Bartending legend Sasha Petraske and his incredible, game-changing bar Milk & Honey first popularized the idea of guests telling bartenders the spirits and flavors they enjoy, and then allowing the bartender to work their magic — “wow” the guest with a custom cocktail, no menu needed. Since the bar’s founding in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1999 — it closed in 2013 to be replaced by Attaboy, which is still in operation today by two of Petraske’s longtime bartenders — Petraske championed the idea of “bartender’s choice,” and it’s an idea that has taken hold at bars across the world.
The idea of letting the bartender take control is an incredibly freeing one for the guest: There is no menu to agonize over, no cocktail to regret not ordering; just your tastes, and the bartender’s skill. It’s an offer that works well for many bars — so well, in fact, that consumers have gotten used to asking for a “bartender’s choice” even at bars that don’t explicitly offer it. When this is the case, do so with discretion. If the bar is not busy, requesting that the bartender surprise you with a cocktail can often add a bit of creativity to an otherwise slow shift. But if the bar is jammed, people are clamoring for drinks, and the menu does not ask you to call out a “dealer’s choice,” do not do this. Asking to be surprised during the middle of a crazy service will simply get you a drink that already exists on the menu — that you could have just as easily ordered yourself, and probably avoided a bit of a glare. After all, not every place is, or needs to be, Milk & Honey.
Petraske said pretty much the same thing in one of his last interviews before his untimely death: “When it comes down to it, the Milk & Honey way is not an intellectual way of drinking, talking about cocktails, that’s just silly. It has its place. It can be thrilling to catch bits of inside baseball. But it’s nothing that needs to be talked about. Cocktails are to be experienced.”