The trickle-down theory has reached the cocktail kingdom. Where craft cocktails were once the realm of only, well, craft cocktail bars, they now can be found at chain restaurants of every ilk.
Applebee’s features a Whiskey Smash on its menu. Upscale pizza chain California Pizza Kitchen serves up a Mai Tai and touts its hand-shaken mojitos. And you can get a Moscow Mule almost everywhere. “Mixology” has arrived in the suburbs. But the real question is, can you get a decent drink at these spots? Absolutely, if you bear a few things in mind.
1. First, if you are a cocktail snob, rethink your priorities.
You wouldn’t expect Wagyu beef from a chain restaurant, so don’t expect super premium spirits or mixers. If the spot does have something fabulous or exclusive, you’ll be surprised. And, if the location has its own dedicated bar, they are likely to have a bigger selection of products.
2. Ask if they use fresh juices and fresh simple syrup.
If they do, odds are that they care about their drinks more than the average restaurant bar. They may even have brought in a mixology consultant (read: craft bartender) to help design their menu.
2. Look at the menu.
What’s “new”? The more recent the drink has been placed on the menu, the more likely it was influenced by modern bartending standards (see #2). The Ultimate Casamigos Strawberry ‘Rita at TGI Fridays includes blanco tequila, Cointreau, fresh strawberries, organic agave, plus fresh lime and lemon juices. No sour mix need apply.
3. Order something that is actually on the menu.
It’s unlikely that these spots have either the training or the product to make super premium classic cocktails. If you want a Martini, you don’t want them using well gin or basic vermouth. A Manhattan? It needs bitters. And a lot of these spots don’t even carry bitters! So order something they have created explicitly for the menu. Odds are the team has been trained to make it.
4. Respect the bartender.
Sure, some of these spots hire college kids who just want their tips. But many of these places have employees who really care about what they do. Not only are they eager to learn, they also exhibit one of the best characteristics of this business, namely hospitality. If the bar has the ingredients needed to make a drink you want, ask the bartender if he or she would mind following your recipe. If the place is busy, don’t ask.