Your Guide to the Most Popular Bar Drinks

  • 01 of 07

    Learn Basic Cocktails and Mixed Drinks

    Bar cocktails
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    Cocktail and mixed drink recipes are everywhere and there are thousands of drinks you can choose from and mix up. What if you want to begin with the basics? Begin your exploration with a guide through the most popular bar drinks. It's useful for home and professional bartenders alike.

    Start With the Basic Bar Drinks

    The list of basic bar drinks includes the most popular highballs, lowballs, martinis, tropical drinks, and shots. These are the mixed drinks that you should be able to order at almost any bar and which every bartender should be able to make.

    They're often extremely simple and act as inspiration for other drinks. Many also happen to be very easy to memorize because the name frequently tells you what to pour and many are related to one another.

    Not only will these beginner's drinks act as the basis for your cocktail repertoire, they will also familiarize you with the basic bartending techniques you will need in the future. From pouring liquor to stirring and using a muddler or a cocktail shaker, these essential drinks are the perfect way to get some practice behind the bar.

    So, You Want to Be a Pro Bartender?

    If you hope to make bartending a career or at least use it to make some quick cash, then you need to have the most basic drinks memorized. You cannot afford to waste time and look up the recipe for every drink order, particularly those that are very popular like the White Russian and Moscow Mule.

    Do yourself a favor and take the time to put many of these recipes to memory. Once you get going, it becomes easier to remember them and you will find yourself becoming more efficient in the bar. This can lead to bigger tips and promotions. 

    Also, be aware that each region and individual bar has their own favorite drinks. You will need to know more drinks based on where you work and you may never make some of these cocktails. Be sure to adapt your own drink database to your particular job.

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  • 02 of 07

    Tall, Refreshing Highball Drinks in the Bar

    Vodka tonic
    LauriPatterson / Getty Images

    Highballs are tall, simple mixed drinks that are easy to remember.

    Begin With the Essential Highball Drinks

    It's best to begin your bartending experience with the easiest drinks that everyone knows and loves. These are those tall, refreshing mixed drinks that are a hit at happy hour. They often require just two or three ingredients and a bar spoon for stirring.

    Highballs are generally mixed in an ice-filled highball or collins glass with a shot of a base spirit that is topped with a mixer or two (like juice or soda). These include the easiest mixed drinks and they are difficult to screw up. Yet, they are good practice for familiarizing yourself with the basics of pouring drinks as well as the primary ingredients and the layout of the bar.

    Vodka Highballs You Need to Know

    The most used liquor in the bar is vodka and you will find it in the majority of drink recipes. Among those, the Bloody Mary is one of the most popular. You can build it right in the glass or use a pre-made bloody mary mix (it's best from scratch) that allows you to simply top a shot of vodka with the spiced tomato juice mix. This shortcut is often seen in bars.

    Vodka is also mixed with a single fruit juice and the Cape Codder (cranberry juice - aka Vodka Cranberry), Greyhound (grapefruit juice), and Screwdriver (orange juice) are three essential mixed drinks you should know. If you'd like to get a little more complex, add a second juice and create one of these:

    A few simple vodka and soda drinks should also be on your radar and the hottest of the lot are the Moscow Mule (ginger beer) and Vodka Tonic (tonic water). Again, they are simple 'pour and stir' drinks, so you should have no problems. 

    To round off your vodka highball experience, be sure to add these drinks to your list. They're not quite as well-known or as popular as they once were, but they're good to know anyway.

    Whiskey Highballs to Know

    Most of the volume of a highball drink is made up of the non-alcoholic mixer and that creates drinks which are relatively light on the alcohol. This makes the highball style a great way to enjoy your whiskey without the heavy buzz.

    There is, of course, the basic Highball drink which simply mixes your favorite whiskey with ginger ale. You will also encounter the Jack & Coke with Jack Daniel's, the Scotch & Soda (club soda) and, on occasion, someone who wants a Seven & Seven (Seagram's 7 Whiskey with 7-Up).

    To add to your whiskey-soda line up, there is the famous Whiskey and Ginger. It goes by many names, including the Jameson & Ginger or Irish Buck. This is a simple mixed drink of Irish whiskey and ginger ale. Other specific brands (like Bushmills) can be 'called' as well and some drinkers prefer to switch to ginger beer.

