Is it Neat, Up, or Straight Up?

One of the Great Bar Debates is Answered

Chart illustrating the difference between a neat or straight up drink
Illustration: Hugo Lin. © The Spruce, 2018 

It's a common dispute in the bar and, as many bar arguments go, there is quite a bit of confusion. What exactly is the difference between a neat, an up, and a straight up drink? Let's take a look.

First of all, to simplify things, the difference between neat and up (or straight up) is simple: chilled or not.

What Is a Neat Drink?

Neat is used to order a drink that is served with no ice or mixer. This is a straight pour of liquor into the glass and is served at room temperature.​

Whiskey and brandy are often ordered neat because many people prefer them at room temperature.

What Is an Up Drink?

Up and Straight Up are usually used to describe a drink that is chilled with ice (shaken or stirred) and strained into a glass (typically a cocktail glass). ​

Straight up can bring the most confusion because drinkers use it to refer to any of the three.

Most martinis are good examples of straight up drinks.

So, What Does Straight Mean?

Straight is where things get really confusing because drinkers use it in two different ways.

  • Some use it when they order a straight pour of darker spirits (e.g. bourbon straight, which would 'technically' be neat).
  • Other drinkers use it to mean a white spirit chilled and served in a cocktail glass (e.g. vodka chilled, which would 'technically' be up).

We also have to remember that we are talking about the bar here and, given the nature of an environment that involves liquor, there is often no real right and wrong answer.

Though many of us accept the definitions above, the correct answer can often be ambiguous.

Much like trying to define what is a martini and what is not, if you are having one of these bar philosophy debates, you may find it hard to persuade the other side. It may be best to simply agree to disagree and buy the other person a drink.