The comforts of the nightcap take on a special significance for hospitality workers, where the ritual has evolved into the storied form of the shift drink. Shift drinks, provided to bar staff on the house, are a stress release valve, communal tradition, and reward for a tough day all in one. After 12-hour shifts, unruly customers, and endless to-dos that probably weren’t even originally your responsibility, the right drink at the right time can work wonders.

While many bars have done away with the concept of the shift drink — less as a cost savings measure and more as a means of discouraging the perceived rite of overindulgence that has long been a part of the bartending and hospitality industries — others still offer it, often embracing lighter pours or lower-ABV options. When offered as a means of optional team bonding over a job well done rather than the encouragement of excess, the shift drink still serves as a gratifying nightcap in the often all-too-thankless role of service behind the bar.

From personalized traditions to tried-and-true combinations, the shift drink can be whatever you want it to be. Here are 12 favorites from bartenders across the country.

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End-of-Night Shift Drinks to Try

  • Boilermaker
  • Whiskey Highball
  • Spicy Baba (Rum Cocktail)
  • Miller High Life Pony
  • Death in the Afternoon
  • Fortaleza Tequila on the Rocks
  • Lamplighter Birds of a Feather IPA
  • Amaro Montenegro + Tequila
  • Martini
  • Two Things That Do Things
  • PBR Royale
  • Booker’s Bourbon Manhattan
  • Boilermaker


the boilermaker is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“My go-to, post-shift drink will always be a Boilermaker of Mexican beer — preferably Modelo Especial— with a lime and blanco tequila. After a long shift, you need something refreshing to quench your thirst, and at the same time, something a little stronger to make the next few hours cleaning a dirty bar that’s covered in sticky substances a little more enjoyable. It only helps that the pairing is perfectly bridged with a touch of lime.” ––Justin Lavenue, co-owner & operator, The Roosevelt Room, Austin, Texas

Whiskey Highball

the whiskey highball is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“ My favorite shift drink is a whiskey highball. We started that at Junior [in Singapore] a couple of years ago because we were using those big, beautiful spears of ice. By the end of a long shift, some of them would melt; whatever was left over would be perfect for a little half-size whiskey highball as a nice, refreshing sipper. It’s a good communal thing and a good way to share something with the staff without overdoing it.” ––Joe Alessandroni, director of food & beverage, Thompson Buckhead Hotel, Atlanta

Spicy Baba (Rum Cocktail)

the spicy baba is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“The Spicy Baba marries aged rich rum from the Caribbean with ginger, sweet berries, and sour lime. It has been our most popular cocktail in Athens at Baba Au Rum since 2010 and my favorite shift drink since inception. The rum’s balance of sweet and spicy is complemented by the kick of ginger and sweetness of the berries — the perfect combination that’s both refreshing and energizing.” ––Thanos Prunarous, lead mixologist at 363 Bar by Baba Au Rum at Grace Hotel, Auberge Resorts Collection, Santorini, Greece

Miller High Life Pony

the miller high life is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“When making a craft cocktail, we straw taste all of the cocktails between two and five times. So, by the end of your shift and making a few hundred drinks, a cocktail isn’t usually what you’re in the mood for. I like the Miller High Life 7 ounce ponies, which are great because even when you’re cleaning furiously, the last sip will always be cold. Those, paired with a cheeky dram of agave distillate or a favorite whiskey, make a Herculean close go by faster.” ––Toby Maloney, industry veteran of 25-plus years including Mother’s Ruin, The Violet Hour, The Patterson House

Death in the Afternoon

death in the afternoon is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“Shift drinks walk that dangerous tightrope above a sea of problems and poorly made late-night decisions for all bartenders. Enter the Death in the Afternoon, a cocktail that is one part absinthe and topped with Champagne, even though most times we just use the house Prosecco or Cava. Easy to make and full of flavor, it also helps us finish off that sparkling bottle of wine before the next shift, so it’s a great one to just top off your glass and not worry about the ratios. I personally recommend switching the absinthe out for Chartreuse, and you have yourself a beautifully aromatic and lively shift drink to end your work and hopefully begin your night. Ticket Up!” ––Daniel Alifonso, bartender, Bordello Cocktail Bar, Brooklyn

Fortaleza Tequila on the Rocks

fortaleza tequila on the rocks is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

Fortaleza became my absolute go-to drink when I met one of my great friends, Kiah Traverso. I met her at a Patron USBG [United States Bartenders’ Guild] trip and she introduced a different level of motivation and love for the industry. Fortaleza was one of her very favorite tequilas, and she got me to do the industry trip to Fortaleza’s distillery. I fell in love with those memories and I fell in love with that tequila. A few years later, Kiah passed. I motivate myself to become greater every day, to make her proud. So Fortaleza will always help me feel closer to her.” ––Nohelani Ader, bartender, Left Turn Distilling & Palmer Brewery, Albuquerque, N.M.