    The collins family of drinks is a simple highball drink formula and the whiskey version is the most popular. This is known as the John Collins, a simple mix of bourbon, lemon, syrup, club soda. Yet, you can also switch from whiskey to gin and have a Tom Collins or use any variety of liquor as the base to create a variation on the 'collins.'

    The Lynchburg Lemonade is the last of the absolutely essential whiskey highballs and it's a bit more complex than Jack and Lemonade. To make a proper Lynchburg Lemonade, mix Jack Daniels with triple sec, sour mix, and lemon-lime soda.

    The Easy Gin Highball Drinks

    The most common way to enjoy gin at the average bar or restaurant is as a highball. Among these, the famous Gin & Tonic takes top honors and it's a nice, relaxing drink that's fantastic with any meal.

    Building on the G&T's popularity, you should also be able to mix up any of these gin highballs:

    Rum & Tequila Highballs for Any Bar

    Rum is frequently poured in bars and the Rum & Coke is among the most common drink orders. It's a very easy drink to make and a great option when you simply don't know what you want.

    To add a little more spice to the rum-soda routine, give the Dark & Stormy a try. It replaces the cola with ginger beer and is rum's answer to the Moscow Mule.

    Tequila makes an appearance in a handful of highballs, but the best-known is the Tequila Sunrise (orange juice and grenadine). A refreshing alternative is the  Paloma (lime and grapefruit soda) and this is quickly becoming a new favorite, so it's just as important.

    3 Popular Tall Drinks to Finish Up

    There are a few popular tall drinks that are a little more complicated but the key to rounding off your bartending knowledge in this category. 

    • Black & Tan - A layered beer drink of Guinness Stout and pale ale beer.
    • Long Island Iced Tea - The infamous bar drink that's made from five liquors (and no tea).
    • Smith & Kearns - It's not as hot as it once was, but it is a tasty throwback drink of coffee liqueur, cream, and club soda.
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  • 03 of 07

    The Coolest Lowball Drinks On the Rocks

    Popular White Russian Vodka Cocktail Recipe
    Simple and satisfying, the White Russian will long remain a favorite cocktail. Shannon Graham

    Easy to memorize, lowballs are often served on the rocks and are simple mixed drinks.

    Essential Short Drinks on the Rocks

    Another category of popular bar drinks includes those we like to call 'lowballs' or 'rocks' drinks. These are just as easy to create as the highballs, often pairing a liquor with one or two mixers. They get their name because they're served in a lowball, or old-fashioned, glass and ice is almost always involved.

    Unlike highballs, these mixed drinks tend to include a liqueur like amaretto or coffee for extra flavor. Due to the lower volume and additional alcohol, you will also find these to be a bit stronger, but that's okay because they're meant to be sipped slowly. 

    Memorizing most of these drinks should be quite easy because many are related to one another. With a simple switch of ingredients or an addition here and there, a new drink is created.

    Delicious Kahlua On the Rocks 

    Kahlua is, of course, not the only coffee liqueur, but it is among the most popular in the bar. It is the brand that many drinkers associate with drinks like the vodka-based Black Russian. The coffee flavor also lends itself to the simple addition of cream and this creates the White Russian.

    These two mixed drinks form the foundation for a variety of other recipes:

    • Mudslide - Pour Irish cream into the vodka-coffee mix.
    • Colorado Bulldog - Top your White Russin with cola.
    • Dirty Mother - Switch to brandy and adding cream makes a Dirty White Mother.
    • Brave Bull - Skip the cream and pour tequila instead.

    Mixing Amaretto On The Rocks

    Right behind coffee liqueur comes amaretto and this liqueur creates equally delicious lowballs.  This collection of drinks begins with the Toasted Almond, a simple mix of amaretto and coffee liqueurs with cream. You can add vodka to that and you'll have a Roasted Toasted Almond.

    If you would simply like to enjoy vodka and amaretto, you would have a Godmother. Pour scotch instead and a Godfather is yours to enjoy. Should you switch to cognac, you would have a French Connection.

