It was a few months back I stumbled upon this article published in The Takeout that discussed most-ordered cocktails in particular cities around the U.S. Though the article mainly focused on major cities, it made me think: What types of cocktails are most popular around here?
Certainly, there are predictable patterns that come with a project like this. There are only so many “staple” cocktails, though they might have variations throughout at each respective bar/restaurant. We’re always looking for quirky avenues to walk down, and when this idea came up, we thought we’d reach out to a bunch of bars and restaurants to see what people in C-U are actually drinking the most.
We contacted a bunch of bars and restaurants and asked: “What were the top five most ordered cocktails you served in the last year? These are the places that responded:
- Barrelhouse 34
- Bentley’s Pub
- Esquire Lounge
- Everyday Kitchen
- Farren’s Pub
- Hamilton Walker’s
- Seven Saints
- V. Picasso
After collating all of the data provided, we found the following to be the cocktails people in Champaign-Urbana order most. We wanted to take a bit of a tour to try some of the ones we love in town to contribute to this research.
While these aren’t the “best” cocktails by our estimation, and while this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive overview of every single bar or restaurant in C-U, it was an interesting sample of what people do enjoy here in our community. Certainly, there’s volume to account for (i.e., a margarita is served way more at restaurant X than Y because options are limited), and that’s okay, because nothing has to be that serious. We also included a few of our favorites that are specific to a bar or restaurant.
— Patrick Singer, Executive Editor
Bloody Mary at Destihl; Photo by Bobbie Bonebrake
The Bloody Mary has gained popularity in general because of brunch being the thing to do on the weekends, though interestingly the establishments that had this drink solidly in their most popular orders were Seven Saints and Guido’s, neither of which offers brunch. Honestly, I can see some logic in this fact. A Bloody Mary is a meal in a glass. So while it’s typically associated with brunch, I do more of my Bloody Mary drinking at about mid-afternoon range, because it’s just a lot to bring food into the picture. It’s the perfect 3 p.m. “snack” on a Sunday afternoon while watching some sportsball on the television.
Bloodys have gotten a bit wild lately, with chicken wings, hot dogs, and pizza used as garnish, but they are best when the establishment sticks to the basics and plays with the flavors a bit to add depth and maybe some heat. I’m also a fan of going “Wisconsin style” with a beer chaser, or snit of beer if you want to sound all knowledgeable about it. You can read our guides to C-U's Bloody Marys here and here. (JM)
Margaritas at Maize; Photo by Jessica Hammie
It’s not surprising to see margaritas near the top of a “most ordered” cocktails list. It’s a widely adored drink, and a very drinkable drink. It appeals to all sorts of cocktail consumers with its multiple variations, and does not have a strong alcohol taste. I’ve sampled quite a few over the years, from the pre-mixed pour straight from the bottle into your glass variety, to the fresh ingredient, quality tequila kind. As I get older, I have less patience for the former.
Not surprisingly, margaritas dominated the entire list of the most popular cocktails at Maize, and the one at the top of their list was their basic lime margarita, which contains tequila, triple sec, lime juice, agave nectar, and orange juice. I typically prefer them with just the first three ingredients, but man, that Maize marg is quite good. If I’m looking for something beyond the basic, their avocado margarita is rather delightful. It tames down the sweetness a bit, while the addition of cilantro and pepper give a little zing. Another marg worth a mention, as it was at the top of their list, is the pineapple margarita at Esquire. It’s made with tequila that they’ve infused with pineapple in-house, and it’s delish. (JM)
Martini at Nando Milano; Photo by Julie McClure
The definition of “martini” has gotten a bit out of hand over the years. A martini in its classic form is comprised of gin or vodka and either sweet or dry vermouth, garnished with an olive or lemon twist. Now, there are entire martini menus at bars and restaurants, most with none of those ingredients, that are served in the typical martini glass. Side note: While I am a fan of the elegant look of the martini glass, I often feel it’s most impractical and an open invitation for spillage. The glass style pictured above, at Nando Milano, seems safer.
