Know Your Bar Terms and Slang

Every type of business or industry has their own “inside” lingo or slang. The bartending profession is no exception. I’ve listed almost 100 bar terms and slang phrases here.

Bar history fascinates me. For a little history, a nice article on the 1920’s and Bar Slang. And let’s not forget about bartender code words. You’ll recognize some of them as you go through the list.

As a bartender, what surprises me the most is the “old school” terms or slang that pop up every now and then. Here we go…

100 Bar Terms and Slang

3-Deep: You’re busy, man! People are lined up three-deep at the bar. Or, 2-deeper.

86’d: Customer is asked to leave the bar premises. May be for the day or permanently.

Aperitif: Kind of a “before dinner” drink. Sherry, Ouzo – even champagne. Many variations.

Autograt: Automatic gratuity. Usually on parties of 8 or more. Most banquet functions have an autograt – usually anywhere from 15 – 20 percent. Nice!

Back: Usually water in a separate glass, backing up the customer’s drink. Sometimes means beer, but they’ll let you know. “Cutty rocks, water back.” “Shot of Jack, beer back.”

Barrel: A keg of beer.

Behind: Bartenders verbally letting each other know that they are directly behind them. A simple tap on the back does the same thing.

Bev-nap: Short for beverage napkin, the small paper napkins placed beneath drinks.

Bitters: Aromatic, herbal alcoholic blend. Used in many cocktails for added flavor. Use sparingly!

Blend: Using an electric blender May be loosely blended, like a sour, or frozen like a Margarita or specialty drink.

Break: Your empty liquor bottles. Way back when, bars had to break or smash the bottle of empty liquor so they could not refill it with “bathtub” gin. These days, bartenders need to save all bottles so management can inventory them.

Bruised: Old school and Craft Bars. When a drink is shaken, and then poured over ice, oxygen bubbles form resulting in a “murky” looking cocktail.

Burn the Ice: Melting all ice with hot water. Usually the result of a broken glass.

Build:  Make the drink adding ice first. I have not heard this term in years. “Build me a Manhattan rocks!”

Call Drink: Customer is simply “calling” their liquor brand. “Tanqueray Tonic.” “Jack Daniels rocks.”

Chaser: Water, juice, soda, beer, etc. Whatever the customer asks for. Usually a smaller glass. Some bars will pour a couple of ounces of beer into a rocks glass and give it to them for free.

Chill: Any drink the customer wants cold. Stir in ice and strain – usually in a chilled glass.

Cocktail: A mixed drink, but most drinks made with liquor can be called a “cocktail.”

Collins: Can be a drink or the name of glassware. Collins glasses are simply a “tall” glass. Collins drinks are Tom (made with gin), John (made with whiskey), and Vodka. Liquor, sweet ‘n sour, splash of soda. Add a cherry and orange garnish.

Comp: Short for “complementary.”

Cooler: Usually wine and Sprite or 7-Up. Serve in a tall or “specialty” glass.

Dash: Just a few drops. Could be alcohol or a spice. Maybe bitters or Tabasco.

Dirty: Adding a bit of olive juice to a Martini. Or any other drink.

Double: Double the alcohol in the drink – ALWAYS charge double unless the house has some sort of weird policy.

Draft: Beer served from a tap, not a bottle. “Draw me a Bud Light!”

Dry: Reducing the amount of vermouth in a Martini. Some will say “Extra Dry!”

Finger: Old school. A unit of measurement. Usually meant a shot of liquor.

Fizz: Old school. These days, it usually just means adding some soda to top off the drink.

Flame: Combustible high alcohol content added to the drink. Usually a shot. Fire it up!

Float: A small amount of liquor added to the top of a drink/cocktail. Sometimes measured. Craft Bar type of stuff.

Free Pour: No jigger, shot glass or any other type of measuring device used when pouring liquor. More about Free-Pouring here.

Frost. A wet glass drained and put in the freezer for a while. May be used for cocktails or beer mugs.

Garnish: Adds flavor, aroma, or just looks good. Cherries, lemon twist, pineapple slice, etc. A little plastic umbrella could be called a garnish.

Grog: Popular with the old-time pirates. Rum and water – maybe with some spices, or could be any liquor mixed with beer. Lots of variations.

Hair of the Dog: A drink (usually the first one of the day), to help relieve the effects of a hangover.

Highball: Old school – used to be a Whiskey and Ginger-ale. Seven and Seven, Scotch & Soda, Gin & Tonic.

High Top: Taller bar tables. Usually have bar stools instead of chairs.

House Pour: Well drinks. Inexpensive liquor.

In the Weeds: Or, in the woods. Extremely busy, cannot keep up. A 3-deeper.

Jigger: Small measuring device. Two sided. Usually 1 oz and 2 oz, but could be any size.

Lace: Or, a “floater.” A little extra liquor on top of a mixed drink.

Last Call: Order now because the bar is closing!

