Photograph by Jennifer Livingston
Some nights you feel like perusing an elaborate cocktail menu larded with detailed descriptions of the small-batch, handcrafted, house-infused contents of each libation. And sometimes you just want a drink. Fortunately, there's a way to spare yourself all that trouble and be dazzled by the person doing the pouring: It's called Bartender's Choice. Just grab a seat at the bar, name your go-to drink or liquor, and let a pro whip you up a cocktail of his choosing. Not every saloon keeper is up to the task, but the ones who are will make you grateful for your lethargy. Rob Willey
THE BEST BARS FOR AN OFF-MENU COCKTAIL
1. Brooklyn: Clover Club
If you'd rather not parse the difference between bucks and punches, allow a bartender at this neo-Victorian parlor to mix up a lost gem like a kirsch-and-absinthe-accented riff on the manhattan called Remember the Maine. [210 Smith Street, 718-855-7939; cloverclubny.com]
2. Boston: Drink
This new industrial-chic bar forgoes menus entirely, serving up bespoke cocktails all around. Think the martini-drinker-friendly Last Frontier, made of Junipero gin and green Chartreuse. [348 Congress Street, 617-695-1806; drinkfortpoint.com]
3. Seattle: Tini Bigs Lounge
Head bartender Jamie Boudreau relishes an evening of lax drinkers: A Scotch fan might get a classic Bobby Burns (whisky, sweet vermouth, Benedictine) or a Pax Sax Sarax, an original concoction of single-malt, Cherry Heering, and bitters. [100 Denny Way, 206-284-0931; tinibigs.com]
4. Los Angeles: Comme ÿa
When Dealer's Choice is one of only five menu options, you can rest assured the bartender will deliver. Tell him you like rum and you might wind up with a Queen's Park Swizzle, a rum-fueled twist on a julep. [8479 Melrose Avenue, 323-782-1104; commeca-restaurant.com]
WORDS OF ADVICE
Photograph courtesy of Drink
Q: Is there an ideal time to ask for something off-menu?
A: Monday and Tuesday nights are best, between 5 and 6 P.M. Bars are swamped Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and it's hard to interact with the bartender.
Q: Is it possible to tell a bartender how to make your drink without sounding pushy?
A: There's this couple in Boston who have their drink printed on business cards that they just hand to the server. But the best way to order a drink is to just be clear: "Beefeater martini, straight up, extra-dry, olives." That's pretty straightforward.
Where do you head for an off-menu cocktail? Add to our list of bars by commenting blow.