OLD-FASHIONED: In a short tumbler, put a teaspoon of sugar, an orange wheel, two dashes of Angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry. Gently mash them together with either a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon, until the sugar is dissolved. Add two ounces of whiskey, plenty of ice and stir with a spoon. Top the glass with soda water. "Keep in mind that varying the amount of bitters and sugar allows the drink to work for almost any guest," says Spokane mixologist Paul Harrington. "And it's a good way to gain confidence in your mixing skills."
MARTINI: "Although it appears simple, the Martini is one of the most complex cocktails to master," warns Harrington. But once you have it down, you'll be able to impress friends at the drop of a hat. Only two spirits are needed: gin and dry vermouth. Harrington pours about a half-ounce of vermouth into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, then strains it out: the vermouth left clinging to the ice will be sufficient. Add three ounces of gin and stir rapidly, moving the spoon up and down. Strain it into a well-chilled Martini glass and garnish with an olive or a lemon twist. "If you make the Martini with vodka," Harrington says, "use less vermouth."
PETIT ZINC: Gin is the serious cocktail aficionado's preferred spirit. So for those looking to expand beyond the blandness of vodka, this drink is a perfect start. Pour one ounce of vodka, and a half-ounce each of Cointreau, sweet vermouth and orange juice into a shaker. Shake rapidly, until the metal is almost too cold to hold. ("When you're mixing vermouth, bitters or fruit juice, shaking is preferred to stirring so that ingredients can get better acquainted.") Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange wheel or a maraschino cherry.