The Day I Turned Sophisticated

I stumbled upon a post today that featured a recipe for a Tom Collins, and that brought back memories. When I turned 21, the first cocktail I ever ordered happened to be a Tom Collins.

I was in a casino in Reno (but not playing Keno). It was a slot machine, actually. This was about a week after my twenty-first birthday, so I was already experiencing sensory overload. The flashing neon lights! The sound of coins raining down as some lucky soul hit a jackpot! Danny Ocean and his group of ten accomplices planning the heist to end all heists, right under my nose! Oh, wait…that was in Vegas. And it was a movie. My bad.

Anyway, it was still an exciting time, and I was having a blast. Suddenly, a scantily clad cocktail waitress appeared before me, asking if I’d like a drink. If ever there was a single defining moment where I first felt like a grownup, that was it. I almost replied with “Sprite” out of habit, but then the little invisible devil perched atop my shoulder jabbed me with his pitchfork, reminding me that “you’re 21 now, idiot – man up.” My mind raced, mentally shuffling through a list of drinks that I’d heard of but had never tasted. I tried them on for size before quickly discarding them for various reasons.

Whiskey, bourbon, scotch? Too strong. Rum and Coke? Not exotic enough. Strawberry daiquiri? Too frozen. Cosmopolitan? Too pink. Absinthe? Too illegal. Martini? I couldn’t remember whether James Bond liked his “shaken” or “stirred” and feared ordering it the wrong way. Mai Tai? The tiny folding paper umbrella wouldn’t win me any macho points with the cocktail waitress. Bloody Mary? I might jab myself in the eye with the accompanying celery stick. Gin and tonic? A “tonic” is a medicinal substance…eww. Long Island Iced Tea? Maybe that would pass muster in New York City, but this was the west coast and I didn’t want to look like a tourist. Margarita? I wasn’t sure if I could deal with the worm that, in my mind, floated at the bottom of every margarita glass, demanding to be consumed (or stealthily ferreted out and slipped onto a hook to be used as bait during your next fishing excursion). I was quickly running out of options and, simultaneously, looking like an inexperienced 21-year-old who had no idea what kind of cocktail to order because he’d never had one before in his entire life. Which, of course, is exactly what I was. But she didn’t need to know that. Finally, inspiration struck. I smiled, and in a slightly bored voice that I hoped conveyed an I’ve-had-this-a-million-times-but-I-suppose-I-could-go-for-another air of worldliness, ordered a Tom Collins.

One part gin, one part sophistication with a splash of worldliness. (Courtesy of

She scurried away, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. There! I’d done it! I’d ordered a drink that sounded sophisticated! Go, me! There was only one slight problem: I had no idea what was in a Tom Collins.

A few minutes later, she returned with my drink. I eyed it curiously. Hmm…it was clear, which was a good sign. Sprite is clear. Sprite is good. Therefore, this clear drink would also quite logically be good. The cocktail waitress eyed me expectantly. Oh, right…I’d seen this in TV shows before, but usually involving wine. The server would pour you a glass, you’d take a little taste and swirl it around in your mouth before muttering your approval. I could do this. I would show that I fit in perfectly. So I grabbed the glass, took a tiny sip, and nodded my head. “Very good,” I said. And it was. The gin had a slightly piney fragrance and the drink itself was sort of citrusy. Not very un-Sprite-like, come to think of it. She gave me a funny look and walked away. I found out later she wasn’t waiting for a drink review, of course, but a tip.


By the end of the day, I’d knocked back another couple of Tom Collins’s, and feeling very much like an adult officially christened it “my drink.” Over the years, I’ve become considerably wiser in terms of alcohol. I know that in all likelihood you won’t find a worm in your margarita, and 007 liked his martini “shaken, not stirred.” I’ve tried nearly every drink on that mental list of mine, and enjoyed them all.

Except the Cosmopolitan, which is still too pink.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

25 thoughts on “The Day I Turned Sophisticated

  1. I knew a man named Tom Collins…back in the day. I was a youngun’, and he was one of my dad’s friends…he had sparkly blue eyes.

    I had a crush on him…then, when I heard there was a drink with the same name, some years later, I thought…”wow, I guess I’m not the only one that had a crush on that guy!”

    fun post–casino in reno but not playing keno…


    1. There was another joke in there involving gassiness and Beano, but I didn’t want to overdo it.

      There’s also a vodka Collins, but I’ve always preferred the gin version. Good thing I didn’t know that back then as it would have merely added to the confusion.


  2. I’m a fan of ordering a Rob Roy, or a Manhattan if they balk. (This is mainly because nobody EVER knows how to make a Gin Fizz.)

    But wait, Reno… the West Coast? 😛


  3. Okay, please don’t laugh but the first drink I think I ever had was a Pina colada! I was probably about 18 years old (that was the legal dinking age in Florida back then). But, the bar that my friends I would hang out in put barely any alcohol in the drink, so we just ‘imagined’ that we were getting drunk!

    Now, I only drink wine. Red. Love it!

    However, one of these days I’m dying to try a martini, but my resistance to alcohol is so lame that I’m afraid!


  4. my first drink was one of those fizzy colourful concoctions you can get pre-made in a bottle… VEX or Mike’s hard lemonade or something like that. I was impressed with myself at the time, but looking back, can only shake my head in embarassment 😛 I wish my first drink had been as memorable as yours!


  5. I had to click your link to find out what exactly a Tom Collins was! (A bit before my time, you know… ha!) 😉

    My first drink was a Shirly Temple… which the Marines I went out with would secretly pour shots of vodka into. (I was *slightly* underage at the time.) Worked like a charm. 🙂


  6. I had my first Tom Collins in Portland! In a bar in the Hawthorne District! I feel so “local” now. I am more of a gin and tonic girl, so I tried something different. Next time you find yourself gambling, go for the bloody mary. Another fav.!


  7. Woohoo: a shout-out to Reno! That’s where I live! With all the scanitly clad cocktail waitresses, quickee divorcees and legal prostitutes!

    Well, not really…

    Never tried a Tom Collins, personally — my drink of choice is a vodka cranberry with a twist of lime. And even though it’s only 11:21 a.m. now, your post has made me crave one. Now.

    Thanks a lot.



    1. Yes, I actually thought of you when I was writing this entry. If I was going to live in Nevada, it would be in Reno (or someplace real close). My ex-FIL had a house in Incline Village and so Reno was just a hop, skip and a jump away from there. Fun times.


  8. Mark,
    Saw your post as an entry for Freshly Pressed “just write.” Just wanted to tell you I LOVE your site name. “Mark My Words” …. so clever. Love it!! 😀


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