We Asked 10 Bartenders: What’s the Safest Cocktail to Order at a Sketchy Bar?

Sometimes, walking into a bar is more like a box of chocolates than life. You just never know what you’re gonna get. Thankfully, we have experts to guide us. Even if you’re not currently seated at the bar of one of these experts, they are here to help. We asked 10 bartenders their expert opinion on what the safest drink is to order at any bar. Next time you find yourself in a questionable dive, stick to one of these classic options for your safest bet.

Whiskey, neat. I’m ordering that or a bottled beer when I don’t know what kind of product is going in the drink.” — Joy Richard, Bar Mash

“Most places, even dive bars, will have bitters and simple syrup, so you can more than likely get an Old Fashioned in any bar. However, I think it’s presumptuous and silly to expect all bars to be able to make you a cocktail. Not all restaurants will make you a great steak and that doesn’t mean it’s not a great restaurant, it just means that it serves a different purpose. Stick to beer, shots, and highballs when you’re at the dive and save your cocktails for bars with specific cocktail menus.”– Tonia Guffey, Dram Bar

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“The tried and true order for anyone who doesn’t want to roll the dice on a let-down is as old as drinking itself: Shot and Beer. At the airport, in Acapulco, dusty small town pool hall, or Le Bernadin, this is impossible to fuck up, gets the job done and never disappoints.” — Tommy Warren, Bedford & Co.

“Moscow mule!” — Gina Chersevani, Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market

“Spirit. Rocks.” — John McCarthy, Greydon House

“A vodka soda is by far the safest bet around. Bartenders can pooh pooh about its ubiquity, but sometimes you just need a drink with zero margin for error. If you wind up in a den of iniquity with odd plastic cups and questionable fruit, a vodka soda sans fruit is 99.9% safe.” — Meghan Kelleher, Distilled

“Something cold, and in a can.” — Jacob Ryan, Four Pillars Brand Ambassador

“A Whiskey ginger. Even if the gun is flat, the syrup will still cut the whiskey enough to be drinkable. Throw in a lime and you should be O.K. just about anywhere. I also think a Collins is a safe bet, but that’s assuming they have fresh lemon juice. When all else fails, ask for half a beer and a shot and drop that into the pint and make your own boilermaker.” — Cody Goldstein, NYLO

“Moscow Mule, Dark & Stormy, Screwdriver. Need I say more?” — Warren Bayani, Chao Chao

“If you know they won’t muddle fruit in it, an Old Fashioned. It’s remarkably forgiving. Bitters and sugar can smooth over a rough whiskey, and the ice will eventually melt even if the cocktail wasn’t stirred at all.” — Lana Gailani, Seamstress & Holiday Cocktail Lounge