Personally, I am not a classic martini drinker. I wish that I was — they feel very fancy and refined. I’m more likely to go for the cocktails posing as martinis. But alas, the classic remains a popular choice here in C-U. It ranks quite high at Baxter’s where they add bleu cheese stuffed olives and serve it dirty (with the olive juice), as well as at Hamilton Walker’s, which seems about right given their general vibe and cocktail menu loaded with classics. (JM)
Moscow Mule at Barrelhouse 34; Photo by Jessica Hammie
The Moscow Mule is a popular drink because it’s very approachable. The vodka is not terribly assertive, and the ginger beer and lime are really refreshing. Barrelhouse 34 has four mules on the menu, so you can really hone in on what you want your experience to be. (I’m partial to the regular Moscow Mule, but I also really like the Texas Mule, which is made with grapefruit vodka.)
The other reason the mule is so refreshing is because it’s served in that lovely copper mug, which stays cold for an extended period of time. The Moscow Mule might just be the very best summer cocktail, and it's especially perfect for drinking on the patios of our favorite bars and restaurants. (PS)
Old Fashioned at Seven Saints; Photo by Jessica Hammie
Ah, the Old Fashioned. One of the best and most classic there is. This whiskey cocktail is a staple to most any bar/restaurant menu, and for good reason. It is simple and versatile within the structure of that simplicity, and most any whiskey lover finds their way to it.
While traditionally the Old Fashioned is served by muddling sugar and bitters, mixing that with whiskey over a chunk of ice, and a citrus component, there are still some slight variations in existence. You go down the list of ones locally — pictured here is how they serve it at Seven Saints — they are pretty similar, but there’s the Miga Old Fashioned, and the Old Fashioned served at Bentley’s, which both vary even within the boundaries of what an Old Fashioned should be. You can choose your favorite type of whiskey to go in it, my preference would be bourbon, but you can certainly mix it up. The Old Fashioned isn’t a cocktail for everyone necessarily, because it leans on the brisk side and is heavy on whiskey. Its simplicity and timelessness keeps it in style because a classic never dies. Our guides to C-U's Old Fashioned options are here and here. (PS)
Lemon Drop Martini
Lemon Drop Martini at Esquire; Photo by Jessica Hammie
Full disclosure: I don’t like a martini. They are too…adult for me, let’s say. As I’ve gotten older, my sweet tooth has become more assertive, so I’m trying to find that fine line of sweet but not junior-prom-poor-choices-sweet. Enter the lemon drop martini at Esquire. Technically it’s a martini, I guess? It’s a little sweet, but not cloying. It’s a little tart, but not terribly sour.
It’s one of those cocktails that are incredibly drinkable, making it very dangerous. I easily polished off about half of one at lunch not too long ago, well before I even placed my food order. I didn’t even realize I had done it because it was so smooth and tasty going down.
All of this is to say that if you’re not here for a regular martini, and you roll your eyes at absurd –tini drinks, consider this one. It’s perfectly balanced to please all your taste buds. (JH)
Slushie flight at Watson's; Photo by Jessica Hammie
I wouldn’t say that slushies are a trend. Everyone likes a slushie, regardless of the age you are, and when you’re an adult, you can choose to make those slushies a bit boozy. While this wasn’t a dominant trend within the restaurants and bars we polled, we did see variations of slushies come up — one being the Watson’s slushie options. There are a healthy variety of those at Watson’s, as well as slushies at Bentley’s just down the street, but we thought they would be worth mentioning here because of how they trended on the results.
The icy goodness of a slushie mixed with the extra alcohol component makes them worth exploring, especially when you get ones whiskey, rum, and even sangria flavored. While they might be slightly-trendy, they seem to stick around and it doesn’t seem like they will go away any time soon (thankfully). (JH)
White Lie at Bentley's Pub; Photo by Jessica Hammie
The White Lie is a specialty drink at Bentley's Pub made of hazelnut, cinnamon, or caramel coffee tequila and créme de cacao, with your choice of half and half or almond milk. I’ve tried the coffee/half and half combo and it is heavenly. It’s creamy and smooth and layered in flavor. It’s a little decadent, but not terribly filling. It’s shippable. It’s friggin delicious. I’m very curious to go back and try the cinnamon/half and half version — I’m willing to bet that it’s just as good, and maybe a little more robust. I would easily swap a morning latte for one of these— it might even make the day a little more interesting. You can get the White Lie as a shot or as a drink, all choices are good choices here. (JH)
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.