There is something to be said about a thoughtfully curated cocktail menu at a restaurant or bar. Knowing the perfect balance of spirits and complimentary aromatics and other accoutrements takes a certain level of talent.
The true test of a barkeep’s capabilities, though, is preparing a custom drink for a customer. A good bartender should welcome the challenge of creating something unique to your preferences. All you need to do is know your preferred type of spirit and flavour profile (sweet, sour, herbaceous, savoury, strong, for example) and let the barkeep do the rest. Since creativity takes time, always remember to expect a custom drink order to take a few minutes longer than something on the menu.
Here are five great places in Calgary to order a cocktail sans-menu.
Bridgeland’s cozy cocktail bar is always on top of its game, whether it’s a slower Tuesday night with a few tables of Tinder dates or a buzzing Friday evening that’s packed from wall-to-wall. If you can’t grab a seat at the bar to chat with a barkeep directly, rest assured that all the servers here know their spirits and can relay your liquid desires from table-to-bar without skipping a beat.
813 1 Ave. N.E., 403-454-5808, cannibale.ca
Milk Tiger Lounge
This Calgary cocktail institution has long been known as one of the best places to enjoy a drink in the city, if not the entire province. As such, there isn’t much a mixologist here won’t be willing to do. Pointing out a classic cocktail that you know you already like (for example, a Dark ‘N’ Stormy) before saying, “Just make me something interesting,” is a good approach when ordering.
1410 4 St. S.W., 403-261-5009, milktigerlounge.ca
Model Milk or Model Citizen
If you’re not in the mood for a full meal at this nationally acclaimed restaurant, Model Milk’s bar section at the front of the restaurant still makes for a cool, comfortable place to settle in for a beverage. Running the bar in the restaurant and upstairs in its sister cocktail lounge, Model Citizen, is Madeleine MacDonald who is always up for mixing an off-the-menu libation.
As an added bonus, the drinks upstairs at Citizen are now only $10, which is one hell of a deal for the quality of craftsmanship you’ll find here.
308 17 Ave. S.W., 403-265-7343, modelmilk.ca
Raw Bar at Hotel Arts
Raw Bar’s cocktail menu is primarily made up of refreshingly bright cocktails made to compliment the contemporary Asian dishes coming out of the kitchen, but its well-stocked bar offers up plenty of reasons for bar manager Franz Swinton and his bartenders to get creative with shaking and stirring.
119 12 Ave. S.W., 403-206-9565, rawbaryyc.ca
Since the amount of liquor on its bar shelves rivals that of books found in a small community library, it’s only natural that Proof is one of the best places to place a custom drink order. Flip through the extensive spirit-sorted menu – there are vodkas to gins, mezcal and more. Settle on a particular micro-distilled spirit and let bar manager Jeff Savage and his team build off of that.
1302 1 St. S.W., 403-246-2414, proofyyc.com