We’ve all seen the bad movies: some smooth guy invites a girl up to his apartment after a date for a “night cap.” Night cap has taken on all sorts of connotations because of this, none of which usually involve actually having a drink. So what is the definition of a nightcap? 

A night cap is not an extra drink to get your night started – it is a drink to end your night. That means you literally only consume one drink and stop there. Generally, a night cap isn’t going to be wine or beer; it shouldn’t even be a clear liquor like vodka. You want something rich  and relaxing that is going to help you wind down, like whiskey or brandy. If it’s a brown liquor, you probably chose the right thing. It’s best to drink the liquor straight up (come on, be a man), but add something extra if you can’t handle it. Some people do like to add milk or drink a Kahlua or Baileys type of beverage.

A proper night cap should also warm you up. Don’t heat up a mug of whiskey or anything, but many people prefer to forgo the addition of ice. The whole warming thing plays into the name “night cap” as well – people used to put night caps on back in the day so their heads stayed nice and toasty while they slept. You can wear a real night cap if you want, but we’ll probably laugh at you.

Overall, a night cap is a classy way to end your night of drinking. We wouldn’t necessarily invite a date up to our place for a night cap simply because we don’t feel like looking like scum bags, but you can definitely go for the night cap in other situations. Have one alone after you arrive home or offer a night cap before your friends take off for the night; if you’re still really hell bent on having a night cap with your date, do it in a relaxing public place like a cozy lounge or cigar bar. Your date will just think you’re super sophisticated and then maybe they will invite themselves back to your place – see how easy that was?

Please Note: This article was originally posted on 9/14/13 and updated on 2/13/23.