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What Are We Drinking?

May 17, 2023

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Stephen Recchia


What Are We Drinking?

May 17, 2023

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Stephen Recchia

More than a dozen top cocktail bars across the country reveal their most popular drink orders.

When we last surveyed top bars across the country about their most popular cocktails, the Espresso Martini had yet to become the monster it is today, the culinary cocktail hadn’t made its comeback and kitschy throwbacks like the Long Island Iced Tea that dot just about every modern menu weren’t nearly so pervasive.

With so many shifts in the drinking landscape in just five years, we set out to learn what’s captivating the modern drinker today. A few themes emerged: The Espresso Martini is, in fact, still reigning, as are agave spirits and light, crushable drinks. And while it’s to be expected that crowd-pleasers like the Paloma would pique the interest of bargoers, less expected was the rise of previously uncommon ingredients, from sloe gin (which has seen a revival in recent years) to category-defying spirits like those from Empirical.

What else are we drinking today? To get a sense of the zeitgeist, here’s a look at the most popular drinks from top bars across the country.

Portland Hunt + Alpine Club | Portland, Maine

Most popular drink: Green Eyes
Most popular off-menu drink:
Espresso Martini

For the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, the top-selling cocktail has been the same since Day One: the Green Eyes. A riff on the Last Word, the straightforward combination of gin, green Chartreuse, lime, simple syrup and an egg white results in a frothy, herbaceous drink and “a true representation of Hunt + Alpine,” according to co-owner Brianna Volk. As at many bars across the country, the Espresso Martini has grown to be the most called-for off-menu drink; the bar puts its own twist on it by using a rum base and beloved local spirit, Allen’s Coffee Brandy.

Grand Prize Bar | Houston

Most popular drink: Paloma (on draft), Spurt of the Moment
Most popular off-menu drink: Old-Fashioned

“Everybody loves a pink drink,” says Daniel Jircik, beverage director of Grand Prize Bar in Houston. The bar’s most-ordered menu item, a simple Paloma rendition, is proof of just that. Off-draft, the most popular cocktail is the Spurt of the Moment, another crushable agave-based drink, made with mezcal, guava and a spiced hibiscus syrup. “It’s lighthearted and beachy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think resonates with our clientele,” says Jircik. By contrast, the most popular off-menu cocktail is strong and stirred: the Old-Fashioned.


Bright Side

Tropical staples meet vibrant turmeric syrup in this refreshing cocktail.


Rabbit Szn

A bright and crowd-pleasing tequila drink gets a finishing touch via a sweet vermouth float.


Thrilla in Manila

A bourbon-based tropical drink highlights calamansi, pineapple, shiso and coconut.

Billy Sunday | Charlotte, North Carolina

Most popular drink: The Billy Old-Fashioned
Most popular off-menu drink:

At the Charlotte, North Carolina location of Billy Sunday, the Old-Fashioned also takes the top spot, this time in the form of the bar’s house riff. The simple variation is made with high-proof bourbon and gets the addition of smoky-sweet Zucca Rabarbaro. A well-executed Old-Fashioned is “the mark of a good bar or bartender,” according to the bar team, who suggest that the drink order acts as a litmus test for the skill of the maker. Off-menu, the Margarita takes the top spot.

Death & Co. | Denver

Most popular drink: Silhouettes
Most popular off-menu drink: Espresso Martini

At the Denver location of Death & Co., the Silhouettes has recently “soared in popularity,” according to bar manager Jake Powell. The Gimlet riff adds Empirical Spirits’ Plum, I Suppose (a bright, floral spirit), vanilla syrup and grenadine to the template, putting an unexpected twist on the classic. The most popular off-menu cocktail, meanwhile, is far from unexpected: The Espresso Martini takes the top spot here, too. “I think everyone just got tired of pretending it’s not delicious,” says Powell.

Kingfisher | Durham, North Carolina

Most popular drink: The Bee Durham
Most popular off-menu drink: Espresso Martini

Like Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Kingfisher’s bestselling cocktail has been on the menu since Day One. Co-owner Sean Umstead says the Bee Durham “fits our concept well,” as it’s both unique and full of local ingredients, and it makes sense that the crowd-pleasing Bee’s Knees riff is so popular. Once again, the Espresso Martini is the top off-menu drink, and Umstead believes that the bar’s version, which is made with cold brew and chicory, reflects the Kingfisher ethos by putting their own stamp on a beloved template.

R&D | Philadelphia

Most popular drink: Rabbit Szn
Most popular off-menu drink:
Dirty Martini 

A few of the surveyed bars noted that the most popular drink varies based on the season. At R&D in Philadelphia, the current favorite is the Rabbit Szn, “a bright and easy crowd-pleaser.” A mix of blanco tequila, lime juice and ginger syrup, the bestseller gets topped with club soda and a float of sweet vermouth from Fell to Earth, a local Philadelphia producer. Vermouth and other aperitivo ingredients have played a part in the most commonly ordered drinks at R&D, from Paper Planes to Negronis, but the most popular off-menu drink is a dirty Martini.

