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.

Neat

neat.jpg

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.

Up

 

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.

Twist

twist.jpg

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.

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

  • Mark says:

    Wow, long lasting thread. I have been keeping my whiskey in the freezer so I can have it start out cold AND undiluted. I find mixed drinks, when served up, assert their flavors better this way. It has gotten so that if I order a mixed drink out, I’m grumpy that it has gotten so watered down. Is there a term for getting ones liquor pre-chilled?

  • Sam says:

    I’ve been trying to push the term. “Chilled neat” for cocktails that are chilled put served in a rocks glass, like a Sazerac. Thoughts? Have do you prefer other terms for this application?

  • abe says:

    This is a cool website. Its kind of funny how different terms vary in different places. Ive been bartending for over a decade in very high class martini bars and neighborhood dives as well. I always thought that “up” meant in a stemmed glass not necessarily chilled ie martinis,manhattans , cordials etc. the glass changed depending on the type of alchohol but would always have a stem of some kind hence “up”.If they asked for a Bailey’s “up” it would come in a snifter or pony glass. I always have to clarify about “dry” and “bone-dry” that varies alot because our clientele is old and young. universally , “rocks ” mean ice. “neat” means in a class no additional liqours. And “straight up” is the same but in stemware. No one ever orders a warm martini so it is understood that they are all chilled and if they want the ice crystals “bruised” or “beaten ” are the terms used. Thank you for the blog and the information to help hone my craft

  • Ky resident says:

    Just want to keep this thread alive. Best I have found for a decent review of terms for a server.

  • Indygal says:

    Thanks to all who have weighed in. I started reading this thread earlier today and tonight I poured my Bushmills over just one small cube instead of a glass full. So much better! And as soon the cooler weather arrives, I am going for “neat”. (Hey, it takes time to change old ways.) But thank you again for the education. I can’t wait to pour my bourbons neat and enjoy them on a whole new level.

  • Tim says:

    Jeff, wow your blog has many many years of comments! Some smart (Jean Claude) some not so much..(Wooten)You should be proud! thanks for taking the time To make this lingo very clear. Best Regards from Tx.

  • Kolette says:

    Bar #1: I ordered a drambuie, & asked if it could be served warm. (Minnesota/middle of Jan/30-below 🙂 The bartender poured the drambuie into a snifter, & then balanced the snifter (on its side) & laid it on top of a rocks glass that was filled with hot water. It was perfect…just what I wanted! it was warm, & stayed warm thru-out my sipping 🙂 Cost: approx $10.00

    Bar #2: I ordered that same drink & it was served exactly as I asked (same procedure as Bar#1)but when I got my bill, I was charged $10 each for the 2 drambuies, along with a $3/drink “neat” charge. Not being a spirits-connoisseur, I asked the bartender what “neat” meant, & he said the “neat” charges were for the hot-water set-ups. I thought it strange, since Bar#1 didn’t charge me, but oh well. Also, being a novice, I then assumed that the word “neat” meant “warm, over hot water”.

    Bar#3: so now, armed with my new word, I ordered a “drambuie, neat”, & per your definition, Jeffrey, I got my drambuie straight out of the bottle…no heat, no hot water, no nothin’. I told the bartender that I wanted my snifter of drambuie laying in a glass of hot water, & he sweetly did that for me…& when I asked him about my use of the word, “neat”, he explained that what he had originally served me was considered “neat”. It was all very cordial, & I told him that I really didn’t know what I was saying, but I thanked him for his patience. (by the way, classy, urban, upscale bar, but no “extra” charge. tho a BIG tip to the kind bartender)

    Bottom line: I’m still confused about 1: how to use the proper terminology when ordering the hot-water set-up, & 2: the use of the word “neat” on Bar #2’s bill (?)

    I’m sure the whole hot-water set-up takes more time, so an extra-charge for that doesn’t bother me…But the term “neat” surprised me then, & it especially perplexes me NOW after reading this thread!

  • Marco Polo says:

    I love this thread and have been lurking it for a couple of years. Let’s keep it alive… 1 more year and it will be a decade!

    Who says you can’t achieve immortality?

  • Lando says:

    @Kolette

    1. Seems like you ordered correctly and got what you asked for.

    2. The “neat” charge was not for a hot-water setup, just a bartender that didn’t know or didn’t understand the question. The “neat” charge is there because that bar likely makes neat drinks with larger (2-3oz) pours than standard drinks. The bar I work at has add-on buttons like that for any liquor that is served in larger portions or special preparations like martinis, manhattans, etc. So, for instance, if you ordered a grey goose martini your ticket would say Grey Goose $10, and a $2 martini charge.

    3. He was correct, and gave it to you “neat”. “Warm” is a separate request.

    Not sure if you’ll see this, but I hope it helps. Cheers.

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