supplied an extensively stocked bar, or the bartenders were old wizened barkeeps who liked the catering gigs.

So my advice is to have a couple options and know what goes in them, so if the bartender doesn't know the drink or doesn't have the ingredients you'll still get something out of the ordinary.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:05 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

A great way to try different drinks is to ask the bartender. Tell them what you told us, they'll give you something interesting. I'll 2nd vodka gimlet and cosmopoltan. Paloma sounds delicious, but they probably won't have grapefruit juice. They'll have OJ, lemons, limes. Tequila and OJ plus grenadine is a tequila sunrise, with rum it's a rum sunset. Vodka & OJ = screwdriver. With champagne, its a mimosa.
posted by theora55 at 6:40 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

Vodka gimlet. Smooth.

Classic, tasty, and easy enough for a harried or inexperienced bartender. Sometimes you run into bartenders who don’t know how to make any classic cocktails. This is super common at weddings. You can tell them two parts vodka (traditionally, gin), one part sweetened lime juice, and still reliably end up with a gimlet.

If it’s too sour, ask for it with some added simple syrup, or water it down a bit by getting it on the rocks or with a splash of club soda. And if you see cucumbers at the bar, they’re a lovely addition.

If you like smoked flavors, try it with mezcal, which tastes vaguely similar to smoky tequila—although it’s a long shot for a wedding bar to have one.
posted by musicinmybrain at 7:43 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Because wedding bartenders are often not mixologists and are often without a full bar, I'd focus on something with just a few ingredients. (I would be pleasantly surprised if they had bitters, lime juice, liqueurs, etc.) I agree with a cosmopolitan.

Since you like champagne, you might try a champagne cocktail -- festive and you can vary your order depending on what the bar is stocked with. You could do a variation on a mimosa to keep it easy and fruity or a kir royale or air mail (2 oz rum, 1/2 oz lime juice, 1 tsp sugar/honey, 5 oz champagne) if the bar is well-stocked.
posted by *s at 8:00 AM on February 8

"What's the best thing you know how to make?" or "I feel lucky, surprise me" are what I usually go with at weddings with an open bar. You can always go back to g&t later.

You either get something perfectly fine but boring if they're too busy (vodka-cran or something, but likely with an extra shot or fancy twist) or the bartender will take this opportunity to show off and make something delicious and/or weird. It's wise to tip high if they put forth the effort for you.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:10 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]

I love to just go hard on the bubbly at weddings, because it's just not the kind of thing I'd normally drink. Have fun!
posted by cakelite at 8:38 AM on February 8

If the wedding is being catered at a non-restaurant location, the chances of what some have said above about not having a fully stocked bar and skilled tenders is pretty high, in my experience.

What are the couple like? I've been to a few weddings where I knew based on the couple that the bar would either be decked out or just the basics.
posted by archimago at 8:58 AM on February 8

Stoli rocks, three olives. All night.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:26 AM on February 8

If it's not too busy I would ask the bartender to recommend a drink based on what you like in a drink.

Otherwise, I'd recommend a blue lagoon, which is popular enough that they should know it and many people like it - very fruity, not too strong. Also looks really cool! Lemon juice (sometimes lemonade), vodka, blue curacao.
posted by randomnity at 10:37 AM on February 8

Daiquiris and margaritas are often good choices because they're simple and well-known. A cosmo is fun for a first drink, but often strong, so then you can slow down with mimosas. Depending on the bartender, "something fruity with rum or vodka" could get you yummy variations, too - get a sense for how busy/bored/interested they are before you put that work on them, though.
posted by ldthomps at 10:38 AM on February 8

Get an Old Fashioned. You can go the traditional route with whiskey, or if you're feeling like a true 'sconnie, get it with brandy. Most open bars are going to have the fairly basic ingredients to this timeless classic.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:56 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

If your wedding is in Virginia, there might be some Belle Isle Moonshine behind the bar. (It's not moonshine, really—more like unoaked bourbon.) The Honey Habanero flavor is my go-to, and that's great subbed for vodka in a Moscow Mule, or subbed for tequila in a Paloma.

If your wedding is in some parts of Virginia, there might be actual moonshine behind the bar, but ywmv.
posted by emelenjr at 11:11 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

One of my go-to drinks, especially when it's cold out, is the Dark & Stormy. A proper one is made with ginger beer, but even if they only have ginger ale, it's pretty nice. Super easy to make, too.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:43 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

I don't like whiskey, so I would never order a Manhattan. That said, I do love the 7&7 with a maraschino cherry. The soda and the cherry make it sweet/diluted enough for me to enjoy (sometimes too much!)
posted by lyssabee at 12:46 PM on February 8

If the bar's fancy, try Manhattans with higher-shelf bourbon. Ask if they have a selection of bitters.
posted by porpoise at 3:41 PM on February 8

Came in to recommend a Gimlet, but see below the fold that you don't like gin.

