What Does Neat Mean? Bartending Terminology 101

Anish Patel @ 2022-03-21 05:38:33 -0700

What Does Neat Mean? Bartending Terminology 101

If you’ve ever ordered a classic cocktail at a bar, you may have heard some unfamiliar terms thrown around.

Most cocktails can be made in slightly different ways, and every guest has their own personal preference. So, if you’re ordering a new cocktail, the bartender might have anywhere from 1-5 questions for you. Just like you, they want to make sure that you get a drink made exactly how you like it. 

One of the most common terms you’ll hear at the bar is “neat.” If you don’t know what it means, it can feel a little intimidating to ask. However, the worst thing you can do is nod along when you don’t understand what your bartender is asking. Even if they seem busy, the bartender would rather you take the time to ask than realize that you ordered something completely different than what you wanted. 

This guide clears up the meaning of one of the most common terms you’ll hear in a bar so that you can order with confidence. Read through to the end to find a list of other common terms that are essential to know before ordering.

What Does “Neat” Mean in a Bar?

The term “neat” is most commonly used (and asked) when ordering bourbon, rye, or brandy.

When you order a liquor neat, it means that you want a shot of liquor poured straight from the bottle into the glass and served at room temperature. A neat drink won’t be shaken or stirred with ice, poured over ice, or mixed with anything. Think of it as an uncluttered, tidy drink — hence the name “neat.” 

Ordering “neat” also indicates to the bartender that you intend to sip the drink slowly rather than shoot it. Do they necessarily need to know this? Not really, but it’s all a part of bar culture. 

How To Order a Drink Neat

To order a drink neat like a pro, be sure to name the liquor before the style that you’d like it served. So, say “whiskey, neat” rather than “neat whiskey.” 

This helps the bartender organize your order in their head, which likely also has about ten other ingredients already in it. 

The other way of ordering whiskey — that is, not neat — is on the rocks. “Rocks” are ice. So, if you order a whiskey on the rocks, your bartender will add ice to the glass. If you order a whiskey and don’t specify, be prepared to be asked, “neat or on the rocks?” 

If you order a drink on the rocks, you may also be asked another question: “large rock or chips?” The choices you have here are one large ice cube that fills almost the whole glass (this is the classic way of serving whiskey on the rocks) or several small ice cubes, aka chips.

Not every bar has this option; some only serve chips. Plus, some bars will charge you extra for a larger rock, as they’re more expensive to stock than regular ice. 

Neat vs. Straight

Even the most seasoned guests and bartenders can get a little confused by bar terminology.

Some terms mean different things to different people, and straight is one of them. Straight isn’t used nearly as often as its synonyms, so for clarity's sake, you can just avoid this word altogether. However, clear communication is essential for a smoothly-operating bar, so it can help to know how people interpret “neat” vs. “straight” as a guest. 

For many bartenders, “straight” is synonymous with “neat.” It means liquor poured straight into the glass instead of in a shaker. The only difference here is that people who order liquor straight typically intend on shooting the spirit rather than nursing it. 

Other bartenders define straight as chilled. They will add your desired spirit to a shaker with ice and then strain into the glass. To avoid confusion, neat always means room temperature. If you want vodka chilled without any other mixer or ice, you can say “vodka straight, chilled” or even “vodka straight up,” which will get you a chilled vodka in a cocktail glass. 

What Does “Straight Up” Mean in Bartending? 

Whiskey and rye drinkers, this term is typically not for you.

You’ll never order a whiskey “straight up,” although you could if you wanted to. However, “straight up” does cause consumers and servers alike confusion. This term is most commonly used when ordering martinis. 

Technically, straight up means that you want the named liquor shaken or stirred and strained into a cocktail glass. It’s synonymous with “up” for this reason. So, why is it used when ordering a martini? Let’s look at the classic recipe for a martini to understand. 

Classic Martini 

2 ½ oz of gin or vodka 

½ oz of dry vermouth 

Lemon peel, twist, or olive to garnish 

So, if you order a martini straight up, you don’t want the vermouth. You just want the liquor shaken and strained into a martini glass, typically with a garnish that you’ll also

specify. This is actually a very common way to order a martini, as vermouth has a specific flavor that many people don’t prefer.

Bartending Terminology 101 

Now that you know some of the more confusing terms that you’ll come across, let's look at some common, simple terms to know before you go to the bar. 


Double means that you want twice the amount of liquor.

A single pour is typically 1.5 oz, and a double will be 2.5-3 oz depending on the bar, as well as statewide laws.

When you order a double, keep in mind a few things: first, that you’ll be charged twice as much (or close to it). Second, if you’re ordering a mixer, there will be less of it, so your drink will be strong. Last, your bartender will keep a closer eye on you to make sure that you don’t get too drunk. 


Virgin means a non-alcoholic drink.

It’s a great term to know if someone in your company is pregnant, a designated driver, or just wants to skip the booze for the night.

A classic virgin cocktail is the Shirley Temple, a drink made with grenadine and lemon-lime soda and garnished with a maraschino cherry. Most bartenders can make virgin adaptations of their signature cocktails; just be sure to ask for their guidance. They’ll know which ones will be tasty virgin-style and which ones won’t.


Dry is another term used for ordering martinis. It means that you want less Vermouth than the standard recipe requires. “Bone-dry” or “extra dry” will indicate to the bartender that you want the glass rinsed with Vermouth and then discarded.


Another term used for martinis, “dirty” means to add olive juice and an olive (or three) to garnish. It’s a trendy way to have a martini.


You order a “back” when you want a mixer or a chaser in a small glass on the side of your spirit. An example of this is the pickleback, a classic shot of rum served with a side of pickle juice. However, you can customize your order, too. For example, a vodka soda back will get you a pour of vodka with a small glass of soda water.

If You Don’t Know, Ask

Don’t be afraid to ask a bartender what they mean if you’re not sure if you understand each other.

Even if you know the term, wires get crossed from time to time. Most bartenders will assume you know the jargon if you don’t ask and will keep using it with you. However, your bartender,, like you, wants you to enjoy the drink you’re paying for. So, if you don’t understand something, just ask them to clarify. 

Most bartenders enjoy the opportunity to share their knowledge and educate their guests. It adds to the experience of hospitality. So, take advantage of it and learn a thing or two. 

Want a cocktail that only requires you to know how to open a can? Try Rebujito, a Spanish wine cocktail with lemon and a hint of mint. Made with natural ingredients.


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