This excerpt is brought to you by the team behind the brand-new book Death & Co. In it, you’ll learn the secrets to cocktails shaken and stirred the way of the famed New York bar. Want to see Death & Co’s owners, David Kaplan and Alexander Day, in action as they criss-cross the United States bringing Death & Co. to life with help from The Famous Grouse? Buy tickets here and check out this recipe for the Little Engine.
Like any industry, bartending has its own lingo and colloquialisms. But every bar is also its own tiny island in an archipelago of booze, and, as such, develops its own unique dialect.
Death & Co is no exception. Over the past 8 years, we’ve developed our own lexicon of shorthand, lingo and, more often than not, juvenile slang. Here’s a sampling of our favorites; to see the rest, buy our book!
BOOMERANG A shot of liquor covered in cellophane and delivered by hand to another establishment, usually as a way of saying hello to industry friends.
BROWN An adjective used to describe a drink whose flavor is complicated yet indiscriminant, usually as a result of one or more unnecessary ingredients in the recipe. For example, “This cocktails tastes brown. Take an ingredient or two out?” Also known as “muddy.”
DOESN’T SUCK An ambiguous form of praise offered by certain Death & Co bartenders. Doesn’t suck can range in meaning from “This is awesome” to “This isn’t awesome, but it’s not terrible, either.”
FAMILY MEAL A staff-wide shot taken nightly around 11:30 p.m., typically in the form of Siembra Azul tequila, Appleton rum, Rittenhouse rye, or Buffalo Trace bourbon (though we’ve never discriminated). Also known as “time to feed the kids.”
GET SKINNY A more polite way to say “get the fuck out of the way” when another bartender blocks you.
HOT Used to describe a drink that tastes too alcoholic. For example, “This Sazerac is hot. Needs more dilution.”
IRKSOME A small measure of booze left in a bottle that is easier to drink than to decant into a new bottle. Also used to refer to a very small amount of an ingredient in a cocktail spec.
KD Shorthand for Kold-Draft, this refers to the 1.-inch ice cubes used to shake and stir drinks at Death & Co, produced by a large, expensive, and temperamental machine made by the Kold-Draft company.
MISE Pronounced MEEZ and short for mise en place, a French cooking term referring to the preparation and organization of one’s equipment and ingredients. At the bar it refers to the arrangement of tools, garnishes, cheaters, and other ingredients at the service and point stations.
MR. POTATO HEAD A technique for creating a new drink by substituting one or more ingredients into an established (usually classic) cocktail recipe. For example, “The Final Ward is a Mr. Potato Head riff on the Last Word, with rye and lemon in place of gin and lime.”
PRO Short for “professional,” when referring to admirable behavior, technique, or decorum exhibited by staff members. Often used in conjunction with “job.” For example, “Thanks for setting set up the bar on your day off; that was a real pro job.” Also used sarcastically to comment on blunders; breaking an expensive mixing glass is “very pro.”
SCUMBAG Used as either a noun or a verb when referring to a drinks industry person who shows up and orders a drink as we’re attempting to close the bar, then hangs on for a few shots and barely tips. For example, “So-and-so scumbagged me last night. It was annoying.” Also applied to instances when our drinks show up on other bars’ menus without credit.
SPEC A cocktail recipe written or verbally described in cryptic shorthand. For example, “Is your spec for a daiquiri two, one, three-quarter, or two, three-quarter, three-quarter?”
WAYNE GRETZKY Slang for a snobby mixologist—or someone who sports the mini mullet popular among hockey players.
(Photo: William Hereford)