What Is a Stirrup Cup?

It sounds like…a cup shaped like a stirrup?

Actually, it is a time for drinks before a hunt (like the fancy kind on horses with top hats), when everyone’s feet are already in their stirrups, hence the name! The traditional thing to drink was port or sherry. Remember how I wrote about how Scarlet is basically an etiquette manual? She goes to a hunt and participates in the stirrup cup in the book.

Apparently, even further back, anyone setting off on a journey on horseback would get a drink before departing.

It is also the name for the type of cup used for the event, often shaped like a fox or other animals. Commonly, the cup would end in a point because it was for drinking, not setting down! And servants would carry the cups around in a special tray with holes in it to pass them out to the guests.

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere

Always be Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone

Always be Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone

So you think you know about cocktails. They have alcohol and you like them.

But there is so much more to it!

Technically a cocktail is a drink with sugar, water, spirits, and bitters. Though a more modern definition is a spirit a mixer, and bitters or other flavoring. Whereas a rum and coke is a highball, or just an alcohol and a mixer. They are called highballs because they are served in a tall, highball, glass.

Other ways to take your alcohol are neat (just the spirit, in a glass), “on the rocks” (just the spirit, over ice), straight (just the spirit, chilled), or up (in a stemmed glass- a martini “straight up” would be a chilled martini in a stemmed glass). A fun way to refer to a measurement of alcohol is by fingers. If you put your finger up to the bottom of the glass and pour enough alcohol into the glass to reach the top of the finger, it’s about one ounce of alcohol, then you can ask for one finger, two fingers, etc. If you are a jokester, you can put your pointer finger and pinky finger out and call THAT two fingers, ha-ha.

There are generally two designations of spirits: top shelf and well. Top shelf is the premium expensive liquor and well is the least expensive. It took me a couple of years of going to bars in college to figure out what well meant. Usually any happy hour specials will note that they apply to well drinks. And that is generally what you will get if you ask for a whiskey and ginger or whatever. If you have a preference, you will have to specify it, or the bartender may ask.


How to stock a bar

To create most basic cocktails, your home bar should have:

  • Vodka
  • Rum
  • Whiskey
  • Gin
  • Tequila
  • Vermouth (both white and red)
  • Bitters
  • Mixers (should include plain club soda or seltzer, coke, 7up, ginger ale)


  • Short glasses (rocks glass)
  • Tall glasses (highballs)
  • Wine glasses
  • Stemmed cocktail glass (a martini glass)
  • Champagne flutes
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Ice bucket/tongs
  • Jigger (you can use a regular shot glass too)

Good beginner drinks

Highballs are a great introduction to drinker liquor because they are fairly sweet and diluted. Rum and coke, whiskey and coke, whiskey and ginger ale, 7&7 (bourbon and 7up), cranberry vodka, pineapple vodka, etc are all good choices.

When you want to move up to something a bit more sophisticated, whiskey sours and margaritas.

It’s also a great idea to have something fancy and mature in your pocket for when you might be taken out to a really nice cocktail bar. Of course, it’s great if they have a menu you can pick off of, but a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or French 75 will impress.


Knowing what everything is and knowing what you like to drink is the cornerstone of drinking etiquette, but there are a few more tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t whistle at or snap your fingers at a bartender. Be patient and they will get to you.
  • Have your order ready when they do get to you.
  • Running a tab means that you hand over your credit card and they keep track of what you are drinking and then you settle up at the end of the night. Many bars have a minimum you have to spend to run a tab. When you run a tab, you add the tip at the end.
  • If you are paying in cash, you pay when you receive each drink. Tip a dollar or two per drink each time.
  • Don’t get belligerent. If the bartender cuts you off, accept it. Relatedly, just don’t get THAT drunk anyway (but these things happen, I know.)

How To Propose A Toast

Me as a bridesmaid drinking to my friend's health. [Jennifer May Photography]

Me as a bridesmaid drinking to my friend’s health. [Jennifer May Photography]

I LOVE proposing toasts. I do it at pretty much every meal I don’t eat alone, whether it’s a simple “cheers” with whatever glasses we have, or saying thanks to the hosts for having us together. According to my research, that latter move is in no way correct, but whatever, I’m grateful and I like clinking glasses and making eye contact.

