• In the U.S. when someone orders a 'well drink' they are typically intending to order a drink (i.e. "vodka tonic, well") with the cheapest of the liquor the bar has available

Where did the "well" come from? It is distinct from what is called a "call drink", which is when the customer specifies the brand (i.e. Stoli tonic). Since well liquor is also distinguished in contrast to middle- and top-shelf liquors, is "well" perhaps being used as a reference of altitude (e.g., a well is a subterranean water hole)? Is it coincidence or is it etymologically pertinent that the Hebrew word "be'er" means "well" in the sense of shaft/recepticle?

To emphasize, this question is asking for information on the origin of the word "well" in its sense and usage behind a bar. Where does this usage of "well" derive from and how was it adopted for bar usage?

  • 2
    You could google it; first hit is: goodcocktails.com/drinking/well_drinks.php
    – JeffSahol
    Sep 21, 2011 at 14:27
  • @JeffSahol: You should summarize that and post it with the link as an answer. Sep 21, 2011 at 14:38
  • @Jeff care to elucidate where the term comes from, or did you only find definitions as I did when I googled it? I am interested in how the "well" terminology was derived.
    – mfg
    Sep 21, 2011 at 14:45
  • 1
    There is some controversy as to whether questions that are this easy to research should be answered or closed. This question definitely satisfies the first two criteria for easy questions (it is easy to find answers on the web, and the existing answers are good).
    – Jay Elston
    Sep 21, 2011 at 15:02
  • @Jay While I appreciate you not saying "Welcome to the site", I am aware of the LMGTFY posting. The "answer" skirts the tag. This is deliberately tagged [etymology] as I am interested in the usage origin. So far, this does not appear easy to reseach as the origin in question is not yet explained; currently the only answer is "They are called well drinks because they come from the well, which is called a well." Well, where does this usage of "well" derive from? How was it adopted to refer to a bar? Is this related to the Hebrew word "be'er", which means "well" in the sense of shaft/recepticle?
    – mfg
    Sep 21, 2011 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


According to this, "The term comes from the 'well' which is the place where the bartender has the ice, juices and the most used liquors and liqueurs. The well liquors are kept in the speed rail right in front of the bartender for an easy access."


  • 2
    Based on your picture, I'd say you have no business being on that side of a bar, young man!
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 21, 2011 at 17:45

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