Polite Provisions | San Diego

Most popular drink: Istmo’s Ghost 
Most popular off-menu drink: Bourbon Old-Fashioned

Tequila also gets top billing at Polite Provisions in San Diego. Istmo’s Ghost, the bar’s most popular drink, is both spicy and refreshing, a mix of tequila, chile de arbol–infused watermelon syrup and Chareau aloe liqueur. “Being so close to Mexico, we find that our guests are very much excited by agave spirits,” says beverage director Alicia Perry, who notes that a house favorite version of the drink can be ordered with mezcal. The most ordered off-menu drink, however, sticks to the strong-and-stirred format: a Bourbon Old-Fashioned.

DrinkWell | Austin, Texas

Most popular drink: Paperback Romance 
Most popular off-menu drink:
Martinis, Old-Fashioneds and Margaritas

Sometimes the novelty of an ingredient can influence the popularity of a certain drink order. At DrinkWell in Austin, Texas, the novelty of pairing sloe gin and pisco is part of the appeal of the bar’s bestselling Paperback Romance. Paired with grapefruit juice, peach bitters and bergamot liqueur, the cocktail is a no-brainer for this time of year; it “just screams spring,” says DrinkWell’s Caer Maiko. The bar’s most popular off-menu drinks correspond with programming throughout the week, like the weekly Martini Monday and Agave Social.

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Voysey | Portland, Oregon

Most popular drink: Bright Side 
Most popular off-menu drink:
Gin Sours and Whiskey Sours

Pisco is also the star of the bestselling drink at Portland, Oregon’s Voysey: the Bright Side . The refreshing drink features tropical staples like rum, pineapple juice and mango purée, but it also gets the surprising addition of turmeric syrup, which the bar makes by combining fresh turmeric juice, water and cane sugar. The most popular classic drinks there are also easy-drinking, often Gin or Whiskey Sours, and “99 percent of the time with egg white,” according to beverage director Katie Stipe.

Pacific Cocktail Haven | San Francisco

Most popular drink: Thrilla in Manila 
Most popular off-menu drink:
Espresso Martini

At Pacific Cocktail Haven in San Francisco, tropical cocktails reign. The bourbon-based Thrilla in Manila is no exception. Made with calamansi, pineapple, shiso and coconut, the drink is the most popular original recipe, while the Pornstar Martini, which has a place on the menu, is the most ordered overall. To no one’s surprise, the Espresso Martini is the most commonly ordered off-menu drink here, too.

Overstory | New York City

Most popular drink: Montego Slay
Most popular off-menu drink: Espresso Martini

New York’s Overstory likewise takes a fruit-forward approach in its top selling cocktail. The Montego Slay is served on the rocks and comprises tequila and apricot eau de vie. It’s complemented by a range of housemade ingredients that balance the spirits’ vegetal spice and fruit notes: a fermented mango–husk cherry cordial made from New England IPA yeast, a lacto-fermented brine flavored with saffron and yellow bell peppers, a chai spice tincture and lime juice. The high-concept approach reflects the bar’s elevated style of service. By contrast, Overstory’s most popular off-menu drink is “unfussy and classic,” according to bar director Harrison Ginsberg, but it still contains layers of flavor; the house Espresso Martini adds Empirical Spirits’ Plum, I Suppose and fresh espresso from a local coffee shop.

Service Bar | Washington, D.C.

Most popular drink: SB Espresso Martini 
Most popular off-menu drink:

By now, we’ve seen that the Espresso Martini shows no signs of stopping. Washington, D.C.’s Service Bar dialed in its own take on the drink, the SB Espresso Martini, which calls on fresh espresso as well as local coffee liqueur from Don Ciccio & Figli, plus housemade extra dark chocolate–washed vodka and coconut syrup. The bar’s bestselling classic cocktail, meanwhile, is the Negroni, which also falls on the bracing end of the spectrum.

Leopold’s | Madison, Wisconsin

Most popular drink: Espresso Martini, Pimm’s Cup
Most popular off-menu drink: Negroni

“The ’90s are still alive and well at Leopold’s,” says Samuel Brown, owner of the Madison, Wisconsin, bar, which pulls inspiration largely from classic cocktails. Its take on the Espresso Martini is the most-ordered drink, alongside the seasonally changing Pimm’s Cup, whose current iteration calls on strawberries, cucumber and mint. Off-menu, the Negroni is the most popular drink at Leopold’s.

Canon | Seattle

Most popular drink: The Lawn Boy
Most popular off-menu drink:

Since the bitter Italian soda arrived stateside, it’s been finding its way into cocktails of all styles. A relative newcomer, amaro soda is also making its way to the backbar, including at Canon in Seattle. The Lawn Boy, made with gin, passion fruit liqueur, papaya purée and Casamara Club’s Como, is the bar’s most popular cocktail. The fruit-forward drink is a crowd-pleaser, but owner Jamie Boudreau has another theory as to why it’s so beloved. “The Lawn Boy is served in a bathtub,” he says of the drink, which gets topped with “Peach Bubble Bath” (peach juice, simple syrup and Foam Magic). “Pretty much anything we put in a bathtub becomes a Top Three drink.”


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