How to NOT Look Stupid Ordering a Drink — With Help From Atlantic City's Top Bartender, Todd Lewison

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) Todd Lewison is at the Rush Lounge Sunday through Friday for his signature Happy Hour.

A midwestern girl walks into a bar with a camera and a, it's not a joke. It's actually the truth. On the last day of StyleBistro's trip to Atlantic City, I sought out advice from a bartender. Not life or romance advice — although I'm sure I could have used it — but rather drink advice. A cocktail 101, if you will.

It may not look like it, but I'm getting sick of beer, to be honest.

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) I've been waiting for a good cocktail lesson for a long time now.

So I found myself at the Rush Lounge at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, chatting with one of Atlantic City's best bartenders, Todd Lewison.

Lewison holds the title of top male bartender at a casino in AC Weekly's 5th Annual Readers' Choice Nightlife Awards (whew, what a mouthful!). I sat down with the top bartender to learn more about his career, what makes a good cocktail, and what the heck I should order so I don't look stupid or end up with an unpleasant drink.

How long have you been bar tending?
TL: "Here at the Golden Nugget, about 18 years. But my career has been about 28 years."

So, you've won the best bartender award. Tell me about that!
TL: "I don't want to make this sound crazy, but I didn't know there was a contest going on. The director came and told me I won this contest. I guess somebody nominated me, and then people voted, I don't know how many people were nominated, and I don't know how many people voted. I had heard of the Nightlife Awards before, but never gave it any thought."

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) Lewison mixing up a Cosmo. Carrie would be so proud.

Since you're the best, tell me, what makes a good bartender?
TL: "Accuracy, knowledge, and speed. Obviously, you need to interact with your customers, too."

Be friendly?
TL: "Yeah, friendly and really getting to have a rapport with your guests. I've been here a long time, and we do have a lot of regulars. It's nice to know they come back to see all of us not just myself. We know that a lot of people come back. The Golden Nugget used to be the Trump Marina. A lot of these bartenders have been around for as long or longer than I have. So people come back to see us because they like us."

More importantly, what makes a good cocktail, because I have no idea.
TL: "Something that's easy to drink. Something that tastes good, which it doesn't burn. It doesn't sting. Something that's enjoyable. You know, something that people enjoy drinking. Most people don't like anything with a strong bite to it. It's funny, you see the people's faces when they do shots. They didn't really enjoy them. But, there are some who do. Basically, just something that's easy on the palate."

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) I think I found my new go to drink. The Opal martini at the Rush Lounge. Vodka and chocolate!

What drinks do you find yourself making a lot of these days?
TL: "People like a good Cosmopolitan because it's a martini. It's a fun-looking drink. It tastes good. It doesn't kill you. It's not a stinging drink. The Cosmopolitan thing has been very popular and still is because it's very recognizable name, drink, it's easy to drink, easy to make and it's got a nice presentation. People like martinis. They're still very popular. We make a variation of the chocolate martini here as a dessert drink. We call it here an Opal martini, which is vanilla vodka, Godiva white chocolate liquor and Baileys."

Speaking of chocolate, what should someone order if they like sweet drinks?*
TL: "Somebody who comes in and likes something sweet, but they don't know exactly what they like, a Malibu Bay Breeze (that's Malibu rum, coconut rum, pineapple, cranberry juice) is always popular. There's coconut vodka out now, which it would be a little bit stronger than a Malibu drink, but a drink with pineapple and cranberry juice is always a good standard go to. Juice drinks make it a lot more palatable for a lot more people. And then you can sweeten up the drink with coconut rums or just rum. You can make them a little stronger with a vodka based drink. Also, for somebody who likes something a little stronger, margaritas are always popular and always good. It's a very refreshing drink."

*Please note I selfishly asked this one because, aside from beer, I only drink sweet drinks. Also, he had me at chocolate.

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) Lewison says the Cosmo has been and will always be popular. We owe so much to Sex and the City.

What about for someone who likes that kick?

TL: "A Long Island Iced Tea for the kick. It has five white liquors. It has vodka, gin, rum, tequila and triple sec. A lot of the flavored vodkas are becoming popular now. Tons and tons of drinks coming out each day. They're fun. For somebody who might normally just drink a vodka soda, they might try an orange vodka or a raspberry vodka and mix it with soda and or juice."

What is popular with young women?
TL: "Everyone's kind of different! Again a Cosmopolitan, I think it was Sex and the City that made them very popular for both men and women. Women do like a Cosmopolitan because it's an easier martini to drink. Not just straight alcohol. And actually when you have bachelorette parties, you do a lot of Lemon Drops."

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) From time to time Lewison likes to create his own drinks. He's made several for Rush's Happy Hour menu.

Do you ever play around and make your own concoctions?
TL: "Sometimes. You always get inspiration. There are apps on phones now, so you can just look them up and make a variation depending on what liquor you're trying to use. There are tens of thousands of drinks out there. You can't know them all, but you can have fun with the popular ones. And I have for the happy hour menu. There's a drink we call 'Ultimate Walk on the Beach'. It's made with Ultimate vodka, Peach Schnapps, cranberry and orange juice. And it hasn't come out yet, but there's a vodka called Zyr. I made a variation of the Lemon Drop using it. I call it the 'Cuz Zyr Amazing.' I made it with Zyr vodka, lemonade, and a little bit of 7-Up in a sugar rimmed martini glass."

As a bartender I'm sure people tell you LOTS of things..*
TL: "Everybody has a story. Everybody likes to tell their story, and everybody likes to have their story heard, especially inside the casino with the gambling, nightlife, and food experiences. And people look to the bartender to give them advice as to where they should go. What they should do, especially if they've never been there before."

*Please note, I asked this one selfishly as well. I wanted to make sure I wasn't the only one who asked the bartender for advice.

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) You can find Lewison at Rush Sunday through Friday. He'll whip ya up something good, for sure!

Where do you tell them to go?
TL: "I always suggest eating at the Chart House, because it's phenomenal. I always say to come back to The Deck in the summer. The Golden Nugget is about to open a nightclub called Haven. That's opening Memorial Day weekend. Summers are beautiful here! The Deck overlooking the water with live music seven days a week. It's a great time. Imagine the deck so packed you can't see any deck! It's so fun to work at and so fun to go to."

After a basic cocktail 101 and a good briefing on where to go in AC, Lewison kindly mixed me three of Rush's most popular drinks, the Malibu Bay Breeze, a classic Cosmopolitan, and the incredibly delicious-looking Opal martini.

(Photo by Caitlin Miller/StyleBistro) Todd Lewison is at the Rush Lounge Sunday through Friday for his signature Happy Hour.

This is the second time my job has taken me to a bar. Tough life, huh?

You can visit Todd yourself Sunday through Friday, 5-8 p.m. at the Rush Lounge inside the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. He'll be happy to mix you up something yummy, or you know, listen to your story.

Former Senior Associate Beauty Editor at StyleBistro. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @CaitlinSMiller Follow me: Google