There often seems to be a direct correlation between the divey-ness of a bar and the strength of its pours. Odds are, the place shilling carefully measured $15 cocktails needlessly served in a coupe glass with a sprig of thyme prooooobably gives you less booze than the place with $4 vodka soda served by a guy who’s just eyeballing it.
I always prefer to be at the latter, but sometimes, God’s cruel hand guides you directly into the kind of place where all the food items have the word “truffle” in the name. It’s in these situations, more than any other, that you want your expensive drink to at least give you a buzz. Of course, your bartender is your sherpa on your journey to drunkenness, and you may well be entirely at their whim, but there are a few ways to “Please, sir, can I have some more?” your way into a boozier drink without making them angry or looking like too much of a lush (or cheapskate).
According to James Birmingham, a bartender in Sarasota, Florida, who has worked in cocktail, hotel, restaurant and tiki bars, the easiest way to get more bang for your buck without an extra charge is to order a cocktail with a non-standard alcohol. For example, instead of ordering a margarita with tequila, order it with gin (a cocktail that’s apparently called a gin daisy). “Places will have the extra primary liquor and alcoholic ingredients (like triple sec) already built into the cost on the menu. But if you order something non-standard, you’ll probably get that extra half ounce or an ounce of triple sec for free,” he says. Apparently, since it’s complicated to ring up a non-standard cocktail on most register systems, your bartender is likely to just charge you for a standard gin drink.
Much of your ability to bend the rules on pour sizes will come down to the bar’s register and inventory system, Birmingham says. “Most serious bars and restaurants utilize ParTender or similar apps and services now, so bartenders can’t just pour a li’l extra on a whim.” With ParTender, bars can track their exact liquor inventory and compare it to the documented sales.
As such, it can be a challenge to get that extra booze without paying an extra charge. Still, there are a few more economical moves. “Most places have a standard pour of one ounce to two ounces depending on the place. Ordering ‘on the rocks,’ ‘up’ or a double are all ways to get more alcohol, but it’s an upcharge,” Birmingham says. “Usually, ‘on the rocks’ means half an extra ounce. ‘Up’ generally means three ounces, martini style. Doubles usually mean twice the liquor and usually twice the cost. Some places that have a standard pour of two ounces won’t serve doubles as a rule.”
On the other hand, you probably won’t be stopped from ordering an extra one-ounce shot along with your first drink (unless you’re already visibly too intoxicated), which will almost always cost less than a fancy mixed cocktail.
One method that won’t work, according to Birmingham, is ordering a “tall” drink. “People will say things like ‘light ice’ or ask for a tall without knowing what that means — a tall means more mixer in a taller glass, generally with no upcharge,” he says.
Though bartenders surely won’t condone me saying this, I recommend bringing some good ole fashioned nips in your pocket. If you’re the type of person trying to figure out how to get stronger drinks, you’re probably not the type of person to scoff at chugging down a mini whiskey in the bathroom stall. Just be sure to tip your bartender well as atonement for your sins.