James Bond has perhaps the most famous order of all time (although he prefers bourbon in the novels). Hemingway has a daiquiri named after him. Every bartender in the world knew what Lemmy was ordering when he walked into the room. And yes, the Dude abides, so kick up the Kahlua.

A bar is not your local Starbucks, where it is acceptable to stand in line and ponder the drinks as if they are going to change the rest of your life. It is perfectly acceptable to want to try something new, ask for suggestions, or check out the menu.

There are two essential things to remember when ordering a drink: know thy surroundings and know thyself. Martini’s don’t cut it at tailgates any more than a Bud Light at a cocktail bar. Therefore, the key to knowing what to order is understanding the situation.

1) Know Thy Surroundings

Bartender mixing cocktail in shaker behind bar
Bartender mixing cocktail in shaker behind bar

Once I was galavanting with an old friend of mine in Tampa Bay. We were at a place that shall remain nameless, that was not, shall we say, high class. The floors were sticky, the furniture a mess, and we indeed weren’t witnessing the “A” team. It was like that moment out of a Western, heads turned, opinions were formed, and we were marked as fresh blood.

After ungluing our feet from the floor, we saddled up to the bar, which was exceptionally well-stocked, given the surroundings. An attractive bartender walked up to us, happy to see someone spending money, and asked, “What’ll you have?”

“I’ll take an Old Fashioned,” I said, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

“You?” She responded to my friend.


Immediately, I turned to my friend and asked, “What the hell, man? Order something real. We’re here to enjoy ourselves.”

“Look around. Do you really want anyone in this place touching your drink?”

“Two beers, please.”

Every bar is different. My dad once told me, “When you’re at a steakhouse order steak.” The same is true with bars.

Some bars make margaritas, others daiquiris. Cocktail bars have come back into vogue, and dive bars will always hold a special place in the American heart; however, every bar does one thing well, maybe two, rarely three. A college bar isn’t going to serve up fresh vermouth with a martini any more than a dive will carry Amaro. Additionally, if the bar is slammed and the music pumping louder than the fans in Mercedes Benz Stadium, don’t order anything complicated. The bartender will thank you.

2) Know Thyself

Entrepreneur drinking signature bourbon from glass at bar
Entrepreneur drinking signature bourbon from glass at bar

What do all the great drinkers have in common? Other than the fact that many of them had livers made of iron, they all understood how to drink. It seems silly to point this out; however, many of us never learned to drink properly.

Perhaps we were handed a Swamp Juice or Trashcan Punch when we were at a kegger or told to chug a beer. Maybe you snuck a sip of Bailey’s from the fridge when no one was looking. Perhaps college was a coming-out party, and the innocent athlete turned to a party animal. Therefore, many liquors and spirits are labeled “bad” or “good,” and we never give them a second thought.

Many people have an allergic reaction to wine. Some people cannot stomach beer. Tequila makes her clothes come off and may makes his temper flare (however, I don’t really blame the booze for either). Just like understanding the environment, imbibers need to know what they like, what they don’t like, and what they can handle. It’s one thing to give in to peer pressure at a college bar and do a round of shots. It’s another thing to give in to peer pressure the day before a huge presentation and do a series of shots.

The key to knowing what to drink is knowing what you want.

It would be a cop-out if I didn’t live up to the title of this article. While it is more important to understand where you are and who you are when it comes to ordering a drink, the article’s bloody title is “The One Drink.”

Therefore, if there is such a thing as a “catchall” order, it is this: bourbon.

That’s it. Scotch can be expensive and is risky. Vodka is not meant to be drunk without other ingredients, and neither is gin. Wine can sit out for days half corked at some bars, and beer doesn’t always live up to the occasion.

Portrait of bartender garnishing a bourbon with an orange
Portrait of bartender garnishing a bourbon with an orange

If you are ever in doubt about what to order, simply ask for a bourbon, preferably neat, but there is nothing wrong with a little ice. Right now, bourbon has experienced an enormous boom. While Jim Beam and Jack Daniels are classic standards every bar will carry, in all likelihood, there will be a slew of brown bottles lining the back of the bar. Meaning, there will be plenty of options to sip on.

Good bourbon can stand on its own. Hell, the average bourbon can stand on its own. It’s as American, if not more, than apple pie and, honestly, apple pie is improved with a little bourbon in it. Bourbon is meant to be sipped and enjoyed, looks classy as hell in a glass, and fits all environments. Weddings? Check. Birthdays? Check? Barbecues, bar mitzvahs, and boys night out? Check, check, check.

Drinks are tricky. Not every bar is good at them. I once had a bartender pour me a tall glass of Hedricks when I asked for a martini, but if you know what you want and you know where you are, then you will make the right decision about what to order. Most of the time I’ll take a martini. In the summer, hit me with a Hemingway. However, when it comes to what the simplest, most enjoyable drink to order that never lets me down, it’s bourbon.

From the bottle to the glass, it’s the one drink that delivers every time.

What is your go-to signature drink to order? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.