This happened awhile back, but I was reminded of it today.
I was in a restaurant -- small chain steakhouse -- and ordered a Manhattan. The waitress first asked me if it was a Martini, and then said she didn't know if they had sweet vermouth when I told her what was in it. (They did, I could see it behind the bar.) I had to laugh when I was later looking through their beverage menu and the Manhattan was the very first item on the cocktail page.
I'm not a cocktail expert, but I feel like the chances of getting a good drink out of someone who doesn't know what sweet vermouth is is probably fairly limited. I decided not to have a Manhattan, but the whole encounter was awkward, and I'd like to avoid those kinds of conversations.
Is there a handy trick or rule of thumb for assessing whether to try a cocktail or stick to wine/beer/ice water? I mean, if it's the kind of place that offers 9 kinds of Martinis and 3 flavors of Mojitos on a plastic tent card on the table, I'm pretty sure it's not worth it unless I'm interested in a tequila slurpee. And if it's the place where the cocktail card lists 4 house drinks with spirits from a local distiller and house-made bitters, I'm pretty sure it's going to be worth a try. But what about all the places that are in between -- are there context clues you use to "read" a bar / restaurant and determine the likelihood that they'll pour a decent drink?