Bar Terms

Written By Alexandra Vaughn 


Chances are, if you hang around a bar long enough, you’ll eventually hear a plethora of expressions that might sound like a whole new language. This list of common terms will help you decipher bartender slang and have you sounding like a pro when ordering.

To get you started, here’s a list of frequently used words that will help you not only when you order a cocktail but also when reading recipes and refining your techniques at home.


Alcohol by volume. This refers to the amount of alcohol in a certain volume of a drink or spirit. All alcohol is required to have it listed on its label. Beer tends to be 3-13%, wine is generally 8-15%, liqueur is about 15-20% and liquor 40-55%.


A potent alcoholic blend of herbs, barks, botanicals or other natural flavors used in drops or dashes to add complexity to cocktails.

Corner / Behind

Called out to make one’s location known when not in sight as to avoid collisions.


Adding olive juicy to a martini. Filthy is extra extra dirty, or extra extra olive juice.

Free Pour

Not using a jigger or any form of measurement.

Julep Cup

A silver or tin cup that a Mint Julep is traditionally served in.


A drink served in a short glass like a rocks or old fashioned glass.


A spirit served in a lowball glass without dilution from ice or water.

Pour Spout

A metal and rubber utensil that fits in the neck of a bottle and streamlines the flow of liquor regulating the amount that is poured from the bottle.


A standard way of measuring the amount of alcohol in America. The proof is double  the ABV.


An instrument used for shaking.

Straight Up

A shaken or stirred drink that is served in a stemmed glass. (not to be confused with neat)

Top Shelf

Premium liquor placed on higher shelves more visible to the customer.


A drink with no alcohol. Also referred to as a mocktail.


A small glass of non alcoholic liquid that accompanies an alcoholic beverage. “I’ll have a shot of whiskey with a coke back.”


To make or “build” a cocktail usually by adding ingredients in a particular order.


A small amount of delicious liquid taken after a shot to help ease the taste of the shot.


A few drops of something. (often bitters)


An outdated term of measurement. It is no longer used as bartender’s fingers vary in size.


A cocktail consisting of spirit and soda served in a tall, slender highball glass. (similiar to a collins glass except the collins glass is usually a bit taller)

Julep Strainer

A round spoon like strainer with holes originally designed to strain Juleps. It is used to strain drinks from a mixing glass.


A non-alcoholic ingredient in a cocktail. I.e. soda or juice.


A drink before bed.


A time in U.S. history from 1920-1933 where the government banned the production, distribution and sales of all alcohol.

Rim a Glass

A term for coating the rim of a glass with sugar or salt.

Shot Glass

Usually a 1-2 ounce glass that holds a shot or shooter.


Pouring a drink through a strainer after shaking or stirring.


A carbonated beverage flavored with quinine.


Usually referring to a martini, a ratio of more vermouth to gin.

Bar Spoon

A long-handled spoon used to mix and layer cocktails. It’s length ensures it reaches the bottom of a tumbler and the spoon holds 5 milliliters.


Over shaking a cocktail (particularly with gin or whiskey) that results in small ice chips and oxygen bubbles that makes the cocktail appear cloudy.


Frequently used sometimes home made, unlabled bottles of bitters, spirits and syrups.


A drink with twice the amount of alcohol as the recipe calls for.


Setting a drink on fire. Bacardi 151 is commonly used because of it’s flammability.

House Liquor

The liquor used in the well as opposed to top shelf. Also known as well or call.


Cocktails that have visibly separate layers. This is done by pouring heaviest ingredient on the bottom and floating lighter components on top.


The art of crafting cocktails.

On The Fly

A drink that is needed quickly. Bar slang used most often when an order was forgotten, spilled or unsatisfactory.


An informal term for the measure of a 1 ounce shot.

Rocks Glass

An old fashioned or lowball glass used for serving drinks over ice.


A cocktail containing a spirit, a citrus juice and a sweetener. Some recipes also add egg white.


An iced beverage served in a tall glass usually with soda or juice.


A garnish of citrus peel that releases its essence into the drink.


A garnish, most often citrus made by cutting the cross section of the fruit.

Behind The Stick

A term used when working a shift behind the bar. The slang may have originally referred to pulling the wooden handles of beer taps.


Refers to the ice well behind a bar. It is a good practice to melt the ice at the end of the night and clean the ice bin.


Low abv bottled beverages of different alcohols and flavors. (i.e. Smirnoff Ice)


A martini with very little dry vermouth.


A layering method in which a liquor or mixer is slowly pored on top of a drink.


A small measuring device shaped like an hour glass used to pour a percise amount.

Liqueur / Cordial

A spirit often flavored with herbs, botanicals, creams and fruits and having a sugar content of at least 2.5%.


To mash ingredients like fruit and herbs in a shaker with a muddler or long stick like bar tool.

On The Rocks

A spirit or drink served on ice in a lowball, rocks or old fashioned glass.


A wide assortment of multi-serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks usually served in large bowls.


To chill and mix a drink by shaking the contents quickly back and forth in a shaker.


A method of mixing a cocktail or chilling and diluting it with ice that does not bruise the alcohol.


A beverage with hot water, sweetner and usually some warming spices like pepper or clove.


Another term for straight up.


Another citrus garnish made by cutting the fruit in half long ways then in thirds making triangular shapes.

So now that you’re familiar with some commonly used terms impress your friends at your next cocktail soiree! This list will continue to grow as new terms are constantly invented. Knowing some of this bar lingo will benefit everyone. It allows you to manipulate a drink to your taste and helps the bartender understand exactly what you want.