Unless you’re finishing up your undergrad years, the days of ordering Rum and Cokes and Vodka Crans are over. There’s better stuff to drink out there, and no excuse not to try it. Besides, the social value in knowing the most classic of cocktails is immeasurable. Although you don’t need to intimately acquaint yourself with the chemical makeup of each one, you might as well learn the basics. Such as the difference between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned, or the correct way to serve a Daiquiri or Margarita.
After all, drink trends rise and fade away. There are a time and a place for spiked seltzer (anything outdoors that involves a patio grill) and low-ABV beer (anytime you’re juggling drinking with physical activity). But at the bar, in the evening hours, a cocktail is in order. Especially if the draft list is uninspired. Especially if you’re looking to flex your newly formed drinking muscles.
To limit the list of cocktails worth knowing to a manageable length, we rounded up the 10 most popular bar drinks—beer and wine excluded—in 2019, as tallied by Drinks International. Even if you aren’t familiar with them, your bartender will be, so order with confidence and drink happily.
1. Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is as classic as they come and perfect for anyone who likes their whiskey drinks on the sweeter side. Rye will make it spicier.
• 2 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey
• 3 dashes Angostura bitters
• 1 sugar cube (or 1/2 tsp. loose sugar)
• club soda
Place sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Wet it down with Angostura bitters and a splash of club soda, then muddle. Add a large ice cube and whiskey. Stir, then garnish with an orange twist.
The Negroni is the epitome of summer drinking: sweet, sun-kissed, and refreshing.
• 1 oz. London dry gin
• 1 oz. Campari
• 1 oz. vermouth Rosso
Shake ingredients well with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass—with or without ice, your call—and garnish with an orange twist.
3. Whiskey Sour
For those nights when you want to cleanse your palate, opt for a puckery Whiskey Sour. Specify bourbon for this one.
• 2 oz. bourbon
• 2/3 oz. lemon juice
• 1 tsp. superfine sugar
Shake ingredients well with cracked ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Speaking of summertime cocktails, the Daiquiri is a citrusy marriage of rum and lime (and the preferred drink of Ernest Hemingway). Strained is preferred.
• 2 oz. white rum
• 1/2 tsp. superfine sugar
• 1/2 oz. lime juice
Squeeze lime into a shaker, stir in sugar, then add rum. Shake well with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
While quality whiskey is important, the key to a great Manhattan is the sweet vermouth. So always ask for Carpano Antica. Trust us, it will make all the difference.
• 2 oz. rye whiskey
• 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
• 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist or maraschino cherry.
6. Dry Martini
A classic martini technically should be made with gin, although if you prefer vodka, that’s no sin either. Order it up and stirred, not shaken (sorry 007).
• 4 oz. gin or vodka
• 1 oz. dry vermouth
Stir vermouth and gin with cracked ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an olive.
7. Espresso Martini
Coffee and booze in one drink—you really can’t complain about that. Just make sure the bar has fresh espresso on hand before you order it.
• 1 oz. vodka
• 1 oz. coffee liqueur
• 1 oz. freshly brewed espresso
• 1 tsp. simple syrup
Shake ingredients with ice until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with espresso beans.
The Margarita is the workhorse of summer. It’s best made with a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier, and if you like it a little sweeter, ask your bartender to add agave syrup.
• 2 oz. silver tequila
• 1 oz. Cointreau
• 1 oz. lime juice
• coarse salt for the rim
Rub the rim of a chilled cocktail glass with lime juice and dip in coarse salt. Shake tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and ice in a mixing glass, then strain into the salted glass over ice.
9. Aperol Spritz
The Aperol Spritz gets a bad rap for being bitter and basic. But for daytime drinking, you really can’t beat it. Just ask all the bar patrons crowding the patio around you, Spritzes in hand.
• 1 part prosecco
• 1 part Aperol
• 1 splash club soda
• orange slices
Fill a wine glass with ice. Add equal parts prosecco and Aperol, and a splash of club soda. Garnish with fresh orange slices.
10. Moscow Mule
Russia may be a heated subject right now, but this cocktail is crisp and refreshing and good for any season. Plus it (usually) comes in a cool copper mug.
• 2 oz. vodka
• 4-6 oz. ginger beer
• 1/2 oz. lime juice
Squeeze lime juice into a Moscow Mule mug, then drop in spent shell. Add 2-3 ice cubes and vodka, then fill with ginger beer.