Salvatore Tafuri, head bartender at The Loyal in New York City, once created a cocktail called Cu Nesci Arrinesci, a famous Sicilian saying, but one that Americans find very difficult to pronounce.
However, he says, “you don’t want to get too outlandish [with a cocktail name] where a person might feel insecure saying it when they place their order. You want a catchy, descriptive and short name that patrons will remember and, during a busy night, a bartender will understand over shouting clients.”
Better names he’s come up with are The Spicy Comare and Willy Wonka “because they sum up the cocktails’ stories and conjure an image the customer can relate to.” The Spicy Comare, he explains, is a peppery, refreshing tequila cocktail that lights up the palate without being too fiery. The Willy Wonka “makes one think of chocolate and whimsy, which is what this cocktail achieves using whiskey, pecan demerara and chocolate bitters.”
It’s never easy to come up with names that both describe your drink and have an element of the unusual to them. Tafuri says he tries to incorporate the area or region where the ingredients are from or the inspiration behind a cocktail “to ensure the customer has an understanding, or some faint idea, of what the cocktail might taste like before actually tasting it.”
Below, bartenders from around the country share their favorite cocktail names and how they came up with them. Ingredients, history, music and childhood all play a part—as does trying to be witty and clever.
Lead bartender/beverage director, Aren Bellando
Name of cocktail: A Semester Abroad
How the bartender came up with it: I came up with this drink a couple of years ago. My goal was to create a really approachable Scotch cocktail, which could be enjoyed regardless of a guest's taste for Scotch on its own.
Why the name works: The name simply comes from the ingredients. Aside from the scotch, Giffard is made in France, and Cynar in Italy. It's just like a typical junior year of college.
Jimmy at the James, New York City
Co-owner and mixologist, Johnny Swet; Image: Front of House NYC (FOHNYC)
Name of cocktail: The Jeff Spicoli Special
How the bartender came up with it: The Jeff Spicoli Special is the first CBD cocktail we’ve included so we needed a playful name to convey that fact. I think we nailed it by referencing Sean Penn’s character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Why the name works: Jeff Spicoli was a big fan of cannabis, so the name alludes to the CBD within this cocktail.
The best name you’ve ever come up with: The Pall Bearer. It’s kind of macabre, but the cocktail contained overproof rye whiskey and overproof apple brandy, which mimic embalming fluid. Then we add green Chartreuse and elderflower liquor to allude to funeral flowers. A bit dark, but still clever and always of interest to guests.
Occidental Grill & Seafood, Washington, D.C.
Bar manager and head mixologist, Frankie Jones
Name of Cocktail: Peter, Peter
How the bartender came up with it: With Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to conjure memories of eating pumpkin pies around the dinner table.
Why the name works: It’s named for the popular nursery rhyme, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater. It was the perfect fit for a cocktail with pumpkin and Scotch.
Best name you’ve come up with: The Resolve, which contained Kappa pisco, kale, apple, Benedictine, lemon, and lavender. “The cocktail was called The Resolve because every year we make New Year’s Resolutions to be healthier, to eat better, to drink less.”
Travelle Kitchen + Bar, Chicago
Mixologist, James Urycki
Name of cocktail: One Night in Guadalajara
How the bartender came up with it: I once drank a beautiful, authentic Margarita served up with some type of tajín rim on the glass, in Guadalajara. The combination of flavors from the tajín and maracuyá, which turned out to be passionfruit, was like something I had never experienced before.
Why the name works: It pays homage to the city where I discovered this simple yet amazing combination and also provides the set-up to explain the backstory.
Loews Philadelphia Hotel, Philadelphia, Pa.
Beverage manager, Daniel Kulisek
Name of cocktail: Tommy & Jeannie
How the bartender came up with it: It’s a riff off a Scotch Sour, named for my parents. It was the balanced nature of the cocktail I think they both would’ve enjoyed.
Why the name works: It’s always a good conversation starter with guests at the bar and really brings a personal touch to the experience.
Mixologist, Fred Dex
Name of cocktail: Careless Whisper
How the bartender came up with it: This cocktail is Dex’s take on a traditional Cosmopolitan. However, he switched out triple sec for pamplemousse and St-Germain liqueurs to create a refreshing but sophisticated taste.
Why the name works: This cocktail is meant to be suggestive and sexy yet elegant, similar to the George Michael song it was named after.
Sunda New Asian, Chicago
Head mixologist, Nahm Kim
Name of cocktail: Ghost in the Shell
How bartender came up with it: We like to tie into our DNA, and this is a homage to an animé movie from Japan from the ‘90s.
Why the name works: The drink is presented in a snifter that's been rinsed with Laphroaig. Reading the rest of the ingredients you'd expect a spirit forward sipper with some honey and fruit, and it hits you with some hidden smoke.
About Last Knife, Chicago
Beverage manager, Johnny Contraveos; Image: Kailley Lindman
Name of cocktail: Saturday Morning Cartoons
How the bartender came up with it: The cocktail is a Cognac-based milk punch with Cocoa Pebbles-infused cereal milk. It is reminiscent of those Saturday mornings I spent as a kid watching Batman and eating sugar-laced breakfast foods, then slurping down the milk afterwards—minus the booze, of course.
Why the name works: The nostalgia of childhood is always a fun heartstring to tug at, in my opinion.