Let’s face it: If you’ve graduated from college, your keg-standing, Jäger-bombing, beer-ponging days are numbered (or at least they should be). The minute you have responsibilities like rent and a day job, stumbling out of bed at 9am half-drunk, trying to figure out why you have a traffic cone in your bedroom, is no longer hilarious—it’s tragic.
Everybody comes to this fork in the road eventually: Keep drinking anything you can get your hands on to get wasted as quickly as possible (and start looking for the nearest AA meeting), or figure out what booze that you actually enjoy, learn a little something about it, and start drinking like an adult.
It’s a scary transition to make, but we’re here to help. First things first: You’ll still be able to turn up. But you’ll also be able to pick up people you won’t regret seeing in the morning, spend fewer nights crumpled on the curb, and maybe even convince a few bartenders to ply you with freebies. To get you started, here our 10 easy steps to drinking like a grownup—and why you’ll have more fun once you do.
Be an Expert in One Thing
You don’t have be a boozehound know-it-all, but being able to taste the difference between a single malt and a blended whiskey, say, or a reposado tequila and an anejo will give you an instant leg up in any unfamiliar bar situation. It’s never been easier to learn about booze—publications like Imbibe and Punch (and even—shameless plug alert—this website right here) are full of comprehensive guides, and there’s a specialty bar out there for every kind of alcohol in existence. Start by digging deep into what you love the best rather than attempting to learn about everything all at once. (Photo: Jakob Layman)
Never Shout at a Friend, “I’m So Drunk!”
Remember the first time you tried drinking, but you were still too young to understand how alcohol really worked so you spent all afternoon convincing yourselves you were wasted off O’Douls? That sad confusion is the source of the dudebro’s drunk shout, which he uses as an affirmation of his existence and a preemptive apologia for whatever bad behavior is about to ensue. Got caught trying to slip a handful of those steel cocktail straws into your purse? “I’m so drunk!” is not going to cut it. The grownup move is the exact opposite. Learn to act naturally no matter how twisted you really feel—serous drinkers know that’s how you get away with the really crazy shit.
Deal with Dainty Cocktail Glasses
The day you graduate up from frat bars to serious drinking establishments, the biggest change you notice may be the glass in your hand: Instead of all-purpose pint glasses or tumblers, suddenly the shape and size of your glass depends on what you order. And the first time you get a coupe—that delicate-stemmed, bowl-shaped glass that looks straight out of Sense & Sensibility—you might feel like you’ve taken a solid step in the wrong direction, especially if you’re a card-carrying Dude. But coupes have been around for centuries; if they were good enough for Humphrey Bogart and Winston Churchill, they’re good enough for you. Besides, coupes were specifically designed to hold only the booziest cocktails, so if you’re served one, it’s a signal to everyone in the know that you’re drinking the tough stuff. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Read Your Surroundings
One of the biggest mistakes amateurs make is ordering the same thing every time, whether at their corner local or the bar at Eleven Madison Park. While it’s good to know what you like and to have a standard go-to drink to fall back on, the mark of a pro drinker is being able to read context and order accordingly, blending in with his surroundings like a boozehound ninja. In a place with 100 apothecary bottles on the bar, don’t order a two-ingredient drink that could be made blindfolded. In an Irish pub, don’t order an Aviation. If it’s not visibly obvious what kind of place you’re in, check the menu for common spirits or flavors that appear over and over—that’s the bar’s sweet spot. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Don’t do shots
We get it: Sometimes you need to get drunk fast, whether you’re nursing a broken heart or trying to work up some liquid courage. You might think the quickest way to do it is by knocking back a shot or two—but wait. People who do shots are major mooks, slamming glasses down and screaming at each other as they do. You do not want to put yourself in the same boat as these heathens. Besides, any stirred cocktail (one that’s all booze) is going to contain around three ounces of alcohol, compared to about 1½ in a shot glass. You’ll look classier and save money. Bonus!
(There is one important exception to this rule: If a bartender offers you a shot, you take it. No matter what. It’s a sign of friendship from one of the most powerful people in a drinker’s life—turn it down and you’ll never drink in this town again.)
No More Flavored Booze
We all made jokes when they came out with a Cinnabon vodka, and all those marshmallow-frosting-salted-caramel-birthday-cake vodkas are obviously an abomination. But there are plenty of other flavored boozes that are, for some reason, still popular—and that some bartenders even use in their drinks. Flavored vodkas took off in the early ’90s with practical variations like lemon and orange, back when the concept of putting fresh ingredients in cocktails was unthinkable and the cocktail renaissance was just a gleam in Dale DeGroff’s eye. But now that every bar keeps fresh fruit on hand and making infusions is the latest DIY trend, flavored spirits are like processed foods—unnecessary, fake-tasting versions of something you could easily do yourself. Don’t waste your money.
Give Tequila Another Chance
Everyone’s had that one monstrously bad night, the hangover that makes all your future hangovers seem like a picnic in the park—it may have been on tequila shots, or rum and Cokes, orPoland Spring-brand vodka…you name it, as long as it came in a plastic bottle. Since that fateful night, you’ve made sure to steer clear of that spirit no matter what. But here’s the thing: It’s not the spirit’s fault that you were an idiot. It wasn’t tequila in general that left you lying pantsless on the bathroom floor. Plastic cups of Cuervo, too much table salt, and bottled lime juice (“just as good as real lime wedges,” you told yourself) left you lying pantsless on the bathroom floor. Get over it. If you’re worried about a gag reflex memory acting up, ease your way in with a light cocktail containing the accused, then move onto a more spirit-forward drink, then try it on on its own. If you still don’t like it, then you’ll know it’s not you, it’s the booze. (Photo: Empellon/Daniel Krieger)
You Don’t Have to Like Wine
Wine junkies make themselves out to be the ultimate in mature, sophisticated adults, talking about vintage and mouthfeel and pronouncing impossible French names like mourvèdre and cinsault while you sit there feeling like you should be looking for the kids’ table. You mean you don’t know how the 2012 Burgundies are faring in the bottle? Quelle horreur! Don’t fall for it. There’s nothing wrong with not giving a damn about wine—and now that craft beer is showing up everywhere—even at tasting-menu restaurants—you’re less likely than ever to get looked down on for ordering a beer with a fancy dinner. Just as long as it’s not a Coors Light. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
It’s Okay to Ask Questions
When you’re a 16-year-old trying to score some Bacardi Breezers at the gas station, you learn that the best way to appear more grown-up is to act like you know what you’re doing and get the hell out as quickly as possible. This tactic may have worked for you back then, but now, if you’re faced with an uncertain menu situation, it’s much better to stop and talk to your bartender, asking a few straightforward, simple questions to give him a sense of what you like and let him guide you to something good. Too many people will blindly order something that’s a complete mystery, hate it, and either not touch it again for the rest of the night or demand a replacement. Go ahead and own your ignorance—remember, even if your big mouth gets you carded, you’re not going to get kicked out. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Know Where to Take Your Friends
You spend a lot of time obsessing over the perfect place to take a date, matching just the right décor, service, and attitude to her individual tastes. You’d never dream of bringing a touchy-feely yoga fanatic to Booker + Dax, but when you go out with your friends? Wherever’s closest, obviously. Next time, use even a tenth of that time and energy to come up with a bar that’ll be accommodating to your picky friend who only drinks one incredibly hard-to-find kind of Scotch; and, on the flipside, where your buddy who loses control of the volume of his voice when he’s had a few won’t piss off the other patrons. If you need some help researching, start here. (Photo: Post Office)
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