Cocktail bars wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for classic cocktails. The whole cocktail renaissance was based on rediscovering and bringing back the best drinks of the past because classic flavor combinations just work, plain and simple. But once everyone and their third cousin discovers that they too would like to join the horde of fans of a certain classic, bartenders’ perception of the drink can sour. Sure, people will order it and bartenders will make it, but they’ll have some strong feelings about the drink while doing so. Here are the most overrated classic cocktails, according to 10 bartenders.
“People order these when they are ready to have a crazy night because they think it has tons of alcohol in it, but all it does is signal the bartender you are a rookie,” Genese Perez, the creative director for Monarch Rooftop and Addison Hospitality Group, says.
What to drink instead: You’re “better off ordering something straight or on the rocks.”
“I think the most overrated cocktail is the Old Fashioned,” Juan Pablo Torre, the founder of Bar Garcia in Los Angeles, says. “I drink bourbon, whisky or scotch in order to taste the infinite flavors those individual batches can offer. When you add sugar and bitters, all the flavor gets muddled and can dissipate into a sugary poison.”
Federico Avila, the general manager at Bar Belly, agrees. “It’s simply a sweet take on a whiskey that served as a statement cocktail in the past,” he says.
What to drink instead: Whiskey straight is a solid option, Torre suggests. If you still want something resembling an Old Fashioned, try swapping out the base whiskey for an aged rum, Josh Baker, the head bartender at Underdog, says. Classics “have stood the test of time and will continue to do so,” Baker says, and he recommends putting a new spirit in your favorite drink when you want something new.
For people looking to get out of their comfort zone a little, try a Vieux Carre. “Its complex flavors of whiskey and Cognac pack a powerful punch,” Avila says.
“Yes, I can hear the crowds protesting already,” Franky Marshall, the bar director at Le Boudoir in Brooklyn, says. “Most people who order a Cosmo want an easy sipping cocktail that’s ‘not too sweet’ with some kind of fruity, refreshing element it,” she says.
Perez agrees. “It’s lost its luster after all of these years and if it doesn’t come out light pink you are basically drinking a Vodka Cranberry in a Martini glass, which is another overrated drink.”
What to drink instead: Marshall suggests a Corpse Reviver #2 or a Jasmine. Perez suggests something from the specialty cocktail menu, “as most venues have a twist off of a Cosmo since they are so tired of people ordering them.”
“God, I hate this drink,” Ivy Mix, the co-founder of Speed Rack, says. “Tastes like dishwater and looks like it too.”
What to drink instead: “Drink anything else!” She says. “Like a Negroni? There you go.”
“Hands down most overrated cocktail,” says BC Hoffman, the lead bartender at Sassafras in Hollywood. “The ginger beer tends to be too sweet, hardly ever spicy enough to put the ‘buck’ factor into it, and overall the spirit gets lost.”
Joelle Humenik, a bartender at aMuse in Philadelphia, thinks there are lots of overrated classics out there, but agrees that the Moscow Mule stands out as an especially overrated drink. “It’s incredibly simple and incredibly boring,” she says. “Just vodka, ginger beer and lime juice. It’s barely a step up from a Vodka Soda. The copper mugs are overrated too and often increase the price of the cocktail just for visual appeal.”
What to drink instead: Hoffman says that if the place makes their own ginger beer—they do at Sassafras—it’s “able to reinvigorate and breathe life into the classic base.” In that case, go for it. Humenik suggests simply ordering or making a better version of a Moscow Mule if that’s what you’re into. “My favorite is our Kentucky Peach Mule, which consists of bourbon, ginger beer, four-to-five mint leaves and peach bitters,” she says.
Sometimes a bad reputation isn’t the cocktail’s fault, sometimes it’s that people keep making the cocktail the wrong way every time it’s ordered. For Lynnette Marrero, the co-founder of Speed Rack, El Presidente, a mix of rum, dry vermouth and curacao falls into this category. “Few know how to make it correctly and...it takes a lot to balance it properly,” she says.
What to drink instead: “Let’s keep to the rum drinks that are still hard to make but have less room for error,” she says, “like the Queens Park Swizzle.”
“No surprise: most bartenders hate making Mojitos,” Perez says. On a busy night when bartenders don’t have time for all that muddling, you can “get stuck with a rum and soda with very little flavor.”
What to drink instead: A flavored vodka and soda, or something with an herb other than mint.
The Ward 8, a mix of rye whiskey, lemon, orange juice and grenadine, doesn’t pop up on as many cocktail lists as the more popular classics, but when it does, it’s bad news, Kenneth McCoy, the chief creative officer of Public House Collective, says. “I think this drink is horrible no matter how you cut it,” McCoy says. “Grenadine and OJ? That’s just gross. Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of OJ or grenadine (it also might have something to do with this drink’s origins in Boston, not a fan).
What to drink instead: “Have a Manhattan,” McCoy says. “A much better drink and city.”