Bartending 101: A Quick Guide To Tools, Drinks and Lingo


So you’ve finally succumbed to the job that you think will get you the most tips: bartending. You need cash fast, and you figure you can just pick this up like any other gig? You may be a fast learner, but make sure you don’t walk into an establishment thinking that your knowledge in front of the counter will make you a whiz behind the bar. You need a few basics to get started.


Below, we’ve done our best to outline the bare minimum that you should be sure to nail down before you go talking to anyone about getting a bar gig. In fact, your best bet as a newbie is to try and find a job as a bar back.  


Don’t waste your money on one of those “bartending schools.” Learn the trade from a willing keeper in action. It’ll be faster, save you a whole lot of dough, and get you into the gig a heck of lost faster. Just be willing to take some rough shifts early on, and earn your place as the bar’s favorite drink maker.

Tools: Your Weapons of Choice

Here are the essentials for your tool belt: there are the things that you’ll pretty much have in your hand the entire shift.


There are two kinds of shakers you’ve probably seen. There’s the Boston shaker or the Standard shaker. Boston shakers use a tall metal cup and a drink glass, whereas the Standard shaker looks more like the traditional style they use in the movies.

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The Hawthorne strainer looks like a flat spoon with a metal coil, and it’s used to filter the drinks out of the shaker and into the cup.

Bar Spoon

A bar spoon is that tall thin stirring device, usually that has a spiral shape to it, that bartenders use to mix drinks.



A blender is just your typical electric home appliance used to make blended ice cocktails.

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Ice Bucket

You’ll constantly be reaching into the ice bucket in your bar to cool down your next drink.



A jigger is a small metal cup that looks like a sand clock, and is used to measure out individual shots.

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A muddler is a wooden or steel spoon that’s used to crush different ingredients into a drink.

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Spouts & Pourers

Spouts and pourers are attachments that you put on bottles of alcohol for more controlled pouring.

Wine Opener

You’ll always get someone who wants wine instead of the hard stuff. Make sure you have a good bottle opener to get the cork out smoothly and quickly.

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Drinks: The Staples You Need To Know

You’ll undoubtedly have dozens of drinks to memorize once you really get started, but here are some of the best-known, simplest, and most popular drinks ordered at bars around the country—often the root of more complicated drinks with fancier names.    


2 oz. vodka/gin, a dash of dry vermouth. Stir and strain.

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The Manhattan

2 oz. bourbon/whiskey, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, 2 dashes of bitters. (For a “perfect” Manhattan, do half sweet vermouth, half dry vermouth)

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Long Island Iced Tea

0.5 oz. vodka, 0.5 oz. rum, 0.5 oz. gin, 0.5 oz. triple sec, 0.5 oz. sour mix & cola. Mix the alcohol in a highball glass, add sour mix, top with cola.

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Old Fashioned

Muddle a cherry, orange slice, and 1 sugar cube. Add 1.5 oz. of rye whiskey and ice. Stir and serve.

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1 oz. tequila, 1 oz. triple sec, 1 oz. sour mix. Shake with ice, salt rim, and garnish with a lime.

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Gin and Tonic

3 oz. gin, 4 oz. tonic water, lime juice. Stir with ice and serve.

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Tom Collins

1.5 oz. gin, 1.5 oz. club soda, 0.75 oz. lemon juice, 0.75 oz. simple syrup, 1 dash bitters. Shake and strain into highball glass with ice, garnish with cherry and lemon.




1.5 oz. white rum, 6 mint leaves, 1.5 oz. soda water, 1 oz. lime juice, 2 tsp. sugar. Muddle mint, sugar and lime juice. Add rum and soda water, garnish with mint leaves. Serve with a straw.


Lingo: “I’m sorry, you want it neat and on the rocks?”

No doubt you’re going to hear a lot of strange words even within your first few hours on the job. Here are just a handful of words that will help you from completely getting someone’s order wrong. When in doubt, never assume.


A back is a small glass or water or coke to accompany a neat drink. A chaser is a shot of juice to ease a shot.


Bitters are an herbal alcoholic blend. The most common kind are angostura bitters. They are simply meant to enhance a cocktail’s flavor.


A dash simply means a few drops.


Most commonly you’ll hear this accompanied with a martini order. It means add olive juice. The more olive juice, the dirtier.


A dry martini will have some vermouth added to it. Extra dry means a drop of scotch swirled around the glass and then poured out.


A highball is any liquor mixed with soda and served in a tall glass.


Muddling is when you crush up ingredients with a muddler, thereby extracting oils and flavors from whatever you’re muddling.


Neat means the alcohol goes straight from the bottle into the glass. No ice.

On the Rocks

Any drink, served with ice.


Sour is a bar mix used in a variety of cocktails—usually a lime based mix.

Straight Up

Straight up means shake with iced, and then strained and served into a glass without ice.


Very important: don’t give anyone who orders a “virgin” drink something with alcohol in it!

Those are the basics, now it’s time to get your hands dirty and learn to make drinks like your favorite bartender. It’s all about your willingness to put in the time and effort to memorize and perfect everyone’s favorite recipe. Good luck!

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