Alright, folks, let me put it to you plain.
If you want your cocktails in the classic style, you've come to the right place. Boston shaker, strainer, bar measure. Two parts base, one part sweet, one part sour. Ice. Gin, vodka, Bourbon, Cognac, tequila, rum, Scotch, and a couple of blended whiskies from here and there. I get really skittish around infused vodkas, but I've got citrus in my collection and might add some of the stuff that Hanger One is putting out -- particularly the Kaffir Lime. I'd like to try that with a lemongrass infusion or a lemongrass syrup. One of the few fancy and modern cocktails I've had lately was a surprisingly well balanced lemongrass martini.
So I'm not trying to say that any cocktail invented since the 2nd World War is a bad idea. Despite the fact that most of my standards predate the 1st World War, I am open to change.
But I will tell you right now that nothing kills a good drink like an excess of sugar. Sure, sweet means easy drinking. And easy drinking means a lot of drinks sold to inexperienced drinkers used to soda pop and liquid desserts from Starbucks. But sweet also means a hard crash and a worse hangover when your body is dealing not just with the nasty metabolic byproducts of the booze but the glycemic slash-and-burn and dehydration brought about by all that sugar.
There's also a glorious branding force at work -- liquor is hip and fashionable and making a signature drink with a signature base is all the rage -- regardless if the flavor profiles fit or not.
So KISS rules again -- keep it simple and use good ingredients. Splash in some fun stuff for color or throw on a sugar rim or a quick squeeze of simple syrup.
But good distillates -- and not fruit drinks -- are the heart of a good drinking cocktails.
There are plenty of place still mixing a good drink. Ask them what goes into their gimlet. If it involves Rose's Lime Juice, stay away. Ask them what goes in their Sidecar. If it involves sours mix, stay away. Order a Manhattan, one of my great evaluative drinks. If it tastes of vermouth more than whisky, ask them to use less vermouth.
A footnote on Manhattans: I make mine with Bourbon instead of rye, which adds a little more distinctive and smoky taste. That's not traditional, but has increasingly become the custom, one change I support (see, I'm not a complete curmudgeon!). But the vermouth:whisky ration is optimum (to me) somewhere around 1:4. I also occasionally make mine with 1/2 sweet vermouth and 1/2 dry vermouth, though getting those quantities right is tricky so I usually am lazy and just use sweet.
If you're in Edmonds, the best drinks come at the new-managemented Shell Creek. Down in Seattle, the best mixed cocktails I've had recently are at The Oceanaire and (perhaps surprisingly) Palomino. I've never visited the bar at Sea Star in Bellevue, but I know a couple of folks who work there and can guarantee that the drinks will be top notch.
But what matters above all is that the guys or gals behind the bar care -- that they understand how bartending was once a career, a noble profession with immense traditions and oral histories and skills beyond knowing how to flip a shaker like in that irritating Tom Cruise movie, and not just a way to pay the bills through college. If they understand this and believe that it can be so again, stay for a drink.
Or, if you're having a hard time finding a barstool that fits, stop on by, I've always put some ice in the shaker for a guest.