Matthew D’Abate
5 min readJul 18, 2022
How Do You Want It? Shot or Neat?

It’s true. I’m back. What’s it been — seven years? How times have changed since I had you as a customer. You look great, by the way (yeah, I’m still hitting on you). But the world is a different place now! No more crass jokes? No more dirty humor? Bartenders can’t be slutty, alcoholic fuck machines anymore? Has the world gone sexless? Are we censoring everything?

Not at my bar, my friends. You are safe here. We ain’t changing shit. Drinks are going to stay the same price. The music is going to be awesome — and the shots are on me for every three drinks you buy. These are the facts. Everything else is Applebee’s.

We’ll be taking questions each week and solving all of your problems. Why? Because The Bartender Knows. We see you at your finest and we see you at your worst. We know how much you can drink. We know that limit you have between going home with a stranger or vomiting in our toilet (yeah, and I’ll make you clean it up and I’ll watch).

I’m the one with the question this week. Actually, it’s less of a question and more of a serious criticism. All of you know I HATE bad bartenders. It’s like being an astute car mechanic. The second you sit in a sub-par automobile you know the previous ‘mechanic’ failed horribly. It insults me, personally. It’s enough to give anyone a serious case of IBS.

So I stroll in to a bar here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (yes, I’m still here) on a very lazy and empty Saturday. The bartender was a classic 20-something person. Short, boy-cut dyed hair. Irrelevant silver chains adorned with pendents ranging from a metal cross to a scarab blade. Hand tattoos were present. Her nail polish was chipped and she was tucked into an oversized black sweater with a wolf on it. There must be a factory somewhere in Bushwick that carbon copy these types, winds them up with fentanyl laced cocaine and sends them out into the world to take all the good jobs from legit, hard-working bartenders.

I get no greeting. This is probably because she has her back to the door and an iPhone gleaming in her hand. I take a seat at the bar, unnoticed.

“Hi,” I said.

She jumped up and squealed. “Oh my God, you scared me.”

I looked around. “You are open, right?”

Moving from shocked to immediate condescension in less time it takes a millennial to use the word ‘literally’ to start a sentence, she snarked: “Well, the door wasn’t locked, was it?”

Great start. Ho-hum.

“What are you drinking?” she asked.

“Mostly everything,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. She doesn’t even crack a smile. “Um, whiskey please.”

“What kind?”

“Well is great,” I said.

Just for those who don’t know — ‘well’ is anything out of the speed rail from the bottom shelf. You won’t find any liquor you might recognize from the liquor commercials. No Jameson there. It’s just knock off brands sold at incredibly cheap prices from the distributers. ‘Call’ is anything on the actual shelf. That’s why they call it ‘call’. You’re personally choosing what brand you prefer by name. The ‘well’ is the gut-rot option specifically created for heavy drinkers and degenerate gamblers alike.

“Shot or neat?” she asked.

Here’s another example of bar jargon. A shot is just that. A 1.5 ounce pour in a shot glass. No harm. No foul. Basic stuff. A ‘neat’ pour is pretty much the same, but generally people take it in a rocks glass or a tumbler. They like it that way so they can sip on it and not down the damn thing in one whole gulp.

Pro-tip: In the general history of bartending, saying you wanted a drink poured ‘neat’ gave the bartender a secret nod to give the client a little heavier pour. Usually when you would order something ‘neat’ you would flash some bills at the same time. The bartender in turn would pick up on this cue and pour effectively. Everyone wins.

I answered: “Neat” and put down a crisp Abraham Lincoln.

She released her iPhone from her clawed fingers just long enough to under pour a 1.5 ounce regular shot of well whiskey into my rocks glass. I thanked her — staring at the meager portion of liquor at the bottom of my glass.

“Cash or credit?” she asked without skipping a beat or the clawed hand retrieving her iPhone in a half a second. I said: “Credit, I might get another one.”

Boom — the card was slipped into the register. She assumed her initial position — back turned to the bar, iPhone gleaming in her clawed hand.

I took the drink. It went down fast since it was only a half a finger of whiskey. I could hear the echo of weeping Irishmen over this piddle of a pour. I nodded my head to these drinking Gods and held my tongue.

“Could I have another?” I asked, like some kind of punishment.

She took an animated move to draw the well bottle from its rail and poured the shot. This time, however, the phone remained glued to her ears. “Thank you,” I said. Not surprisingly, there was no response.

I closed my eyes. She’s going to turn her back to the bar again, I said to myself. She did exactly that. There was no music in the bar. The silence was weird. If this wasn’t a place of business, it would be a very awkward situation. One person walks into a room, is served booze by another who doesn’t even look at them, and then they sit quietly together. No humanity. No conversation. One sitting there drinking. The other, back turned, on the phone staring deeply into it like it was the Oracle of Delphi.

It was only 1:30pm on a Saturday. I didn’t need this.

“You can ring me through,” I said. Loosely translated: I’m getting the fuck out of here.

Two seconds later my card was rung through. I looked at the charge. $20.57.

1 inch of ‘well’ whiskey for twenty dollars? I wanted to say so many things. I refrained. But my expression couldn’t lie.

“Well, you asked for it neat,” she said plainly.

Then it hit me. She somehow heard about the ‘neat’ vs. the ‘shot’ idea — but mistakenly thought they were exactly the same. She assumed that just because you served a drink in a different glass you could charge more for it, disregarding the subtle history of bartending at its core.

People don’t come to a bar to drink. They come to drink the experience. Shit, you can drink alone and talk to walls. But humans come to a bar to experience other humans. And this ‘human’ experience today was nothing but.

Of course I wanted to school this poor simian to the nuances of bar culture. I also understood (due to my increasing age) that it was a Fool’s Errand. I paid dutifully and tipped accordingly.

Do you know how many shots of ‘well’ whisky I could get for $20.57? It would keep most drunks in swill for days.

The point is this. The Bartender Knows has been gone too long. Some one let these dogs out. Now’s the time to reign them all back in.



Matthew D’Abate

Matthew D'Abate is a writer and host of @KILLTHECATRADIO. He is the founder of @LITERATESUNDAY and the bartender @THEBARTENDERKNOWS.