Up, Neat, Straight Up, or On the Rocks

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I considered naming this article “How To Take an Order Behind the Bar”, since there seems to be a problem with bartenders and servers not fully understanding the vocabulary used in their workplace. I was reminded of this while reading this thread on the StraightBourbon.com forums some time ago. Yes, there seems to be some confusion about the terms “neat”, “up” (or “straight up”) and “with a twist”, and my goal is to try to help straighten this mess out.



The first – and simplest – term we’re going to examine is “neat“. “Neat” – as applied to drinks served in bars – refers to a shot of liquor poured directly from the bottle and into a glass. There is no chilling involved with a “neat” drink. There is never an additional ingredient in a drink served “neat”. You can not have a Screwdriver served “neat”. That’s not how we use the word.



If you walk into a bar and order a Dry Martini, “neat”, you might be served a tepid shot of Martini and Rossi Dry Vermouth in a room-temperature glass. That’s how the term “neat” is used. Although you know how much I love vermouth, nothing about that order sounds appetizing. What you were probably looking for was a Dry Martini, served “up. “Up” implies that there was some preparation involved, and that there is no ice in the final product. You can have a Manhattan on the rocks, or I can give it to you “up”.

Straight Up


Up” was originally short for “straight up“, meaning “no bullshit“. As in “I can handle the truth. Give it to me straight up.

Where the real confusion lies is with the term “straight up”. Although I don’t know where the choaos began, these days there is a bit of conversation required when that phrase is used.

Let’s say you order a Wild Turkey, “straight up”. Your bartender should assume you mean that you want your bourbon “neat”, and serve it as so. However, if you were looking for a chilled shot of whiskey in a cocktail glass, you probably should have dropped the “straight” and asked for your drink “up”. And if, as a bartender, you’ve received an order for a Ketel One “straight up”, you should probably check with your customer to make sure they’re looking for chilled vodka and vermouth, and not a glass of warm vodka.



A “twist” is always a thin strip of citrus peel, without pith and without the meat of the fruit. It derives its name from the fact that the peel is “twisted” over the surface of the drink to express the oils. Note that the default generic “twist” is made from lemon peel. Order appropriately.

The third term that causes some confusion on both sides of the bar is the word “twist”. I’ve ordered a gin martini with a twist (my preferred garnish) and received a big wedge of lemon on the side of the glass. I’ve taken an order for a gin and tonic with a twist, and had the drink sent back because I garnished with a thin strip of citrus peel. A delicate blend of gin and vermouth, the Martini is ruined by a big squeeze of lemon juice. Conversely, the bold flavors of a gin and tonic need more than a light spritzing of lemon or lime oils on the surface of the drink.

To recap:

Neat: Right out of the bottle.
Up: Chilled, and served in a cocktail glass.
Straight Up: Usually means “neat”, but check first.
Twist: A thin strip of citrus peel. Default is lemon.

117 Replies to “Up, Neat, Straight Up, or On the Rocks”

  • Chanel says:

    A year ago at a bar in Boulder, I ordered a pour of Lagavulin “neat, straight, and up, please and thank you.” I was attempting to show off my ability to name a Scotch Whisky in front of friends, as I had just begun drinking these types of spirits and felt accomplished due to this new adventurous undertaking. The girl stood there looking at me as though I had a third eye on my forehead and I impatiently asked her if there was a problem. She politely responded, “I’m sorry ma’am, but that doesn’t make sense” and proceeded to explain why. To this day I can’t thank her enough for correcting me, although my friends have never let me live that down…lol

  • Markus says:

    Jeffrey —

    Thank you for clearing that up!

    Everything you’ve laid out makes perfect sense, but what is the possibility the patron asking for, say, bourbon “straight up” is neither looking for their bourbon “neat” nor simply “up.” I was given to understand it meant poured “neat” (not a cocktail, etc.) but eventually served “up”, after being chilled over ice (rather than refrigerated)… or how should that be ordered?

    [Name of bourbon] “up” and “shaken” or “strained” or… (as applicable), perhaps?

    What’s more, perhaps you can settle a private wager — what is implied if someone orders a similar drink “short and neat”? My position – often disputed by certain friends – is that the more ambiguous part of the request is for a “short pour”. In other words, a smaller rather than larger drink; as opposed to served in a shorter glass.

    • “Chilled and neat” would be an acceptable way to order this. There’s not a standard term for that because, frankly, it’s an uncommon way to drink a spirit.

      As for your private wager, “short” really only is used when talking about beer. If you want a half shot of whiskey, just ask for a half shot or a half pour.

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