9 things you are doing wrong at a cocktail bar

Jim Meehan, mixologist and co-founder of PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a speakeasy cocktail bar in Manhattan, New York.
Jim Meehan, mixologist and co-founder of PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a speakeasy cocktail bar in Manhattan, New York.ST FILE PHOTO

NEW YORK (WASHINGTON POST) - Getting a drink at a good bar. It is one of life's great pleasures.

But there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Jim Meehan, co-founder of PDT (Please Don't Tell), the Manhattan hideaway that crystalised the modern speakeasy trend and won World's Best Bar in the process, has strong feelings about how to behave when you're getting a cocktail-at least at those places that do not specialise in body shots or fluorescent drinks.

The following are Meehan's rules on being a bar pro.

1. Asking the bartender what is good.
Did you come to the bar to have a shot of Fernet and a can of High Life? Well then, asking bartenders what they like to drink does not help. At any reputable bar their job is to fix a drink based on your preference, not theirs. Most will answer by asking a variation of the question: "What do you like to drink?" This is your chance to give them something to work with: "I like tequila" or "something tropical". If there are spirits or cocktails you don't like, tell them up front - just don't make it a five-minute debate.

2. Adhering to your no-added-sugar diet.
Here's the way it works when a professional mixes a drink: Any cocktail that includes citrus or some kind of acidic ingredient needs a sweetener for balance. It's what every bartender strives for, a balance among strong, sweet, and sour, and to completely cut out one of the pillars will create something you will not want to drink. Trust me. In the event that you are especially sensitive to sweetness or don't want any sugar in your cocktail, say, "I take my drinks very dry" or order a highball, such as whisky soda or a gin rickey. Or a shot.

3. Substituting your favourite spirit.
If you prefer a Beefeater Martini or a Wild Turkey Manhattan, you're more than welcome to request one - and I recommend it - in a classic cocktail. But "house" cocktails created by the bar staff are a different matter. That bartender specifically chose the gin, rum, mezcal, etc., for their creation. Asking the bartender to substitute your favourite bottle is the equivalent of a hasty move in a game of Jenga: It has the potential to topple the stack and ruin the drink. The one exception: If your last name is Beam or Daniels.

4. Sending back half-empty drinks.
You have every right to enjoy your US$15+ (S$25+) cocktail. If it is flawed in a way that will diminish your experience, you should ask for a replacement. Any good bar will respect your choice.

But there is a right time and way to do this-as soon as you have tasted the drink, and by making eye contact with your server or bartender when they are in your vicinity. It is never fun to have a drink you mixed sent back, so be nice when you ask for something else, and do not yell across any distance to get someone's attention. If you take this route, order something you know you like, so there's no repeat performance. No one wants to hear you did not like your cocktail twice in a row, or after you have finished half of it, which is the universal sign that it was satisfactory.

5. Dissing the server.
Nothing is more demeaning to people who take pride in their work than assuming they do not know the product they are working with. If you have a technical question about a spirit, cocktail, or anything related, first ask the person who is taking care of you. Many top cocktail bars, including mine, rotate their bar staff on and off the floor. If you're at PDT, chances are you are being served by a bartender. Remember the hashtag #respect.

6. Tipping US$1 tip per drink.
Tipping is personal, so I am not going to tell you how much-or even if-you should tip. But I will say that the amount of elbow grease that goes into the juices, syrups, infusions, and preparation of your US$15 Gin Gin Mule is significantly more than the bottle of Stella someone opened at your local. Most guests tip 20 per cent for fancy cocktails. You do not have to, but you should know what is standard.

7. Guilt ordering a cocktail.
I stock four delicious craft beers and three local wines at PDT, and I take pride in making non-alcoholic cocktails. I even stock a German non-alcoholic beer that I will happily drink. More and more cocktail bars are upping their wine and beer games; if they are not, feel free to hold it against them. If you do want to drink booze but do not see anything to your liking on the cocktail menu, do not feel bad about requesting a classic that is not on the menu, such as a Negroni or an Old-Fashioned, Daiquiri, or Manhattan. The bartender is there to give you what you want. Just remember Rule No. 1.

8. Overstaying your welcome.
Especially in high-rent cities such as New York and London, your seat at a popular bar or restaurant is a commodity with high overhead costs. Operators will be grateful if you treat it that way, which is best demonstrated by eating and drinking (i.e. spending money) while you're occupying it and vacating within 20 minutes of finishing your drinks. If you would like more time, you can always ask. Keep track: Three drinks a person, 30 minutes apart, is a good rule of thumb for a good night out.

9. Being that guy.
If you are wondering whether you have had too much to drink, you probably have. Many states hold bars and bartenders legally responsible for the safety of their guests after they leave the bar. If you sense you are about to be cut off, avoid a fight you are not going to win.