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The Bar Exam

Tapping into the latest buzz fueling Stamford nightlife

You know those aha moments. My latest one happened over drinks with a group of friends—go figure. We were out on the town, about to order another round, when the obvious struck me: Stamford has become a center for serious bar-hopping. From chic after-work lounges and suds-soaked sports bars to late-night clubs catering to drink seekers of every demographic, Stamford is infused with a buzz that, along with heart-thumping house music, seems to spill onto the street.

Clearly this bar boom didn’t happen overnight, so I started asking around. I’ve heard it started slowly, beginning with the opening of Bobby Valentine’s sports bar thirty years ago on Columbus Park. The Alive@Five concerts there also get credit. If you build it—in this case the bars—they will come (and in some cases, line up concert-style for a chance to get inside). Others subscribe to a more market-based logic, meaning the demand created by patrons—the Cosmo-craving twenty-something workforce now rolling into town—resulted in the supply. Either way, there is no disputing that the City That Works loves its happy hour.

Eager to road test the nightlife scene, Stamford magazine got the 411 from a bunch of local bartenders. Believe me, these mix masters have seen it all, and they gave us their uncensored POV on the party scene (names were nixed to protect the not-so-innocent). We’ve also thrown in some expert bar lingo and etiquette tips (newsflash: waving cash at the bartender will get you squat), plus a slew of hot spots to check out. Tying it all together is Riann Smith’s hilarious account of a recent ladies’ night out, complete with the requisite barhopping, girl talk and late-night munchies.

So make plans with your friends, check out the scene and enjoy—but please drink responsibly. We look forward to seeing you out and about sometime soon. Bottoms up!

—Camilla A. Herrera


The ‘DRINK’tionary

Terms you need to know to sound like an expert

It’s easy to spot the kids who’ve just turned twenty-one, says SBC bartender Kristin Smith. They lean over the bar, wave their IDs and grin from ear to ear, practically declaring their legal status to the world. Problem is they often don’t know what to order, which makes for some awkward exchanges at the bar.

“Some kids just order what their parents drink,” adds Kristin. “One kid ordered a Tom Collins and had no idea what was in it. This other kid asked for a Hennessy. I told him we don’t carry that cognac.

He says, ‘I don’t want cognac. I want a Hennessy.’”

Absolutely hilarious! But if you don’t want a bartender laughing at you, read up on the lingo list that follows. Whether you’re new to the scene or need a refresher, learning these terms will spare you any more embarrassment.

  • Spirit: Liquor

  • Cocktail: A mixed drink with two or more spirits, plus at least one more that is nonalcoholic
  • Lowball: A short cocktail glass
  • Highball: A taller cocktail glass
  • Up
: Cocktail prepared with ice but served without it
  • Shaken
: Process used to mix a cocktail—with a shaker filled with ice—to chill the drink faster
  • Stirred
: Mixing process that retains flavors of the spirits but is free of ice, which can water down the drink
  • Frozen:  Method of mixing cocktails with ice in a blender
  • Muddler: 
Bartender tool used to mash herbs in the bottom of a glass; popular muddled cocktails include Mojitos and Caipirinhas
  • On the Rocks: 
Spirit served straight with ice cubes
  • Neat: Spirit served straight with no ice or water
  • Straight Up: A shot of liquor served with no ice
  • A double: Two shots, straight up or in a cocktail
  • Chaser: A small drink consumed after a shot, usually beer
  • Back: A nonalcoholic chaser
  • Floater: 
A shot poured over a cocktail
  • Floating
: Pouring method using a spoon that gives a cocktail a layered look
  • With a Twist: A citrus slice twisted into a cocktail for a splash of flavor
  • Garnish: A fruit or vegetable added to a cocktail for flavor
  • Martini: 
The classic martini is made with gin and vermouth. More recently, the vodka martini has become a near classic. Both can be ordered:
  1. Dry - with a splash of vermouth
  2. Wet - with a little extra vermouth
  3. Dirty - with a splash of olive juice

Triple Sec & the City

For a trio of moms, a girls’ night out in Stamford means mixed drinks, misplaced ATM cards and molto gelato

Ask any sleep-deprived mother to solve a complex math problem and you’ll draw a blank stare. But ask my friend Jenny how many margaritas she’s earned on a much anticipated girls’ night out, and she’ll rattle off a genius equation: The amount of drinks I deserve is calculated by multiplying the number of children I have by the square root of the hours my husband snored last night.

And so with baggy eyes and high heels, I corralled Jenny, mother of two under five, and Leslie, mother of toddler triplets, to join me (proud owner of one whirling dervish two-year-old) on a Thursday night barhop around Stamford. With a forgiving zip of our Citizens of Humanity jeans and enough sequins to light up a disco ball, we were off. 

