Cocktails in bars & cocktail menus

Words by Simon Difford

Cocktails in bars & cocktail menus image 1

A "cocktail bar" should offer great tasting, well-balanced cocktails made using quality ingredients and fresh juices but as the style of bars vary enormously, so do they cocktails they serve.

  • A selection of classic and contemporary cocktails with at least one house signature cocktail.
  • Better to make a few perfect cocktails than offer a list of 100 mostly badly made ones. Many of the world's best bars have less than a dozen cocktails on their menus.
  • Menus should only list cocktails which all the bartenders are confident and proficient at making.
  • If the cocktail menu is in book form, the first page should summarise all cocktails for quick reference so drinkers can concentrate on their friends or date, rather than leafing through a book in search of a cocktail.
  • Bars should list classic cocktails they are proud to present. "Our skilled bartenders can make any cocktail you ask for" is a ridiculous statement on any menu. Available ingredients aside, have you seen how many classic cocktails are on this website alone?
  • Great signature cocktails can help drive a bar's reputation. Examples include the Bellini at Harry's Bar, Venice, the Sidecar at Harry's Bar, Paris, the Singapore Sling at Raffle's Hotel, Singapore, the frozen Daiquiri at Havana's El Floridita, Tommy's Margarita at Tommy's in San Francisco. Dukes Martini at Dukes Bar. The Irish coffee at San Francisco's Buena Vista Cafe.
  • Alcohol-free "temperance cocktails" should be available. No one should feel excluded from participating when their friends are drinking cocktails.
  • Every bar that serves cocktails should routinely serve complimentary iced water to accompany them.
  • Personally, I prefer freshly pressed citrus fruit over acid solutions. I accept that in clement climates such as the UK, using citrus fruit is far from sustainable, but cocktails are a luxurious treat. Drinking locally craft-made beer or wine is the best way to drink sustainably, but perhaps less of a treat.
  • As with food menus, cocktail lists should clearly display allergens, and all staff should be aware that ingredients like orgeat contain nuts.
  • Cocktail menus should convey if a cocktail is long, short, over ice, or straight-up.
  • Cocktails on this website show how alcoholic they are and whether they are sweet or sour/bitter. It would help drinkers make appropriate choices if this guidance appeared on more bar menus. (I stole the idea from the menu at Pouring Ribbons in Manhattan (sadly now shuttered )
  • Great bars have great ice for their cocktails, preferably served over moulded/carved ice.
  • Cocktails should be served in clean, elegant, chilled and not overly large glassware.
  • Garnishes should be edible and suit the cocktail (or be very useful/entertaining). Pineapple fronds are only suited to garnishing compost heaps.

  • I'd value your thoughts, preferences and observations. Please add your contribution in the discussion below.

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