    More Casual Lowball Bar Drinks

    If you're looking for a delicious and easy mixed drink to serve on a moment's notice, the  Nutty Irishman is a fantastic option. It is a flavorful mix of Irish whiskey, Irish cream, and Frangelico and there are a few ways to serve this popular combo.

    For something considerably sweeter, the Peppermint Patty has long been a hit and many bartenders have their own take on this mint-chocolate sipper. Should something fruity sound good, give the Nuts and Berries (Frangelico, Chambord, cream) a try.

    For those drinkers who want something short and flavorful without the sweet cream, the Surfer on Acid is an excellent choice. The mix of coconut rum, Jagermeister, and pineapple juice is always hit.

    Stick Drinks On the Rocks

    The following drinks are in a category of their own; they are 'stick drinks.' Essentially, this means that they require the use of a muddler to mix a few of the ingredients before finishing the drink. This is a slightly more advanced bartending skill though it's really easy once you get the hang of it.

    With the exception of the Old-fashioned (whiskey, sugar, bitters, and orange), most muddled drinks are served over ice and can be either tall or short. 

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  • 04 of 07

    It's Time for a Round of Shots

    Bartender pouring shots
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    Popular shooters come and go, though a few remain favorites and are drinks everyone should know

    Line Up the Shot Glasses

    Before we dive into 'fancy' bar drinks, let's review the party shots that every bartender should know. This is where things get very crazy because shooter recipes can vary greatly for the same drinks and there are many local favorites.

    Some bars will serve a lot of shots on high-traffic party nights. They're hot with the younger crowd and they don't always know what they want. This means that a bartender should be on the ball and have a good list of shots memorized.

    The Hottest Tequila Shots

    There are many ways to take a shot of tequila. You can drink it straight or do the customary Tequila Shot with salt and either lemon or lime. You might also want to serve up the two-part shot known as a Sangrita, which can be made in two entirely different ways.

    Tequila shots certainly are fun and here are a few more ways to spice it up:

    Whiskey Shots for Everyone

    Yes, you can simply take a straight shot of whiskey, but where's the fun in that? 

    Whiskey shooters are often a bit more interactive and can be a two-part drink like the popular Pickleback (Jameson's Irish Whiskey, pickle juice). They can also include dropped shots such as the Irish Car Bomb (Irish whiskey, Irish cream liqueur, Guinness) or the drinker can choose how to slam it as is common with the Boilermaker (blended whiskey, draft beer).

    The fun does not stop there and if you're pouring whiskey, you should really try some of these popular shots.

    • Red Snapper - Crown Royal, amaretto, cranberry juice
    • *Snake Bite - Yukon Jack, lime juice
    • *Three Wise Men - Johnnie Walker Scotch, Jim Beam Bourbon, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey
    • Washington Apple - Canadian whiskey, sour apple schnapps, cranberry juice

    Don't Forget the Vodka

    Vodka frequently makes it into a shot glass as well and these shooters are some of the most flavorful of the tiny, fast drinks. Among the longtime favorites are the interactive Lemon Drop (lemon wedge, sugar) and Mind Eraser (coffee liqueur, soda).

    You will also find requests for the tart Kamikaze (orange liqueur, lime juice) and the surprising Chocolate Cake (hazelnut liqueur, lemon). On the fruitier side, the Melon Ball (melon liqueur, pineapple juice) and Purple Hooter (black raspberry liqueur, lime juice) are hits as well.

    Learn to Create Layered Shots

    You can really show off your bartending skills if you learn how to create layered shooters like the popular B-52 (coffee liqueur, Irish cream liqueur, orange liqueur). There's a bit of a trick to it, but it's definitely worth practicing and it's all about the order of the pour.

    The Weird and Wacky of Bar Shots

    We're all adults here and if you get offended easily, bar shooters are not the drinks for you. Racy names like the Blow Job (Bailey's Irish Cream, amaretto) and Orgasm (Irish cream liqueur, amaretto liqueur, coffee liqueur) are par for the course in the bar.

    They're actually tasty little drinks, as is the Redheaded Slut (Jägermeister, peach schnapps, cranberry juice). Yet, those like the Cement Mixer (Baileys Irish Cream, lime juice) are what you might call gag shots (and that has a dual meaning) which you can mix up or order for a friend.

