The spherical ice "cube" has the greatest surface-to-volume ratio and should be everyone's choice for the fastest way to chill a drink, both bartender and customer. But it's hard to do right. Spherical ice has to be molded one at a time, in gadgets that don't lend themselves to mass production. The Manitowoc Company has a lock on the commercial ice machine market, making ice that is cubed or shaved, or in between.
If you want a sphere for your cocktail glass, you have two choices: you can freeze a large cube of ice and insert it into a cylinder that basically melts away anything that isn't part of a sphere. Or you can hold onto a cube with a rubber glove and chip at the edges with a hammer or a chisel until the ice fits into your chosen glass. Both these are gimmicks, of course.
The shape of the cocktail glass depends in part on the cocktail. A smaller stemmed glass seems most suited to white wine, a flute to Champagne, snifters for brandy, and a larger stem with a reasonably large bowl for red wines. But a hybrid snifter works very well for sipping whiskey. The edgier the bar, the weirder the glassware, with cocktails arriving in front of the customer in tumblers and jam jars. You know you're in a "craft" cocktail bar when they serve the drinks in antique stemware.
Canon, for example, has dozens of mis-matched stems that would not have looked out of place in the sideboard of your grandmother's house, etched or engraved with curlicues and wreaths.
At Black Bottle, they will make you a drink in a traditional shaker, pour a generous amount into a traditional martini glass, then transfer the balance, ice cubes and all, into a mini-shaker that they leave for you.
Beers, on the other hand, are served in a variety of vessels. The straight-sided, 16-ounce shell glass seems almost quaint. At Feierabend in the Cascade neighborhood each draught beer is served in a glass designed by the brewery.
Duke's has a "slanted" happy hour with dedicated glassware to match: off-kilter glasses look less slanted as the night wears on. They garnish the Bloody Mary with a shrimp, a celery stick, and olives.
At Canlis, James MacWilliams uses a blowtorch to caramelize a marshmallow atop the "Yes Sir, Mr. Canlis." At Monsoon and Monsoon East, as well as Ba Bar, beverage manager Jon Christiansen gets creative. He has slushie machines at Ba Bar and a smoke machine in Bellevue, for example.
For a while there, trendy bars decided to barrel-age their own cocktails. The theoretical model for this notion was that Old Tom and similar gins improved by aging in oak barrels like fine wines. Doing so quickly proved impractical: Wine barrels have a very specific surface to volume ratio that evolved over decades in medieval Burgundy; the wine's evolution is meticulously monitored by enologists with broad experience and regular access to dozens of barrels.
A premixed cocktail with elements as disparate as distilled spirits, bitters, and herbs cannot help but become a muddled mess in the confines of a small barrel. In fact that's the whole point of a cocktail: to take two or three ingredients that are already unique blends (gin and its botanicals, vermouth and its herbs,) combine them vigorously by stirring or shaking, and garnish with some fruit or flower that enhances the new alchemy.