Dear Helena,

I recently went to a bar that is famous for its cocktails. I asked the bartender to make me something whiskey-based, hoping he would whip up something really great for me on the fly. My male friend did too. He made my friend a badass, strong drink and made me something froofy over ice, with a bunch of simple syrup and muddled fruit. I felt like he was being sexist. Was I asking for it by just letting him wing it? Or should he have not assumed I’d want a girly drink?
—No Pink Drinks

Dear No Pink Drinks,
The bartender was wrong to assume you’d prefer a froufrou cocktail just because you’re a woman. Mike Ryan, bartender at the Violet Hour in Chicago, says: “I’ve made so-called manly cocktails for ladies who look like they should be drinking something pink and fruity with an umbrella in it, and fruity, girly-looking drinks for guys in muscle shirts.”

But gender sometimes makes a difference in what people order if they don’t know what the drink will taste like. They order based on preconceptions of what they should like, which mostly come from advertising, says Neyah White, bartender at Nopa in San Francisco. Among such drinkers, “women want more citrusy, lighter, more easygoing drinks, and men are confident ordering something more spirit-heavy.” Chowhounds debating the ideal “manly drink” agree, recommending Scotch and soda or bourbon on the rocks. Men are often wary of drinks in pretty colors, like the Spring Green, a sherry-based cocktail White placed on the Nopa menu. It was tinted “a pale pastel green like Easter grass.” Apparently guys didn’t want to be seen with the drink in their hand, any more than they wanted to be seen carrying a sequined clutch.

And to macho drinkers, the glass matters as much as the drink. “There’s definitely a masculine prejudice against glasses on stems,” says White. This makes sense: A champagne flute looks a lot daintier than, say, a beer mug. Recently, one of Ryan’s male customers ordered a Manhattan. “He obviously wanted to be as manly as he could—it’s got the word man in it. Then he said, ‘It better not come in one of those girly glasses.’”

In fact, the stemmed cocktail glass—designed to prevent the heat of the hand from warming the drink—was invented for the male drinker, since at the dawn of cocktail history, in the 19th century, most cocktail drinkers were men. (For the most part, cocktails weren’t made at home where women could enjoy them too.) “The fancy pre-Prohibition drinks evolved for the sporty male drinker,” says David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of Imbibe! History offers clear proof that men don’t innately prefer “manly” drinks. “Back then, men had no complexes about egg whites, raspberry syrup, pink drinks, blue drinks,” says Wondrich. The Ramos Gin Fizz, scented with girly orange flower water, filled men with “sheer joy and delight,” he says.

The number of people interested in well-made cocktails, however, is growing. And among them, gender plays little role in preferences. A good bartender knows that a woman who asks for a whiskey-based drink is probably serious about her cocktails. And those customers who offer the bartender free rein are sending the signal that they are adventurous drinkers. “I like to bring in a bottle that hasn’t come into play, an element they haven’t seen yet … reward them for playing outside the comfort zone,” says White.

Bottom line: No bartender should make you a girly drink just because you’re a girl.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

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