“So, What’ll You Have?”

Bars! So alluring. So inviting. So terrifying to the uninitiated, the cash-poor, the afraid-of-doing-something-wrong. When I studied abroad in Denmark, everything about the drinking culture was more relaxed. Kids are allowed to buy alcohol starting at age 15 and virtually the only drunks you see stumbling about or yelling on trains are rowdy visitors over the line from Sweden, about whom Danes roll their eyes.

Once my friends and I stopped at a supermarket for beer on our way to one of Copenhagen’s zillions of parks, where we planned to drink and watch farmers bring sheep in for nighttime grazing. The guy at the check out patiently scanned each bottle and placed it, clinking against its fellows, in our backpack, until the backpack bulged like Santa’s shoulder bag. Finally he looked up at me and said, “ID please?” I gaped at him with the suavity of Urkel. He grinned and said, “Just kidding, welcome to Denmark!”

Bars there provided menus with prices as well as lists of ingredients, which allowed me, as a young 19, to understand what I was ordering. Combinations of words I had heard all my life — whiskey-on-the-rocks, martini-with-a-twist — at last made sense, and I could see which ones were more expensive. For the cost of one Long Island Iced Tea, clearly a drink For Tourists Only, you could get two or three local Carlsbergs. Was the price of a Sex on the Beach worth the tawdry thrill of placing an order for one? Only if you were a teenager. I did try something with blue Curacao once, to see if it was worth it. (It didn’t get me laid, so, no.)

I tended to go simpler: a Salty Dog, a glass of wine. Even now, I don’t really have a go-to drink, and it can be a problem when I’m out and some waiter ambushes me, impatience in their eyes, pen in their hand. Lately my impulse has been to say “scotch and soda,” because when traveling last summer I had some killer scotch and got all starry-eyed about it and thought maybe I had found The One. Turns out most scotch is not as good as that was and yet expensive; the other night I had to pay $10 ($12 with tip) for a drink I grimaced at and left on the table.

Mike, when I complained about this, was less than sympathetic. “Well scotch is not a cheap drink. You should have done a vodka collins, or a gin and tonic,” he said. Meaghan concurred; she’s also a G&T type of gal. But I associate those with brunchy mornings outside! They’re a time-specific drink, like a Bloody Mary. What do you drink in the evening that’s not too pricey but good?

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