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whiskey sour cocktail
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“What are you having?”

It’s a question as old as the bartending profession itself, yet according to some of my sources behind the stick, one a great many regular tavern-goers have a hell of a hard time answering on the spot. And those bouts of indecision can, at times, be a real pain in the ass for the pouring pros.

As one Philly-based gin-slinger who asked to remain anonymous put it, “The problem lies in customers not having a go-to drink at the ready. Not a big deal on a Tuesday afternoon when there are two people at the bar and I can offer suggestions, but on a Saturday night when thirsty people are four-deep and someone starts hemming and hawing while ordering it’s, like, come on, what the hell do you want already!”

Your go-to drink, simply, is the one you order when your brain is on autopilot. When the decision to be in a bar in the first place is the sum total of your cognitive capabilities on any given night. A fall-down drunk’s fallback position.

For many years mine was a whiskey sour. Mainly because that’s what my dear old dad drank before he gave up the sport for good and, well, like most young men from working class Irish-Catholic families in Philly, I grew up emulating my proletarian pops. Hell, even to this day I’ll sometimes slather myself in that most rank-and-file of fragrances, Brut by Faberge — an homage to my old man’s olfactory fly-ness. (The cougars go wild for it, just fyi.)

Now that I live in LA, though, I’ve settled on Jack and Diet Coke or vodka soda as my go-to adult beverages. It’s not that I particularly love either one of those rather commonplace cocktails, it’s just that they’re so easy to make that not even a trained monkey or an aspiring D-list actor can screw it up. And with so few trained monkeys left working in the LA bar scene these days, you’re usually stuck with the latter.

On top of that, consuming drinks that contain, you know, calories is frowned upon in Hollywood. Almost as much as admitting you voted Republican.

Ah, but outside of Tinseltown (where, let’s face it, nobody gives a shit what you’re really like) your go-to drink can say a lot about who you are. As a result, it’s advisable to put some thought into choosing one. But not too much thought, because it’s only a fucking drink, for chrissakes, not a life partner or a career move… well, unless you’re from a working class Irish-Catholic family in Philly, in which case it’s probably all of those things.

So think about the “you” you want other bar patrons to see, and pick your most oft-quaffed poison accordingly. Aromatics, sours, shots, wine… it’s all in play, with one notable exception: Unless your favorite hangout is the bar at TGI Fridays, your go-to drink cannot be anything frozen and served in a garish container the size of Jay Leno’s head. And if you are a TGI Fridays regular, you need to stop reading immediately and punch yourself in the privates as hard as you can. Seriously. You owe us that much.

Dan Dunn’s best-selling book Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour is available wherever books are sold. Follow Dan on Twitter and Facebook, and hear him on The Imbiber Show podcast.

What’s your go-to drink? Let us know in the comments.