Tonight, I went to a dive bar with some friends to watch the US vs. Australia women’s World Cup game. Why go to a dive bar? Well, the best bar in town definitely still qualifies as a dive bar. The homey signs that cover the wall and smoke filled air provide a strong contrast from my first experience at a bar: Ball and Biscuit in Indianapolis. I want to be clear that I’m not using dive bar negatively in this context. By dive bar, I simply mean a place that serves cheap alcohol and does not necessarily fret over maintaining a high quality of cocktails.
Dive bars can be quite seedy, but there’s something really nice about this quaint bar. A friend bartends there and my friends and I go there at least once a week, which has brought up an interesting challenge for me: how can I drink healthily at this bar? My friends all enjoy beer, so that’s their go-to drink. I am much more partial to cocktails. Often, however, if I try to order even a classic cocktail, such as an old fashioned or manhattan, the bartender does not know how to make it or does not have all the ingredients. Dive bars frequently only stock liquors and mixers that will move quickly, so specialized liquors, bitters, and mixers are out of the equation. Therefore, the best way to get consistent quality is to get a simple two or three ingredient cocktail without any obscure ingredients.
So, here I compiled a list of some of my favorite cocktails that are simple enough that they won’t get messed up, but also aren’t filled with sugar, like a rum and coke. *
*It should be noted that I am very against artificial sweetener. If you like/don’t mind it, you can also make any of your liquor + coke drinks lower in calories simply by substituting diet coke for normal coke.
First, two wide-arching statements.
As a general rule of thumb, a 90 proof hard liquor will range between 90 and 120 calories for a 1.5 oz shot.
Fruit juices tend to range from 15-30 calories per oz. Be aware, however, of bars that have “juice cocktails,” since they will most likely have a lot of extra sugar added.
Without further ado, here is my list of my favorite simple and healthy cocktails to order at dive bars.
The diviest of dive bars really should be able to make a martini. It might not be perfect, but you should be able to get a respectable vodka or gin martini at most bars. Since a martini is mostly base liquor, it will ring in at as low as 100 calories.
What to ask for: A martini. If the bartender doesn’t know how to make one find a different bar.
I am a huge fan of gin and tonics, but unfortunately tonic packs a fairly significant calorie punch. While it does not taste quite as good in my opinion, substituting club soda, which has zero calories, for tonic water takes down the calorie count. The addition of lime juice more than compensates for the loss of the tonic flavor. Additionally, the gin adds a complexity not present in the popular vodka and soda. The result is a refreshing cocktail that won’t cut too far into your calorie allotment.
What to ask for: A gin rickey. If the bartender doesn’t know how to make it, ask for the juice of one lime, a shot of gin, and club soda to top.
Screwdrivers are delicious, but the 6 oz of orange juice contributes about 84 calories. Reducing the orange juice to 3 oz and topping with soda water provides an equally satisfying drink for 42 fewer calories.
What to ask for: A shot of vodka, 3 oz of orange juice, and club soda to top.
If your bar has unsweetened grapefruit juice, a greyhound, or it’s salt-rimmed cousin the salty dog, can be a satisfying and low calorie libation that any bartender should know.
What to ask for: A Greyhound or a shot of vodka with 6 oz of grapefruit juice. For a salty dog ask for a greyhound, as above, with a salted rim
Any liquor + club soda
Choose a shot of your favorite liquor and top it with club soda. The club soda will not only stretch the drink to get more for your calories, it will also open up the liquor so you can experience its complexity.
What to ask for: A shot of your preferred liquor topped with club soda.
Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas for the next time you’re out. Enjoy!