Our first stop was the newly opened Bartaco, a decidedly mellower version of the Port Chester party machine (though I heard the place was rocking a couple of days later). A group of guys on a boys’ night out gallantly gave us their stools and pointed out hooks underneath the bar for our purses (apparently chivalry is not dead). Leslie ordered a Rosita, a blend of hibiscus-infused liquor, pear nectar and cranberry to match the rosettes on her slinky top. After a glance at the athletic twenty-something girls across the bar, I considered ordering an Old Thymer but chose a Caipirinha instead. Three sips in, I thought I had lost my ATM card. Chalk it up to the cachaça.

Next door at Barcelona, the scene was more grown-up and date-nighty, with a U-shaped bar conducive to intimate chatter. Leslie’s stomach was rumbling, so we shared a grilled hanger steak tapa with truffle vinaigrette that was as buttery as our Chilean chardonnay. When the bartender carded us, Jenny flirted back, “Flattery will get you everywhere.”

Post vino, we ambled over to Bedford Street and popped into Tigín (hint: pronounce it like “tagine”). Leslie and I split a sixteen-ounce Boddingtons and wondered if we would indeed gain half a pound each. Jenny took a chance on a Stamford Sunset with coconut liqueur that tasted like suntan oil. Word to the wise: Stick to beer at Tigín. It’s what they know best.

We capped off the night at the clubby, industrial-chic Bar Rosso. In your thirties bar snacks are crucial—and not just to keep hangovers at bay. You are fortifying your own bodily castle, one that could be stormed at any moment of the night with a “Mommee, can I come snuggle?” Which is why we rationalized diving into their heavenly polenta fries, honey calamari and mini meatballs with all the refinement of raccoons plundering a trash can. Bartender Matt was so impressed with our stamina that he made us his famous margarita on the house.

On our way home, Leslie smiled in the cab with her eyes closed. “That was a good night.” So good, in fact, that we were happy to ratchet up more zombie diaper days to turn this into a regular ritual. Until then, there would be that creamy stracciatella gelato we’d ordered to go from Volta, which we would each cleverly stash behind boxes of chicken fingers in our freezers, with the sign “Hands Off—for Mommy” to keep us going.

Riann Smith is a lifestyle writer and editor who lives in Greenwich with her husband and son, who both know not to ever lay a finger on her gelato.

Bar Talent

Straight Up With 10 Mix Masters

We have a consensus. Working a bar is a serious job, and nobody seems to get it. Bartenders have to move and think fast. They have to console weepers, calm tempers and indulge jerks while never losing their charm. So we checked with a crew of Stamford mix masters to get the 411 on their jobs. Here’s what they shared.

Shaun Craig - Kona Grill

I’ve been bartending for… eight years.
The perfect cocktail should be…strong but smooth.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… a scotch and cranberry; also a red wine and Coke.
I can’t do my job without… vodka.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… scotch.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… Mojito. It’s a lot of work. Then people down it fast and order more.
I wish people realized that… we’re working. We can’t join the party.

Lauren Santagata - Zaza Italian Gastrobar 

I’ve been bartending for… nine years.
I realized I liked bartending when… it seemed like fun.
The perfect cocktail should be…enjoyed with good company.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… Chianti and Coke
I can’t do my job without… ice.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself… whatever’s closest.
The best part of my job is… meeting all different types of people.
The worst part is… you meet the best people and the worst people.
I love mixing a… margarita because I love to drink them.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… Mojito, or anything else that needs to be muddled.
The strangest tip I’ve ever received was a… cashmere scarf and an iPod. He was a really great customer.
I wish people realized that… you’re not the only one at the bar.

Matt Masi - Bar Rosso

I’ve been bartending for… two years.
If I didn’t work at a bar, I’d… work in finance. I’d be going back to school for an MBA in marketing and business.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… two different types of vermouth with bitters and soda.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… Jack and Coke, or a beer.
The best part of my job is… the interaction.
The worst part is when… people order wacky drinks when you’re busy.
I love mixing a… margarita. I’m a big tequila guy.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… Mojito. You have to juggle to make them.
I wish people realized that bartending… is busy. When we’re packed, don’t sit there and yell, “Hey, hey, hey!” Wait your turn. We notice you.

Danielle  Muller - Mackenzies Bar & Grill

I’ve been bartending for… thirteen years.
If I didn’t work at a bar, I’d be… a psychologist. It’s basically what I already do.
I can’t do my job without… the padding on the floor back here. My legs would kill me without it. Also the busboy. He brings the glasses, takes away the dirty tray. I would be a mess without him.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… Guinness.
The best part of my job is… interacting with people. I’m here six days a week. It’s my social life.
The worst part is… TMI. I’ll see a couple and I know he’s married. I don’t like seeing that.
I love mixing a… Long Island Iced Tea.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… dirty martini. I hate olive juice.
I wish people realized that… it takes a lot more to be a good bartender, to remember your regulars, their drinks.

