It is my personal belief that one of the inherit problems with the cocktail, is that many people feel that its landscape is so complex and confusing that it is outside of their comfort range. Hopefully, this is sometihng that I can help people overcome.
When sitting at the bar of a cocktail lounge, do those words cause you to temporarily freeze up? Do you quickly try to recall a drink, any drink, that you can order up and not appear to be a total neophyte to the bartender? Are you with a date, and you want to prevent them from seeing just how little you know about the hip cocktail culture?
In the grip of pressure before the bartender, many of us have drawn a blank when trying to figure out what drink to order. We've all seen those recipe books that contain hundreds of different recipes; we probably have even bought one or two of them and paged through their exhaustive, but terse, directions for how to make them at home.
But the problem still remains. How do you determine what cocktail to order?
I'll have a screwdriver
The truly intimidated will have formed an attachment to drinks that are extremely simple to make. Usually made with only two ingredients, one of them being a soda pop or fruit juice, the other a common spirit, such as vodka or rum. These are the drinks that they can know are always available no matter what sort of party they might go to. It's also a sure bet that they will always taste the same, no matter what the proportion of the ingredients, it will only be the strength of the drink that will vary.
Common drinks of this variety are the "Screwdriver", "Rum & Coke", "Gin & Tonic" and "Seven & Seven".
This isn't to say that these drinks shouldn't be ordered, only that if this is all you ever have, you are missing out on what a truly great cocktail is all about. The only real difference between a glass of orange juice and a screwdriver is that one of them requires ID to order.
Blush on the rocks
Another approach that some people take is to order drinks with exotic, if not X-rated names. Rarely do the patrons of these drinks have a clue as to their ingredients, they are just drawn to the novelty of the name that they go by.
The list of drinks that fit into this category is constantly growing. Some of them rely on simply funny names, such as "Harvey Wallbanger", Kamikaze, "Freddy Fudpucker", and the "Fuzzy Navel". While others rely on titillating names such as "Sex on the Beach", "Slow Comfortable Screw", "Orgasm", "Slippery Nipple", and the "Blow Job".
Another set of drinks in this category would be the shooters that are designed more for the visual effect that they impart, which apparently some people enjoy. Most of these drinks have names such as "Brain Hemorrhage", "Cement Mixer", "Cum in a hot tub", and "Embryo". I personally have never had any of the drinks in this category, and plan on keeping it that way.
Many bars will provide assistance to the intimidated patron by providing a tabletop list of house specialties. Depending on the particular bar/lounge, this list will often favor either collection of "Designer Martinis" that are so much in fad these days, or it will provide a long list of different Fruit-filled Margaritas.
Drink-lists may include suggestions for common favorites such as a Bloody Mary, Mai Tai, Irish Coffee, or "Grasshopper" but they will also often offer a selection of drinks that are unique to this particular lounge. Sometimes the ingredients will be the same as are in cocktails of more familiar names, but they will add a spike of pineapple for a garnish, serve them in a novelty glass, or add grenadine for additional color and give it a name no other bartender will know it by.
As the result of finding a specialty cocktail that you like, is that trying to order them anywhere else will result in a blank stare from the bartender. A good bartender will then ask you what the ingredients are, at which point you hem and haw because you haven't a clue.
All of these different layers of confusion just add to the problem of being able to confidently walk into a cocktail lounge and order what you really would like to drink.
Even if you don't have any desire to actually mix cocktails yourself at home, having a good understanding of the ingredients and preparation of a quality cocktail will help you to intelligently and confidently place an order at any bar in the world.