    Bartenders and party hosts may also want to know these very popular shots:

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  • 05 of 07

    On the Martini Menu

    Dry martini
    Rob Lawson / Getty Images

    Not every bar will serve martinis and other fancy drinks, though they are good to know.

    Get to Know Your Martinis

    There are many cocktails that are generally accepted as 'martinis' though it's also important to note that there is only one true Martini (gin and dry vermouth). These are the drinks that you will spot on martini menus and they are a bit more involved when it comes to mixing.

    'Martinis' (or more appropriately "up" drinks) are normally served in a chilled cocktail glass, yet some can be served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. They are either shaken or stirred in a cocktail shaker then strained into the serving glass. It's really not that hard, it simply requires a few extra steps.

    While these are considered essential for bartenders, the exact recipes do not always agree. Some bars have their own recipes and many bartenders will add their own twist as well. However, these recipes will give you a good idea of where to start.

    The Complexity of Ordering a Martini 

    Ordering or serving a gin or vodka martini is not as simple as some other drinks. Everyone has their personal preference and it's very important that you find out how the person you're mixing for likes theirs.

    1. Liquor preference (often specific brands)
    2. Garnish preference (olives, lemon twist, etc.)
    3. Shaken or Stirred
    4. Dry, Dirty, Perfect

    You might come across someone who enjoys a Perfect Martini with equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth. Another person may enjoy a Dirty Martini with a small amount of olive brine. Others may like theirs:

    • Dry Martini - 1/2 the amount of dry vermouth
    • Extra Dry Martini - couple of drops of dry vermouth
    • Bone Dry Martini (Desert Martini) - no vermouth

    You can even use those cocktail onions and this simple garnish change creates a Gibson. Optionally, you can create the Martinez (sweet vermouth, maraschino, bitters) which is known as the grandfather of the Martini.

    When it comes to gin-based martinis, you will find that these cocktails are nice to know as well:

    Ah, Those Vodka Martinis

    Vodka dominates the modern martini menu for many bars and there are thousands of recipes to choose from. Unlike gin, vodka martinis tend to be filled with a variety of flavors, from the sweet Chocolate Martinis to the fruity Apple Martinis. This is also where it gets complicated because few recipes for the same drink are the same.

    The most famous vodka martini is the Cosmopolitan and it's a cocktail that can be as sweet or dry as you like. What everyone does agree on is that the drink includes orange liqueur and cranberry juice.

    From there, we can add fruity martinis like the Kamikaze (lime juice, triple sec) and Lemon Drop (lemon juice, simple syrup) to the 'top hits' list. You might also find a Woo Woo (peach schnapps, cranberry juice) and Key Lime Pie Martini (vanilla vodka, triple sec, pineapple juice, lime cordial) on a number of today's menus.

    Vodka martinis come in many flavors and among the most popular are:

    Enjoy Your Whiskey Manhattan

    When we switch from gin to whiskey, we step from the world of martinis into the realm of the popular Manhattan. Again, this cocktail can be served 'dry' or 'perfect' though sweet vermouth is the preference here.

    Building off of that whiskey drink, you can switch to brandy for a Metropolitan or scotch for a Rob Roy. Add absinthe to that for the classic Robert Burns. Should you wish to turn back to rye whiskey and keep the absinthe, you will have a Waldorf.

    Are you confused yet? In reality, all the Martinis and Manhattans are related and after some time behind the bar, this will be a breeze to remember.

    Whiskey also gets some extra flavor at times and you can mix up these popular cocktails as well:

    • Algonquin - rye whiskey, dry vermouth, pineapple juice
    • Blood and Sand - Scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth, orange juice
    • Millionaire - curacao, raspberry liqueur, grenadine, egg
    • Washington Apple - Crown Royal, sour apple schnapps, cranberry juice

    Brandy in the Cocktail Lounge

    Fancy drinks for fancy bars, so that must mean that we finally get to mix with brandy, right? It's true that brandy doesn't make many appearances in the average bar, but when we step it up in style, this spirit is a natural choice.

    It often begins with something as simple and sophisticated as the B&B, a snifter of brandy and Benedictine. The Brandy Alexander (chocolate liqueur, cream) also makes a regular appearance. 

    Depending on the bar, you might also find one of the Corpse Reviver recipes or a Sidecar or two. This is particularly true for those establishments interested in reviving classic cocktails.