Russell  Jessen - Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar

I realized I liked bartending when… I started drinking.
If I didn’t work at a bar, I’d be… an airline pilot.
The perfect cocktail should… look and taste good, and make the customer smile.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… a Golden Cadillac. I had to go online to create it. It’s Frangelico-based.
I can’t do my job without… ice.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… club soda with a wedge of orange.
The best part of my job is… meeting people from different places.
The worst part is when… you can’t be in a bad mood when you want to be.
I love mixing a… Mint Julep.
I wish people realized that bartending… is hard. Mixing drinks is easy but managing a room and making sure everyone is happy, making sure there’s balance, that’s hard.

Chad Perreault - Tigín Irish Pub

I’ve been bartending for… twelve years.
If I didn’t work at a bar, I’d be… a chef.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… a pickle back. It’s a shot of Jameson with pickle juice. It used to be called a Sandy Hook Hooker.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… vodka Diet Coke, or a shot of Jager. It depends on the night.
The best part of my job is… that it’s not the same thing every day. If I had to sit in a cubicle every day, it would drive me nuts. No offense.
The worst part is… people that don’t understand the restaurant business. They just come in demanding things.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… martini.
The strangest tip I’ve ever received was… tickets to concerts.

Kristin  Smith - SBC Restaurant & Brewery

The perfect cocktail should be…refreshing.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… tequila with hot sauce.
I can’t do my job without… a mixer.
The best part of my job is… meeting new people.
The worst part is… rude people.
I love mixing a… classic martini.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… Mojito.
The strangest tip I’ve ever received was… $100 for a few of beers.
I wish people realized that…bartending is the ultimate multitasking job.

Tom Dando - Monster B’s Bar & Grille

I’ve been bartending… since college.
I realized I liked bartending when… the money helped cover my tuition.  
If I didn’t work at a bar, I’d be… a psychologist. I do that now but don’t get paid enough.
The perfect cocktail should be… clean and simple and straight to the point.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… Jameson and pickle juice.
I can’t do my job without… ice.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… Jameson.
I love mixing a… Manhattan.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… Cosmopolitan.

Christina Cisko - Grand Restaurant & Lounge

I’ve been bartending for… six years.
If I didn’t work at a bar, I’d be…working in fashion.
The perfect cocktail should… make you say mmmmm.
The strangest drink order I’ve ever received was… tequila and tonic. That’s gross.
I can’t do my job without… Here? Red Bull.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself… an Abita beer.
The best part of my job is… we have so much fun. We listen to the house music and dance. We’re friends here.
I love mixing a… Mojito.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… Manhattan. People who order them are annoying. They always want them a certain way.
The strangest tip I’ve ever received was... $100 for bottled water.

David Tanner - Butterfield 8

I’ve been bartending for… seven years.
The perfect cocktail should be…simple and just right.
At the end of my shift, I pour myself a… Macallan 12. If it’s an easy night, I’ll have a Stone beer.
The best part of my job is… the people. I can’t work in a place that’s quiet. I need a lot of different characters.
The worst part is when… a person refuses to open a tab, but runs their card sixteen times.
I love mixing a… special lemon drop. I’ll make one hundred in a night.
It’s a good night when I don’t have to mix a… daiquiri, or any frozen drink.
The strangest tip I’ve ever received was... sixty-five cents. She asked me for quarters so she could leave me a tip. Another girl wrote her phone number with a note that had her address on a ten-dollar bill.
I wish people realized that… we want to get you your drink. Waving your hands around and yelling “Hey, yo!” doesn’t help. Give us some patience. Don’t take it personal.

A Strong Shot of Etiquette

5 TIPS from the other side

Bartenders will tell you that there is little worse than a rude and impatient customer. Factor in the occasional creep, and you’d think these guys should earn hazard pay. Sure, the job can be fun. It pays well in many cases. You get to meet all kinds of interesting people, listen to great music and sleep in most mornings. But there is always that guy—snapping his fingers and waving his credit card—to mess things up. So if you’re a regular at a local pub, or in from out of town, here are some basic rules the experts say you should know before you order your next drink. Follow them and you may get the bartender’s attention sooner.

Always tip at least 15 percent. But 20 is better. No exceptions. Tom Dando of Monster B’s got a phone number once (with no tip). Shaun Craig of Kona Grill was given $1 for a $50 tab. Concert tickets and other gifts may seem funny, but cash rules. “I had a guy tell me he wasn’t going to tip me for getting him a beer,” says Craig. “Next time, that guy will end up waiting.”

Make eye contact to get a bartender’s attention. “Don’t yell ‘Yo!’ or ‘Hey!’ I see you,” says Chad Perreault of Tigín. Even if the bar is crowded, try to be patient. “Just because I look at you doesn’t mean I’m coming right away,” says Matt Masi of Bar Rosso.“Other people have been waiting at the bar too.” The worst, says Lauren Santagata of Zaza, is when “someone’s waving, and you finally get over there, and then they have no idea what they want.”

