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Five Drinks You're Safe to Order in Any Bar (Vodka and Soda Aside)

The Malibu Bay Breeze, a drink that's good in any bar.
The Malibu Bay Breeze, a drink that's good in any bar.
JK Grence

I love elaborate cocktails. I'm also more than a bit of a stickler when it comes to classics being done right (but that's another column). And, I've come to find that I enjoy a nice low- (or no-) class dive when I go out drinking. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I could take my chances on a Manhattan, but odds are good that I'm going to get a slap-dash glass of warm booze with the barest hint of vermouth and no bitters at all. I've given up on finding that particular holy grail. I could do what everyone else does and just order vodka and soda, but I'll be damned if that isn't the most boring drink order on the planet. I'll take the badly made Manhattan over one any day.

So, what can I order that any bartender can make well, and still keeps my interest? I found five that I know I'll enjoy, no matter whether I order them in a swank lounge or the sleaziest of dives:

5: Brave Bull The easy way to order a Brave Bull is to ask for a Black Russian made with tequila instead of vodka. Yes, tequila and Kahlúa. The two pair quite nicely, with the tequila's herbal, grassy notes giving a bit of brightness to the sweet depth of Kahlúa.

4: (Malibu) Bay Breeze It's a shame more bartenders aren't familiar with the Bay Breeze, a highball made with cranberry and pineapple juice. Bartenders who are familiar with the Bay Breeze will usually reach for vodka when they make one, but it's much better when made with rum. With Malibu coconut rum, it's better still. A lime wedge to squeeze in is essential. If you're having it with Malibu or the bar uses that awful stuff that passes for cranberry juice from the soda gun, get an extra wedge so it doesn't come out candy sweet. I wouldn't order it in a biker bar, but I'll go for one pretty much anywhere else.

3: Colorado Bulldog I love a good White Russian. (The Dude abides, yes, I know.) Problem is, the bars that make good White Russians are few and far between. Why, you ask? A White Russian should be made with cream, and most bars only stock milk. What's a drinker to do? Add a splash of Coca-Cola to a milk-based White Russian, that's what. The Coke on top turns a mismade White Russian into a properly made Colorado Bulldog. The little bit of bubbles gives a surprisingly pleasant nuance to the drink.

2: Mismo This is as close as I'm willing to get to vodka and soda: Rum and soda. Bet you didn't know the combination even had a name; ask me how it got the name some time, it's a great story. I'm surprised this combination isn't more popular. It's oodles more interesting than vodka and soda, and much more refreshing to boot. Two keys: First, stay the hell out of the well. Bad rum is much worse than bad vodka. Second, make sure you get a wedge of lime to squeeze. Rum and limes are as timeless a combination as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

1: Whiskey on the Rocks Yeah, whiskey on the rocks. Get over it. It's the universal equalizer, coming out exactly the same way in every single bar on the planet. And by my palate, it tastes pretty darn good.

I'm curious, what's your favorite to order in a questionable establishment?

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