    More Fancy Classic Cocktails

    Included on many of today's cocktail menus are those that are true classic cocktails but do not fall into the 'martini' category. Some of these are served 'up' and others are on the rocks.

    At the top of this class of drinks are bar icons like the Rusty Nail (Scotch, Drambuie). It is often accompanied by the New Orleans Fizz (gin, citrus, cream, egg), the Sazerac (rye whiskey, absinthe), and the Vieux Carre (rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine), all of which are New Orleans originals. 

    Sour drinks like the classic Whiskey Sour (whiskey, lemon juice, syrup) have long been favorites as well. You might choose to sweeten it with grenadine in a Ward Eight or with Grand Marnier in the Whiskey Daisy. Then again, you can get a little exotic and mix up the popular Pisco Sour.

    This also brings up those famous Campari-based cocktails that are best served before a meal and can often be found at high-end restaurants.

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  • 06 of 07

    Popular Tropical Cocktails and the Tiki Bar

    Frozen margarita
    Penina Meisels / Getty Images

    Rum and tequila make up the majority of tropical cocktails and these are very popular.

    Margaritas, Daiquiris, and More

    First of all, let's dispell one of the biggest myths of the bar: the Margarita and Daiquiri are not difficult to make from scratch. Each cocktail requires just three basic ingredients that are found in any bar and they have inspired countless other cocktails that have taken on the names.

    How easy are the Margarita and Daiquiri? It's as simple as shaking these ingredients:

    From there, you can add any flavor you like to create the likes of a Strawberry Daiquiri or a Pomegranate Margarita. They can also be served on the rocks, straight, or blended and with or without a salt or sugar rim.

    Once you have an understanding of those two cocktails, you can build on the tropical sour base. Mix up great cocktails like the Cable Car (Captain Morgan, curacao, sour mix), Pegu Club Cocktail (gin, orange liqueur, lime juice), and Between the Sheets (brandy, rum, triple sec, lemon juice).

    More Popular Tropical Fruit Cocktails

    We cannot talk about tropical cocktails without mentioning the famous Piña Colada. It's a delicious mix of rum, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut that can be blended or shaken.

    You will also want to know the fruity vodka drink known as the Sex on the Beach because it's perfect for those 'I don't know what I want' moments. The New Orleans classic Hurricane is a rum option that falls into this category as well.

    Cocktails From the Tiki Bar

    If you're ready to join the tiki scene, there are a number of famous tiki cocktails that you will want to know. These recipes can become very complex and the ingredient lists quite long. However, they are essential in tiki bars and it's important to realize that rarely will you find two recipes that are the same.

    • Bahama Mama - dark and high-proof rums, coffee and coconut liqueurs, lemon and pineapple juices
    • Blue Hawaiian - rum, blue curacao, creme de coconut, pineapple juice
    • Mai Tai - light and dark rums, curacao, orgeat
    • Rum Runner - rum, blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, orange juice
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  • 07 of 07

    Essential Non-Alcoholic Bar Drinks

    Virgin mary
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    Don't forget about the non-drinkers and have a mocktail or two in your repertoire to mix up.

    It's Not All About the Alcohol

    While the majority of people in the bar are going to want to drink alcohol, not everyone will. It is important to have a few non-alcoholic mixed drinks in your memory bank to make them feel special as well.

    Mocktails are great for designated drivers, pregnant women, and other non-drinkers. You can also use these as an alternative suggestion for patrons that may need a break from alcohol. It's nice to offer one or two options if you're hosting a party as well.

    The Essential Mocktails

    Among the most popular drinks in this category are the famous Arnold Palmer (lemonade, iced tea) and the Shirley Temple (grenadine, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda). Every bartender and waitress should know these and customers should be able to order them at any bar or restaurant.

    For casual bar drinks, the Lime & Tonic (splash of lime juice topped with tonic water) and Lime Cola (lime juice, cola) are nice as well. The classic Roy Rogers (grenadine, cola) is sometimes called a 'homemade cherry coke' in the bar and every sports bar should know that a Virgin Mary is a Bloody Mary without the liquor.

    If you're looking for more popular options, give one of these tasty drinks a try.