FIRST DATE DRINKS: WHAT YOUR BARTENDENER ISN’T TELLING YOU.
It shouldn’t be a surprise when a guy in a business suit orders an Old-Fashioned. Or when the Marlboro man orders a bourbon, neat, and a beer. Similarly, a man drinking a Cosmopolitan should not be surprised if his masculinity is challenged.
Fraternity brothers sip Scotch at their formals while underage sons of rosycheeked second-marriage grooms, Captain & Coke. Stoners usually go for some non-mainstream beer or an occasional retro cocktail like Vieux Carre, depending on the potency of the evening. Young fashionistas often sip Vespers, Mezcal Mules, or Aviations. Then again, there are times when the stereotypes fail. What can I say to the young woman dressed like the mannequin from a vintage boutique who requests Drambuie, neat? Maybe, when she was a little girl, her grandfather slipped a thimble in her eggnog once before singing carols around the neighborhood? Or maybe she reads Hemingway? With that said, know that what I’m about to write should only be taken as a guidepost. Nothing definitive. To continue is to enter the rainy fog of generality in which everything I’m about to say is false even though, after fifteen years experience mixing drinks, I know that’s exactly the way things are. Confused? Good. Nonetheless, I’ve chosen three commonly ordered cocktails available anywhere spirits are served–the Martini; Gin & Tonic; and the Manhattan–and attempted a mini-psychoanalysis of the person ordering each. If you have a first date on the horizon, take heed, for if the person you are meeting orders one of the following, this is what your bartender is not telling you about the company you keep.
Martini – The person who orders the clean, shaken-to-ice-shard consistency vodka martini is intense. He may not seem so at first, but there’s a lot of heat under that engine, and this is how he lets off steam, drinking a hard shaken, chilled glass of liquid courage, including: CEOs of major corporations (without a garnish) and actresses (with olives). Retired judges (and servers aft er their shift s) drink gin, stirred with a long slender spoon, garnished with a lemon twist.
Gin & Tonic – This person cares about his health, as “tonic water” was originally introduced as a medicine; its principle ingredient (quinine) is antimalarial, a superb reason for the colonial British in tropical climes to mix in a jigger of gin. Think Doctors Without Borders or just somebody who probably doesn’t spend too much of his life in bars, playing it safe. Next time, tell them if they want to stand out, try adding a bit of Fernet Branca, another medicinal spirit rumored to have remained legal during prohibition.
Manhattan – I find most Manhattan drinkers deliriously complex, especially the ones who are not afraid to return three or four in a row made wrong. For one, they’ll tell you, “Never shake a Manhattan, no, no, no, only stir. Use two ounces of rye whiskey and a full ounce of the best vermouth you have, preferably Carpano Antica,” (hopefully you’ve kept yours in the refrigerator if you don’t go through a bottle every couple of weeks). “And the cherry, don’t even think of putting one of those red #5 Franken-kirshes in my drink. Don’t you have a bottle of nice cherries, like Luxardo, somewhere? What kind of place is this?” Not sure what to order? I often revisit a few core recipes when a woman like my wife simply asks me to “Make something good.” They’re not too sweet, nor too strong. They don’t have a layer of foam, a smoking shard of dry ice, flaming twist, or other theatrical element to throw a delicate social situation out of balance. They’re relatively simple, well-balanced, and most bars should be equipped to make them without a lot of fuss.
Elderflower Fizz – My personal take on the St. Germain cocktail (see below), this bright fruit and citrus elixir has universal appeal and is as close to a silver bullet as I’ve found for helping to turn somebody new onto cocktails. 1 oz. your favorite gin ¾ oz. St. Germain ½ oz. fresh lemon 1 oz. fresh grapefruit blueberries splash of champagne Combine all but the champagne over ice in a mixing glass. Shake for thirty seconds and strain into a prechilled glass. Top with champagne fl oat. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit and fresh blueberries.
St. Germain Cocktail – The easy flavor of the elderflower liqueur adds just the right amount of sweet. And at forty proof (20% alcohol), it’s only half as strong as a typical vodka, rum, etc., so you can stay sharper longer. Prefer a little more liquid courage? Ask the bartender to add a jigger of vodka or gin. 1 oz. St. Germain (shaken over ice and strained) Fill rest of flute with a 1:1 champagne:club soda mix lemon peel twist
Lime Rickey (Mocktail) – Prefer not to drink alcohol but also don’t like to feel singled out? The “Rickey” is one of my favorite cocktail templates, yet it may work best without any booze at all. 1 oz. fresh lime juice 1 oz. simple syrup 3-5 dashes Angostura bitters Fill the rest with club soda Garnish with a cherry and twist of lime Mix the lime juice, simple syrup and bitters over ice. Shake for thirty seconds and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Add soda. Garnish with a twist of lime.