If you’re not ordering one of those drinks with an “and” in the middle of it, things can get dicey at the bar. Just as the garbatron at Starbucks requests her custom “coffee” beverage at rush hour, there are a multitude of ways to order a standard drink or single pour of spirit. Knowing those different ways could both help you find your new preferred method of imbibing while also helping to keep things moving at the counter when the bartender has a full one to keep. (Just don’t get carried away like Starbucks person. Then you’re being a butt and helping no one.)
On the rocks: the drink is served with several small “rocks”, aka ice cubes. Like when you want ice in your Captain and Coke. However, “rocks” are generally included with “and” drinks, so spare yourself the extra tool points and don’t say “Captain and Coke, on the rocks”.
Neat: think college dorm room party, or the planet before ice became commercially available. That shit’s right out of the bottle that came right of the shelf, right into your glass and then right into your mouth. No ice, no garnish, no Tom Foolery. Nice and, well, neat. The trend here is for the darker spirits and cocktail blends, including whisk(e)y, rum, brandy, and sherry.
Up: your drink or pour was created with ice or bitters or the like, but when it’s served to you there is no ice remaining in the final product. Basically, it was chilled. If you don’t want your beverage to dilute any more than it had whilst being cooled – that is, shaken or stirred with ice – this is what you want.
Straight Up: this term/un-term is only here to let you know that there is a difference between this and the other terms, and the difference is that you should not use it. It’s confusing. It means both Neat and Up – or neither of the two, depending on who you talk to – so you will either be left with a drink you didn’t want or the bartender will be left re-making a drink s/he thought you wanted but you didn’t, costing hir that pour and the time to get another order in during drink-slinging hour.
On the rock: no one really says this in this way, but there isn’t really a standard term for it. It’s just one rock here. This is a big-ass piece of ice, one that bars may actually charge extra for, either because they’re hand-carved or because the ability to make them in-house is limited by capacity. Usually this would go with a stirred and/or whiskey-based drink. If you find the right watering holes in Japan, you’ll get a hand-carved, air bubble-less sphere or diamond made for you.
Shaved ice: you know this one from having a childhood. It’s not all that common, but can be found in juleps and sometimes in those flash in the pan Moscow Mules. Fun Fact: there is a Japanese ice shaver that is absolutely silent. SILENT. Leave it up to the Japanese.
Or, if it’s not too hectically crowded, you can always avoid the potential confusion altogether by bypassing the lingo, and explain in everyday human words what you want to order. If the bartender gives you any attitude or tries to “did you mean”, s/he’s just being an asshole.