Long Pour: Usually means a “heavy” drink. More liquor than usually poured, for those good customers – if allowed by management.

Lowball: These days it means a rocks glass.

Mist: Or “misting.” Simply means using crushed ice in a drink. Or, when you twist a lemon or other citrus fruit twist – you can see the mist if you look closely.

Mixer: Any fluid mixed with liquor. Juice, soda, energy drinks, etc.

Mixologist: One who makes drinks. A bartender. Please – never use this term when describing yourself!

Mixology: The art of making and creating cocktails and drinks.

Muddle: Mashing ingredients together using a muddler. Mint, herbs, spices, fruits, etc.

Neat: No ice – usually a rocks glass. Use a snifter if brandy or Cognac. “Give me a Dewar’s neat!”

Nightcap: Last drink of the night.

Nip: usually just a sip of booze, but in a bar you would most likely pour the customer a shot.

On the Fly: Quickly. Prioritize. Usually because the previous drink was wrong or spilled.

On the Rocks: Make the drink over ice in a short rocks glass. “Dude! Vodka rocks!”

Pick-Me-Up: Sometimes called “Hair of the Dog.” Or, a good stiff drink or shot to relieve the effects of a hangover.

Pony: Usually a one ounce shot.

Premium: Perceived as better or more expensive liquor. Most bars have 4 tiers: Well, Call, Premium, Top-Shelf.

Punch: Could be almost any thing with liquor or wine – provided it has some flavored juices.

Quinine: Same as tonic water. Old school. Interestingly, many soda gun/dispensers will have a “Q” on the button instead of “T” for tonic.          

Rim: Rim the glass with moisture. May use a lime to moisten – or a margarita lime and salt caddie.

Roll: Simply pouring the drink from one shaker to another (or mixing glass), to dilute, chill, and mix the ingredients.

Service Bartender: Works the service bar. Makes drinks for servers – usually not customers.

Shake: Shake drink ingredients with ice using a bar shaker.

Short Pour: Pouring less than the normal amount of alcohol.

Shooter: A bit different than a “shot.” Bars might have shot glasses that are thinner and taller. Could be anywhere between 1 and 1 ½ ounces. Depends on the bar.

Shot: In a shot glass. No ice. Some people like it in a rocks glass. Amount of alcohol depends upon the house. Could be 1 oz, 1 ¼ oz, 1 ½ oz. “Shot of Jack Daniels, beer back!”  

Soda or Soda Water: Carbonated water. “Give me a Scotch and Soda!” Sometimes called “charge.” “Vodka charge!”

Sour: Customer is asking for sweet ‘n sour (sweetened lemon juice). You’re just making the drink “sour.” “Vodka Sour.”

Speed Rail: Or “speed rack.” Aligned directly in front of ice bin. Bartenders main station. Usually holds 7 – 12 bottles of liquor – or whatever is used most.

Spill: Waste. An actual spilled drink – or a bartender mistake. Cannot reuse, and management requires that it written down and/or accounted for.

Splash: A quick press of the soda gun provides a splash of the required or requested beverage.

Stiff: Pouring more than the normal amount of alcohol.

Stir: Simply stirring ingredients – preferably with a bar spoon. Fast alternative to “shaking.”

Straight: Drink made with no ice. Use a rocks glass – or whatever they want. Careful with this one. Usually, they mean “neat” (room temperature) or “up.” “Give me a Jack Daniels straight!”

Straight Up: Usually means shake and serve the drink in a stemmed glass (in most cases) with no ice. Can also mean “neat” or “up” or simply “no ice.”

Strain: Using a strainer to prevent ice and other ingredients from being poured into the glass.

Super Call: The most expensive liquor in the house – usually.

Tall: Simply use a tall glass or “Collins” glass. DOES NOT mean add more liquor!

Thin: Watered down drink. Could be intentional – or ice has melted diluting the strength.

Till: The cash register or “POS” system.

Toddy: Drink made with hot water and liquor. Usually brandy, but could be anything. Serve in a coffee cup.

Tonic: Tonic water contains quinine. Not the same as soda water. “I’ll have a Gin and Tonic!”

Top Shelf: usually the most expensive liquor in the house – and priced accordingly.

Troll: An undesirable customer. Know-it-all, obnoxious, a real pain-in-the ass.

Turn: Or, “turning tables.” Guests completing their meal or drinks and leaving – new guests sit down. That’s one turn. The faster the better.

Twist: Usually lemon, but could be any citrus zest. Not to be confused with a lime “Squeeze.”

Up: Usually means that drink is served in a stemmed glass.

Virgin: No alcohol. “I’d like a Virgin Mary.”

Water Back: Simply a glass of water. Serve it with their drink. “Jim Beam rocks, water back.”

Well Drink: The “house” liquor. The least expensive liquor in the bar.

Wet: Old school. More of the mixer than the alcohol. In other words, a weak drink.    

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