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The Beauty of Bespoke Cocktails

If you’re not familiar with the bespoke cocktails trend, it means that you can walk into a bar and customize a drink. And for the decision-challenged, you can suggest an ingredient or three and the bartender will compose a drink on the spot to your specs. I’m in love.

Frankly, I’ve tired of restaurants that sternly growl, “no substitutions, no additions, no deletions.” What happened to “the customer is always right?” What happened to “have it your way?” Luckily, the tradition of order customization is still alive and well in bars. If I want a vodka with soda water vs. tonic, I just have to ask. Lemon or lime? No problem.

It gets trickier in higher-end cocktail lounges. Some drinks are precisely calibrated, and some bartenders are too reverent (or inexperienced) to mess with the proportions. But “bespoke,” that word once reserved for the custom tailoring industry, has become a buzzword in the bar industry too. Sometimes it’s filed under “custom cocktails.” You choose, and the bartender obligingly customizes. (There’s an evil flip side to this too:  “Bartender’s Choice,” in which you relinquish all control, and the bartender selects the drink for you.)

Ward III, in NY’s Tribeca district, has a fantastic Bespoke Cocktails program. Just look at this list. Choose any spirit, flavor, fruit or spice, even texture (crisp, creamy, effervescent) and the bartender creates a drink on the spot. Great and oft-requested ones get a spot in a box full of index cards for easy reference later.

Of course, some guests take this nifty option too far. Mike Neff, who co-owns Ward III, once told me this cautionary tale:  a guest came in one evening with a whole green bell pepper, and challenged, “Make me a drink with THAT, wise guy.” Obligingly, the bartender created something involving tequila.

The same guy came back two nights later, and again challenged, “Make me a drink with THAT.” And on the bar, he tossed…a Twinkie.

I guess some people just can’t handle that level of freedom.