Well Drink or Call Drink... What Are Your Ordering?

Saving Money or Drinking the Good Stuff, The Choice is Yours

Man holding a whiskey on the rocks in a bar.
Save money at the bar by knowing the difference between a call drink and a well drink. Yagi Studio / Digital Vision / Getty Images

There are two types of drinks at the bar that you should know during happy hour. The special of the day may be "$5 Call Drinks" or "$2 Wells" and, beyond knowing that both are great deals, there's a quality difference between the two.

What is a Call Drink?

Call drinks are ordered with a specific brand of liquor: you are calling out the brand.

For instance, you may order a : 

  • 'Belvedere Martini with a twist' and the bartender knows to make a Vodka Martini with a lemon twist.
  • 'Tanqueray and Tonic with two wedges' request should result in a Gin & Tonic with an extra lime wedge.
  • 'Maker's Manhattan' will result in a Manhattan cocktail made with Maker's Mark bourbon.

There are also common call drinks. Two of the most popular are the Seven & Seven and Jack and Coke.

In most cases, you will pay more for a call drink than you would if you took whatever the house liquor is. This is particularly true if you like top-shelf liquor but happy hour specials can often offset the extra cost.

For example, the house scotch may be Lauder's but you want a Rob Roy with Johnnie Walker Black. You will pay more for this upgrade and in fancier drinks like this, it's often worth the price.

What is a Well Drink?

Typically right in front of the bartender and sort of hidden from patrons, is a bottle rack filled with liquor and this is the 'well.'

The well is stocked with the bottles that the bartender uses most often.

Typically , one bottle of each of the essential liquors - including vodka, rum, tequila, whiskey, gin, etc. - is topped with speed pourers and ready for the next drink.

Think of the brands in the well as 'house liquors.' Just like house wine, these are regularly stocked at the bar and are often the brands that are the best deal for both the bar and the customer.

These cheaper spirits are not always bad, there are some good tasting and inexpensive liquors out there and you may not notice the difference in some mixed drinks.

  • If you order a Tequila Sunrise, you might get one made with Sauza or Jose Cuervo and it could be either a blanco or gold tequila.
  • A 'whiskey on the rocks' can get you a pour of the well bourbon, Canadian, or blended whiskey if you're not specific.
  • The Rum & Coke is another popular option and almost every bar will stock a different brand of rum in the well.

It is a good idea to glance at the well before you order a drink. Maybe they have your favorite tequila or you don't like the vodka that's in the well. In the first case, you can order a Juan Collins or a Paloma. In the latter, well, maybe it's a whiskey night or you should call your vodka.

Which Drink Should You Order?

There is no right or wrong answer to which style of drink you should order. If the bar has a deal on call drinks, go for it. In theory, you'll get a better drink for about the same price as a well drink on an average night. 

Then again, if the happy hour special is well drinks, take advantage of the deal. You can always order a call drink later in the night. Who knows, you might even enjoy the bar's well liquor and find a new budget-friendly favorite.