Lamplighter Birds of a Feather IPA

lamplighter birds of a feather IPA is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“I usually opt for our cocktail bar’s single IPA, Lamplighter Brewing’s Birds of a Feather, for a shift drink. After a long night of making 100 to 150 cocktails and straw tasting many of them, I want something that’s not a cocktail and simple to open as I clean my bar station and the rest of the space. Since it’s been nine to 10 hours since I have eaten last, the malts and moderate ABV content work better with my hungry stomach than a spirits pour or a high-proof cocktail. This doesn’t even cover the fact that Lamplighter makes excellent beers.” ––Frederic Yarm, bar manager, Drink, Boston

Amaro Montenegro and Tequila

amaro montenegro is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“When I find myself winding down from a night at the bar, my staff and I always reach for Amaro Montenegro with tequila. This started by haphazardly combining my favorite ingredients, and finding that surprisingly they pair well together. While the combination may seem odd, the flavor of the tequila blended with the subtle sweetness of the Amaro Montenegro is a perfect way to end the night. If I’m feeling unhinged, I do a triple layer combo of Ramazzotti Aperitivo Rosato, a sweet aperitivo, tequila blanco — the cheaper the better — and Amaro Montenegro. This is my personal tradition which has been adopted by my staff and closing guests alike as an end of the night ritual.” ––Mickey Mullins, beverage director, The Bower, New Orleans


the martini is one of bartenders' go-to shift drinks.

“When I get off a shift, I drink what all civilized people drink when they are done with the workday: a Martini. There’s no more definitive and effective means to achieving hard-won relaxation. It is near instantaneous in effect, ample in dose, and indicates that its drinker no longer intends to be relied upon for any further labor, physical nor mental.” ––Rob Krueger, head bartender, Bar Chrystie at Public Hotel, NYC

Two Things That Do Things

“At Crispy Gai, we have a shift drink tradition shared amongst the bartenders that we dubbed ‘Two Things That Do Things.’ It’s a game played by the two closing bartenders — and occasionally some willing and brave bar stragglers — in which one person selects one item off the back bar, and the other selects a second. The two ingredients are then blended into a 50/50 shot and taken at room temperature. Some like to thoughtfully select complementary flavors, some just want to screw with you and make you drink Midori or wildly overproof rum. We have a fairly extensive selection of spirits and liquors so the possibilities are endless, and thus far “Two Things” has spawned a number of genuinely delicious shots that we make often and even reference in our menu building. A 50/50 of Allen’s Coffee Brandy and Giffard Banana Liqueur is now on our brunch menu, and it’s all thanks to this tradition.” ––Arvid Brown, bar manager, Crispy Gai, Portland, Maine

PBR Royale

pbr royale is one of bartenders' favorite shift drinks.

“Recently, I’ve been enjoying a PBR Royale, a split between PBR and sparkling wine. It started when we had a little extra sparkling wine at the end of the night, so I topped off a PBR with it. To my surprise, it made for a very dry, refreshing beverage. Waste not, want not. So anytime we have some leftover sparkling wine, I make a PBR Royale.” ––Alex Barbatsis, head bartender, The Whistler, Chicago

Booker’s Bourbon Manhattan

bourbon manhattan is one of bartenders' favorite shift drinks.

“If you work for a venue that provides a shift drink, congratulations! Let’s be honest, if you have one choice, you want to make it count. For the longest time, I would ask for a Booker’s Bourbon Manhattan. Two ounces of overproof bourbon mixed with an ounce of Carpano Antica Vermouth will certainly send you on your way with a taste of the buzz you’ve been providing your patrons with all night. Don’t have Booker’s on your back bar? A Tanqueray Negroni will get you pretty close. Cheers!” ––Anthony Belculfini, lead bartender, Animae, San Diego