There’s a reason cocktail bars create seasonal menus and invent their own takes on classic cocktails. If you were forced to make the same thing over and over again year after year, you might find yourself wanting to switch things up every few months too. To fight boredom, bartenders design drinks using seasonally specific ingredients and flavors or add their own local or personal twists on drinks like the old fashioned and gin & tonic. It keeps the job fresh.
But through it all, every bartender has a cocktail or two that they never tire of. For Sophie Burton, beverage director at Politan in Chicago, that’s the allure of a martini.
“The conversation and ritual behind making a person a martini never gets old,” she says. “It’s so personal that it can feel special and different each time.”
To gather a few more answers, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one cocktail they never get sick of making.
Shot and a Beer
Alexander Carlin, beverage director of Infuse Hospitality in Chicago
Shot and a beer. And I’ll have one with you. I think every bar professional by now will recognize this combination as a mixed drink as it takes a level of understanding, perfect service, and knowledge to know when to pull this gem out.
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Hjalmar de Boer, food and beverage manager at Conrad New York
A good margarita. It’s perfectly balanced between sweet and sour. At Dabble, the restaurant and bar at Conrad New York Midtown, we’ve put a creative spin on the drink with our Garden Margarita made with Seedlip’s non-alcoholic spirits. The drink still has the refreshing sweet and sour tasting notes of a margarita but is mixed in the form of a mocktail that can be enjoyed by all.
Allie Pochodzilo, bartender at The Chester in New York City
The one drink I always love to make is a Moscow Mule. It’s a classic and delicious cocktail that’s easy to make. I also love the presentation of the copper mug.
Eric Reeves, general manager at City Mouse in Chicago
I never get tired of mixing up a Last Word. Most builds for this classic cocktail calls for equal parts of the four ingredients, but I think people have really taken a liking to Green Chartreuse in recent history so I like to amp it up just a bit with an extra .25 oz or so. I love seeing people light up when they take that first sip.
Mark Syben, bar manager at Buccan in Palm Beach, Florida
I love making a Manhattan. It is a classic, timeless cocktail and I have my own twist on it that guests love. Instead of single bitters, I use blended bitters and a little oil from an orange rind over the top. You get fresh citrus on the nose, but it still drinks like a warm Manhattan.
Kieran Chavez, beverage director at Boqueria in New York City
I honestly love making mojitos. It gives me a few seconds to slow down behind the bar. I build the cocktail in the glass, so the mint is handled more gently. This also gives me a second to smell the mint and take a mental vacation, while simultaneously making a proper version of a cocktail that is so often not well made. Mojito builds are always beautiful, it’s a bonus to gaze lovingly at a drink you’ve just made.
Gin & Tonic
Nicole Walko, General Manager of Essex Pearl in New York City
My go-to cocktail is gin and tonic, but before you judge its simplicity note an important part of it – fresh tonic. Whipping up a batch of fresh tonic involves getting your hands-on quality cinchona bark, citric acid, and creating the perfect blend of spices. A pinch of allspice, a dab of cardamom, and so on. To make a truly unique drink, I have experimented with tossing in a touch of squid ink to make for a distinctively dark and playful gin and tonic cocktail.
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Olivia Duncan, bar director at Galit in Chicago
Cosmopolitan. Because it is so surprising to people when you make this drink well and it is so different than a lot of people have had. I like to ease off on the sweet stuff and use all-natural unsweetened cranberry juice when possible. Then you get just a tad more simple syrup in there, and you have a cocktail that actually tastes like its ingredients. It can be really fun.
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Wow. Just wow. One of the best drinks I've ever had. An old fashioned, with three kinds of liquor, miso and a brown butter wash. So unique and the drink was so clean. I was lucky enough to be the first customer to have it. . . . #wildturkey #nikkawhisky #nikkawhiskyfromthebarrel #bacardi #bacardiocho #toso #oldfashionedcocktail #oldfashioned
Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia
I always love playing with an old fashioned. It’s such a versatile drink that lends itself to so many innovative twists. We currently feature two on our menu, and when a guest is up for an adventure, I am happy to create any of the variations that are in my mind. It’s one of those cocktails that is a staple but is also a bit different everywhere you get it.
Andrew Lamkin, lead mixologist at The Alex Speakeasy in Washington, DC
The Sazerac. It’s technically an easy cocktail but it really gets butchered regularly. I like watching someone’s reaction the first time they try one. Luckily, in The Alex, I also get to create a lot as I go and I like to experiment. We’ve got some fun ingredients and it keeps it interesting. I also love my egg cocktails. A lot.
Alex Pendergrass, bartender at Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island
The Negroni. You can’t go wrong here. It is is a no-fuss, no-frills, easy sipper. There are so many fun variations on the cocktail too – like coffee infusing Campari or smoking with Applewood when using a barrel-aged gin base.
Cari Hah, bar manager at Big Bar in Los Angeles
The Dirty Martini is really equal parts classic and sophisticated while also signaling to everyone around you that you’re definitely game for a good time. Pro-tip on ingredients: To make a really delicious dirty martini it is critical to have good base spirits but also really good quality olive brine, like Dirty Sue. It’s a high-quality brine made specifically for bartenders to craft the very best dirty martinis! It was created by a bartender so we can be confident using it in our cocktails.
David Powell, brand ambassador at Hudson Whiskey
Daiquiris. For the exact same reason that they’re my Death Row cocktail. It’s also the first drink that I learned how to make when I was a barback at Death & Co. back in 2011, so it has a pretty sentimental place for me in my career. The funny thing is that it’s probably the one drink that I’ve not gotten any better at making over that same amount of time because once you get it right, it can’t really get that much better.