Food & Drink

How To Not Embarrass Yourself in a Fancy Cocktail Bar

Mark Yocca / Supercall

There are certain rules you must follow in all bars: tip well, don’t start fights and only buy drinks for strangers if you know what you’re doing. But some types of bars come with their own particular set of rules. If you’re in a dive bar, for example, you probably shouldn’t ask for a cocktail menu or expect to use a credit card. Conversely, if you’re in a high-end cocktail den, there’s an entirely different code of conduct to follow.

We asked some of our favorite bartenders for tips on how to act in a classy drinking establishment, and their advice was pretty simple. As Marc Falsetto from JEY Hospitality Group says, “Dress sharply, keep your mind open to new experiences and speak easy.” Follow these rules and you’re bound to have an excellent experience.

Dress the Part

“I think dress code is always the first thing to think about,” says Mike Jones of Chicago’s Sable Kitchen & Bar. “If you question what you’re wearing, chances are you’re underdressed.” There’s a time and a place for strolling into a bar wearing flip flops and cutoffs (aka summer at the beach). If you’re heading to a schmancy cocktail spot, leave the Havaianas and boardshorts behind. We’re not saying you have to wear a tuxedo or an evening gown, but putting some effort into your appearance makes a difference. Dressing up is a lost art, and a fancy cocktail bar is the perfect excuse to dust off your Sunday best.

Be Open to New Things

It’s ok to tell the bartender what you like, but don’t box yourself into one specific spirit or type of cocktail. “If you like your Martini really dirty, communicate that before we finish making the drink,” says Fred Ghiassi of MA Lounge at Los Angeles’s Estrella. “If you like it spicy, give us perspective. But leave it to us to impress you. Unlike your average bartender, the people in high-end bars are professionals and take pride in being creative.”

Mixologists experiment with flavor pairings and recipes every day. If you put your trust in them to make you something amazing, your cocktail bar experience will improve tenfold. “Bartenders who work in high-end cocktail bars will most likely want to curate something to your liking,” says Cody Goldstein of The Horny Ram and The Flying Cock in NYC. “Don’t feel intimidated by the ingredients you may not be familiar with—ask your bartender to explain so you gain the knowledge.”

Don’t Try Too Hard

“The best way to act in a high-end cocktail bar is to act like you belong, like you have been to this type of establishment before,” says Steven Gonzalez of The Living Room at the Park Hyatt New York. “Don’t try too hard, because the bartenders and other people around you will notice.”

There’s no need to be intimidated by fine, crystal glassware or foreign spirits. The whole point of visiting a bar—no matter what type of bar it is—is to have a good time. So relax and enjoy yourself instead of worrying about sounding like an amateur, or questioning the way you’re sitting or what drink you ordered. “The drinks are probably expensive and served in some type of fancy glassware, but the bartenders are just normal people who are willing to help you find your favorite libation without judging your personal choice,” Gonzalez says. “Unless it’s a Long Island Ice Tea.” Save those for the dive bar.