What Does It Mean To Take Liquor Straight Up?

When you're craving a strong and cold drink, knowing the right terminology is key to getting that libation in hand ASAP. Perhaps most importantly, using the appropriate lingo keeps you from looking silly in front of that impossibly cool bartender at your local dive.

Ordering a drink 'straight up' can cause a bit of confusion because you can also order drinks 'straight' or 'up.' Sometimes, someone ordering liquor straight up actually wants it neat — room temperature liquor poured right into the glass. However, a straight-up drink most often means that the cocktail ingredients are stirred or shaken with ice, and then strained into a glass without ice to serve. Usually, beverages served this way are liquor-forward and require some dilution to round out the harsh edges of the spirit. A Manhattan, Sazerac, sidecar, or historically glamorous martini are all examples of drinks that would typically be served straight up. However, you probably won't have to specify, since for this family of drinks it is implied they will be served in this way.

What does it mean to order a drink straight?

If cocktails are not your jam and you are more of a single-spirit sipper, then you may actually be in the market for a drink ordered straight instead of straight up. This term also has a few different meanings depending on who you ask.

Liquor straight can refer to both a chilled or room temperature single spirit, depending on whether you order a light or dark liquor. No matter what, it will not be diluted like it is in a cocktail served straight up. For example, when you order a vodka straight, it will likely be served chilled from a refrigerated bottle but not shaken or stirred with ice. Whether you want wheated bourbon or high-rye bourbon, it is common to order it "straight." You will receive room-temperature bourbon poured directly from the bottle into a glass — more accurately, this bourbon is being served "neat."

Shots are another drink colloquially ordered straight, though the standard room temperature technically means your liquor of choice is being served neat. Ordering a shot neat — though not incorrect — just sounds a bit off. If you want your shot shaken with ice before being strained into glasses (i.e. straight up), ask for it chilled.

What does it mean to order a drink up?

Fortunately for you and anyone else who likes their liquor cold, a drink served "up" and "straight up" are essentially the same thing. In all cases, the term "up" means that the cocktail or single spirit should be served cold and made cold by being stirred or shaken with ice. For some, the only small difference would be that a cocktail served "up" comes in a stemmed vessel, like a martini, Nick and Nora, or coupe glasses. In this case, it refers to the glass being up off the bar. Another small distinction could be that "straight up" applies when more than one ingredient is used, and "up" is used when it is just one spirit. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.

Unfortunately, there are no universal standards when it comes to ordering liquor at a bar. You can and should ask the bartender if you are not sure of the most appropriate term for what you are craving, especially since all these terms can range in use.