The Warren Column: What should I have?

Jan Warren attempts to satisfy those customers who have no idea what they want to drink

This is sort of a continuation of last month’s column, and is another question that is very challenging for most service staff to answer. I talked a little last month about simplicity of menu to streamline the process of ordering, and the simplest menu is no menu at all. In fact, one of my favourite things to do when presented with a customer’s indecision is to take the menu from them, theatrically throw it over my shoulder (this is a pro move, and not for everyone), and make the decision for them.

The process of bartender’s choice ordering can be intimidating to the uninitiated, but in essence is fairly simple to execute well, as long as you can absolutely nail the simplest cocktails. More often than not, when the question comes up, I end up making one of the core, archetypal classics. This choice often comes from a conversation like this:

“What should I have?”

“Languorous sex with a giraffe.”


“Look, I’m just kidding, but not knowing your proclivities or preferences in any way, shape, or form, that question is impossible for me to answer. What spirit do you like most?”

“I tend to drink whiskey.”

“That is an excellent start. Do you enjoy drinks that are exceptionally boozy and spirit-forward, or citrussy and refreshing?”

“I usually order a Manhattan.”

“Have you been here before, because if not, I probably have not made you a Manhattan, and I’d be willing to wager a considerable sum that I will make you one of the best, if not the very best Manhattan you have ever had.”

Of course, this sort of hubristic claptrap can only be delivered by someone like myself, who is acutely aware of his own lack of worth and position in society, and in a tone that implies the easy ability to laugh at oneself. I take the drinks seriously, but not myself. That being said, I can be supremely sure that my ingredients, methods and execution are all excellent, and that I actually DO make an exceptional version of any one of these core classics. I suppose a list of them is a good idea too, so here goes: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Martini, Daiquiri, Gimlet, Sidecar (for me, the Margarita falls into this category), Sour (both traditional and without egg white), Rickey, Collins and Fix. Confidence in execution is not the only reason behind choosing one of these drinks. I am also sure that from a customer’s appreciation for and approval of one of those simple, core classics, I can expound and expand on a theme, and give them several slight variations on it that I can be confident they will enjoy. For instance, here is a four drink ‘set’ starting with a Manhattan:

- Manhattan

- Brooklyn

- Little Italy

- Diamondback

It is easy to see a progression, both in flavour profile and alcoholic intensity, and from simple classic through a few variations. I suppose another reason to start simple is so that you can continue to impress. For instance, on a first date, if you jump out of the closet in full latex bodysuit with eye zippers and gas mask attachment, where does your sex life go from there?

I guess what I’m saying, in essence, is save that latex bodysuit for the third date, at least.