So how do you toast a nice occasion? First, a bit of history. According to Service Etiquette by Oretha D. Swartz, the tradition of toasting goes back to “ancient times, when a piece of toast was placed in a goblet with the mead, or any alcoholic brew. When it became saturated, the toast sank to the bottom goblet, and after someone challenged ‘Toast!’ it was necessary to drain the goblet in order to get the toast.” Is this real? This sounds apocryphal, but The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette has a similar story. I’ll take it.

Swartz continues with some modern (it was written in 1988 but not much has changed) toasting etiquette tips. Nowadays it is not necessary to drain your glass; take a sip or two so that more of your beverage is available for future toasts. At formal occasions toasts may be made with champagne, but just use whatever drink you have on hand. If you happen to be served wine but don’t drink, Swartz recommends just touching the glass to your lips, since not participating in a toast is incredibly rude. However, I think it’s fine to just use whatever else you may be drinking, and give the wine to someone else.

Amy Vanderbilt notes that the best toasts are short and sweet, so if you are asked to toast a newly-wedded couple, a holiday dinner, or other celebration, simply honoring those who the party is for and saying how thankful you are to have everyone together is nice. A toast does not need to turn into a speech, unless you’ve been requested to prepare one, which is a whole other can of worms we can talk about later (or never because oh boy, public speaking).

Nearly all the etiquette books I’ve found mention that you are not supposed to drink a toast to yourself, lest you come off as self-congratulatory. I personally could not care less, but just be aware that some people might. In the event that someone is toasting to you but you still want to drink, you can respond “Thank you, and here’s to you all,” in which case you’ve flipped to toast onto them and technically are the only person in the room allowed to drink, you sneaky minx.

Now, some toast notes:

  • At a wedding, the first toast is traditionally given by the best man. However, I can’t think of the last wedding I went to that specifically followed this rule. Toasts were given in all sorts of orders by the couple’s parents, bridesmaids, siblings, etc. We may be able to retire this one.
  • Swartz says it’s traditional to toast the bride at a bachelor party, gentlemen.
  • If you feel an imminent toast, be sure to top your glass and the glasses of those around you, as it’s rude to toast with nothing.
  • According to Debrett’s, “port is never drunk before the Loyal Toast,” which is a toast to the head of the state. In this ceremony port is apparently passed to the left, and if you miss the decanter, you have to pass your glass to the left in hopes it catches up because the decanter can never be passed to the right.
  • If you’re going to be traveling abroad, learn the common toasts in those countries.
  • When I studied abroad in Italy I was taught you’re supposed to make eye contact with everyone at the table while toasting otherwise it’s seven years bad sex. It seems that many cultures have a similar superstition, so may as well play it safe.

Drinking in the Office

If the President can drink on the job, so can you. via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

My new company had an “afternoon tea” to welcome new associates and all they had was beer, which I felt weird about drinking since I just started and my boss was there and she wasn’t drinking. What do you do about office drinking situations, in general?


Not The Office Drunk


Most of the etiquette regarding drinking at work seems to be about holiday parties and the advice is usually to not drink too much, so I assume that also goes for all other workplace drinking as well.


Victoria:  I am pro drinking in the office, and I think with this question, if it is offered, to take it at face value and not think they are trying to trick you.

Jaya:  Oh yes. A glass of wine on a friday afternoon boosts morale so much. I think it’d be strange if all they provided was beer and expected you not to drink any, right?

Victoria:  Right! Like, why would they do that? And if they are trying to trick you, maybe its a signal of much deeper problems.

Jaya:  Though I understand the anxiety about being new and not wanting to be too enthusiastic

Victoria:  Oh yeah, especially if you are new. Though i think if you are a long time employee, then you should show enthusiasm so that the newer people know it’s okay. And if you have temps and interns, or a receptionist who is chained to the front desk, make sure that they know it’s there and are welcome to have some. bring it to them if you have to. I have temped a lot in my life and it is so nice when people make you feel included and not like a space alien who is visiting earth for a few weeks.

Jaya:  Hahaha oh no! Yeah, if it’s there, it’s meant to be enjoyed. I’ve shown no remorse over having five cookies from a platter on some coworker’s birthday, and I wouldn’t be upset about having some wine on a similar occasion. Just don’t get wasted if it’s in the middle of the day and you have to get back to work.

Victoria:  Hahah, yes, that is a very good point. Oh and don’t pressure people to drink if they decline.

Jaya:  Absolutely. You don’t know why they’re not drinking. Though, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t want to they don’t want to, whether it’s because they’re an alcoholic or they’re just not in the mood