Vodka gimlet. Smooth.


There is nothing classic about a Vodka gimlet. Or a Vodka martini. You can make those drinks with Vodka, but "classic's" got nothing to do with it.

Classically (and correctly), Gimlets and Martinis are made with gin. As pappy used to say, "If you order a Martini and the barkeep asks 'Gin or Vodka?,' find another bar."

A Gimlet is either Gin and Rose's Lime Cordial or Gin with lime juice and simple syrup. The latter became popular when Coca-cola purchased Rose's and, in America, replaced cane sugar with HFCS. If you see mint on the bar, you can get them to add some to the shaker and it'd make it a Richmond Gimlet.

Now that I've got the pedantic out of the way, I'll suggest Mezcal or Tequila rocks. Very simple and tasty.

If you prefer a mixed drink, a Manhattan is a great choice. If they ask "rye or bourbon," the correct answer is rye (preferably Alberta Premium, but that's unlikely at a wedding, which will probably have Maker's Mark or Bulleit, both of which are fine.) I'd skip the garnish.
posted by dobbs at 3:57 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

"What's your best bourbon?"

Ask for it with a splash of 7up or Ginger Ale.

You are missing out.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:59 PM on February 8

Coming back to rep for the Campari and Soda, one of the good things about a glass of bitters is that it's easy to drink slow. Even as a highball with soda, the flavor is very strong. It's interesting and delicious, but it's easy to pace yourself. I don't know about you, but I can drink a lot faster than I should drink. It's a wedding, there will be drinking, but you do want to stay functional.

If it's a catered bar instead of a permanent bar though, they might not have Campari. Any full bar will have it but if it's a field operation then probably not.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:58 PM on February 8

As a couple people have already mentioned, wedding bartenders aren't necessarily particularly skilled, and ingredients are likely to be limited in quantity and quality (doing otherwise can make costs for the hosts skyrocket pretty quickly). Plus the bartenders are usually trying to move pretty quickly to take care of all the guests, and not trying to finesse a complex drink with many ingredients. So I order at wedding bars the same way I order at dive bars or concert venue bars: simple cocktails with no special ingredients or no ingredients that are terrible when the cheap or mistreated version is used.

So for example: I love dirty martinis, but a dirty martini with terrible cheap catering olives or old dive bar olives is no good, so I wouldn't order a one of those. I also love whiskey sours, but whiskey sours with commercial bottled sour mix is bleah, so again, no-go. And the vermouth at these events is nearly always spoiled, so I'd avoid asking for anything involving that.

Honestly I'd just try to keep it simple with a something-and-soda or other 2-ingredient drink. Rum and coke is a classic that fits your preferences, as is vodka cranberry. In both cases, ask for lime if you want to feel fancier.

If you get there and the bar looks like it might have a bit more variety of options, here are some other usually-safe choices that fit your preferences:

- Cosmopolitan (like a vodka cranberry, but fancier!)
- Margarita
- Moscow Mule

Long Island Ice Tea is probably also possible at most bars, but I strongly advise against it, especially since you said you want to avoid any faux pas. Even though you know you can handle it, ordering it will look, to the sorts of people who like to judge, like you just want to get drunk as quickly as possible.

I actually really like margaritas and moscow mules at big parties like weddings, because they feel somewhat lighter and more refreshing to me, and therefore more pleasant to drink when I'm nervous, or going to hot and sweaty from dancing, or going to be full of heavy and sugary foods.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:03 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Hi all! Thank you for your suggestions. Some came in handy at the rehearsal dinner (full bar with what appeared to be actual bartenders and waiters) and at the wedding reception (more of a typical “wedding bar” service and availability).

For the record I ended up getting Moscow mules at the rehearsal dinner (it’s always nice when somewhere has ginger beer) and vodka cran with lime and the reception (and some glasses of Sauvignon blanc). We made some jokes about vodka cran being a young sorority girl drink and I felt a bit more adult with my Sauvignon blanc. It worked out overall and thank you to everyone for the suggestions! (I always do sip on my boyfriends bourbon and ginger ale but I just can’t seem to get the taste for it)
posted by raccoon409 at 4:58 AM on February 10

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