Start a tab. Doing so with a credit card is always easier and keeps things moving faster. And try to order as a group. If you’re on a budget and need to split the bill, pay cash.

Watch your manners. Don’t hog seats with bags, and be prepared to move over so a couple can sit together. “Guys, give the ladies your seat,” says Russell Jessen of Barcelona. “Chivalry should not be dead.”

If you must leave your seat for a smoke or to use the bathroom, place a napkin or coaster over your drink. Christina Cisko of Grand says you should just let her know, “but give me your credit card first.”

No Holds Barred

Drinker beware: Bartenders see and hear everything. We asked, and they delivered some favorite uncensored moments.

What drink orders make you laugh?

  • “A Shirley Temple … unless it’s for a kid.”
    —Danielle Muller, Mackenzie’s
  • “A Cuba Libre. It’s just rum and coke! You don’t impress me.”
    —Tom Dando, Monster B’s
  • “An especially strong martini … it’s all liquor!”
    —Lauren Santagata, Zaza
  • “When a guy orders a Cosmo for himself.”
    —Anthony Lemos, Lola’s Mexican Kitchen
  • “Water.”
    —David Tanner, Butterfield 8
  • “A daiquiri. Our blenders are always broken.”
    —Chad Perreault, Tigín
  • “Guys (who) order Malibu Bay Breeze or Sex on the Beach. If I see it’s you and your buddies, and no chick’s around, I’m laughing.”
    —Matt Masi, Bar Rosso

Does it ever get too serious?

  • “I hear about a lot of divorces. I’ve bartended a few wakes.”
    —Russell Jessen, Barcelona
  • “When the market is down, people drink a lot.”
    —Matt Masi, Bar Rosso
  • “I get the old guys in midday that just go on and on about being lonely. One guy was even crying and saying I should have kids, because he wished he had kids now.”
    —Lauren Santagata, Zaza

What’s the best pickup move you’ve witnessed?

  •  “A guy walked up to a girl. He said, ‘Hi. How are you? Can I buy you a drink?’ She said, ‘Why? Are you going to look good afterwards?’ That was hilarious.”
    —Tom Dando, Monster B’s
  • “I heard some guy say that his wife died of some rare disease. He’s been (here) with his wife.”
    —Matt Masi, Bar Rosso
  •  “A guy said, ‘Can I check your [clothing] tags because I’m sure you were made in heaven.’”
    —David Tanner, Butterfield 8
  • “A guy was on a date and it was not going well so he came over and asked me what I was doing after work.”
    —Lauren Santagata, Zaza
  • “I’ve never really seen any good ones. Just the usual guy who buys every hot girl a drink.’”
    —Anthony Lemos, Lola’s Mexican Kitchen

What kind of advice do you often give?

  • “I try not to give advice. I have enough problems of my own without adding my two cents.”
    —Chad Perreault, Tigín
  • “Here. Take a shot. You’ll feel better.”
    —Christina Cisko, Grand
  • “It happens. Most of the time it’s, ‘Don’t drive.’”
    —Russell Jessen, Barcelona


Plastered, trashed, hammered. We all know what these terms mean, and we’ve certainly used them in the past. But during recent conversations with other Moffly Media editorial interns, we started sharing some lesser-known expressions and began looking up their origins. Here, in no particular order of preference, are a few of our favorites. For a lot more of the same, visit drunktionary.com.

  • Three sheets to the wind: 
A nautical phrase. Here, sheets refer to ropes that secure a ship’s sails. If these sheets become loose, the sails flop and cause a ship to lose course.
  • Out of One’s Tree: 
A phrase commonly used in Ireland and the U.K. Tree is a metaphor for mind.
  • Soup Sandwich: 
Sloppy, much as a soup sandwich would be.
  • Tanked: Shortening of drunk tank, the jail cell where intoxicated individuals are held until they sober up.
  • Slizzard: 
Lyric heard in the song “Like a G6” by Far East Movement.
  • Toddy Stricken: 
A nineteenth-century phrase referring to a then-popular whiskey-based, Scottish mixed drink. This expression is also found in Stephen Crane’s A Red Badge of Courage.
  • Tishy: 
Purposeful mispronunciation of tipsy, which is a reference to tip (short for tipple), meaning a draft of liquor.
  • Wilted
: A reference to the look of house plants after too much watering.
  • Full as a Tick: Common Australian slang referring to the bug once it is bloated after a bite.
  • Drunk as a Lord: A reference to British high society during the eighteenth century, when excessive drinking was considered a sign of distinction.
  • Under the Table: Too drunk to maintain a sitting position.
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