Thursday, July 29, 2010

An In With Bacchus Guide On: How to Function at a Bar

I've had enough of this horseshit. Somewhere along the way from the 50's, people have become completely inept at functioning in bars. I'm not sure what the hell happened but I'm chalking this up to the drinking age going from 18 to 21. Bar etiquette is a thing of the past. Ordering has devolved to shouting as loud as you can and/or waving the largest monetary bill you have like some sort of flag of sober desperation.

I'm fucking tired of it.

So, in a vague attempt to teach at least some of you how not to be assholes in a bar, I've decided to craft a post on "How to Function at a Bar" because, frankly, you're miserable at it. Don't worry. Let a seasoned drinking vet guide you through this. So, let's begin, shall we?

The In With Bacchus Guide On How To Function At A Bar (Because So Many People Are Terrible At It):

Part 1: Where to order
The most important step in this is CHOOSING YOUR BAR. In today's onslaught of T.G.I Friday and Applebee's "bars", people have come to the conclusion that every bar is the same and they can get whatever they want in any bar they please.

You're fucking wrong.

In order to not be a complete douchebag, you need to choose a bar carefully. Think of it like choosing a first home for your family. Does it have the right neighborhood? Enough space? Is the price right? It's that important. First, let's take a short test. Time to step up to B.A.T, or the Bar Aptitude Test. Let's begin, shall we?

Question 1: You come off the street and find yourself at this bar:

You order:
A) A double martini, straight up with a twist. Extra dry. Stirred. Two olives, one onion.
B) Shot of Wild Turkey with a beer back.
C) Chocolate martini
D) Sazarac

Alright, time's up. If you answered A or C, we light Chuck Norris' legs on fire and he roundhouses you in the face so hard your nose turns to diamond. B is perfectly acceptable for that kind of situation. D is a potential.

Question 2: You come off the street and find yourself at this bar:

Courtesy of The Brandy Library
You order:
A) Whisk(e)y, neat or on the rocks.
B) A Red Headed Slut
C) A double martini, straight up with a twist. Extra dry. Stirred. Two olives, one onion.
D) A Manhattan.

Time's up. If you answered B or C, we stop feeding Joe Pesci for a few days then lock him in a room with you and a butter knife. A and D are excellent choices. B makes me wish it was possible to punch your soul. C makes me angry but for reasons I'll explain later.

The key here is to attend a bar based on what you have in mind. If you've had a bad day and you just want to drink Boilermaker's until you pass out in a urinal, Snakes and Jakes is your friend. You want a nice glass of something special, maybe a well made cocktail, and some good conversation? Go to the Brandy Library. I recommend looking up bars ahead of time in the area you'll be in (the internet is a wonderful thing). This is extremely nerdy but it prevents you from getting either beaten up by the locals when you order a Fuzzy Navel at a shot-and-beer joint and it keeps you from looking like an inbred fool when you order PBR at a high-end bar. However, if you decide to pick at will, look for the key sign: how well is the place kept? Is the outside dingy and dirty? Poorly lit or broken neon sign? No outside lighting except for a lone bulb in a broken light fixture? It's probably a dive bar. Is it well lit and nicely kept? Is the sign prominent (perhaps on an awning) and tastefully done? It's probably a nicer bar. Use damn common sense, really. Occasionally you'll get that middle-ground bar by accident. Not quite dive, not quite hoity-toity. If so, stick to liquor and one mixer drinks, like gin and tonics. You'd be surprised how far they go outside of the realm of liquor and coke. Try maybe a Dark and Stormy if they have ginger beer (dark rum and ginger beer) or maybe a 7 and 7 (Seagrams 7 and 7-Up). If not, go for a glass of wine or a draft beer. If you see bartenders slinging around Boston shakers like rice at a wedding, then it's probably safe to go far more adventurous. But if you can't visibly see a shaker anywhere near the bar, stick to simple stuff.

Addendum: Hipsters

Dear Hipsters,
If you're reading this, congratulations on doing what you like to do. While I hate to sound discriminatory, if you want to be a bold hipster, stay at hipster bars. What I mean by "bold" is that you're loud and proud in a metaphorical sense. You like discussing obscure bands. You tinker with guitars in bars. You decide to be emo and wistfully stare at the opposite sex in a corner seat. Yeah, you don't think I notice you but generally...I'm about two steps away from throwing you out the door.

Listen, I give you mad props that you're doing what you love despite how people feel about it. Right on. However, like pushy vegans, just because I'm near you doesn't mean I want to do what you do. Or even experience a smidge of it. If you want to sulk at the fact that you're just too misunderstood to find a mate that likes you, fine. Join the goddamn club. We meet every day at a place called "a bar". Just keep it on the down-low like the rest of us. We don't need you puppy-dog eyeing and sighing into your beer. Also, unless people are actively using instruments in a bar, don't think that it's cool to sit in a bar and belt out really shitty covers or even shittier self-written songs. I applaud the fact that you are engaged in trying to get me to drink faster but I really don't need more grease on the runners as I slide down this particular slope.

"But I.W.B!" they say! "You wear those hipster glasses and listen to obscure blues songs! It's a very large pot calling a very small kettle black!". First off, go fuck yourself. We're going to play a game here called "Look At My Glasses":

See my glasses? Do you see the lenses? They're HUGE. While I enjoy the style of these glasses I mainly use them because they're the only ones that'll hold my lenses in. If I didn't have lenses thicker than Beyonce's ass, I'd be wearing wire-frames. Also, good music stopped coming out with the death of prog. rock and old school rap. There, I said it. And I'm not taking it back.

Suffice to say: you want to be a vocal hipster? Do it at a hipster bar. Otherwise, shut up and drink.

Part 2: What to order
You've picked your place. Congrats. You're one step closer to being an American of old. An American who knew how to drink and when/where to drink it. Read: anything and everywhere. Now to figure out what you're gonna let rip-roar down your throat like the Colorado River. Let's delve, shall we?

First off, I'd like to discuss the martini choice above. I said that I didn't like it and it's true. Let me explain. Let's say that I go to the garage with my car. I pull the car in and talk to the mechanic. I tell him: "Yeah, the tires need a balance and a rotation. Can you balance it while the car's facing north and there's a bobblehead Jesus on the dash. Also, can you rotate the front tires half a spin counterclockwise and the rear tires a quarter spin clockwise?" If you were the mechanic, you would look at me like I was crazier than a shithouse rat. You're doing essentially the same thing at a bar. It is to be expected that you like your drink. That's fine. If it's too strong, tip well. If it's too weak, order a double next time. Extreme customization of a drink means you probably should have just made it at home or stuck to something else. You're not "customizing", you're just being a picky asshole.

Also, stop being a bar-top chemist every time you belly up. There are people out there that see that wall of booze and just want it all. They start greedily telling the bartender to mix a whole shit-ton of beverages into one glass like a fat guy assembling a plate at a buffet. But for the love of all things holy people, stop pretending you just got your "My First Mixology Set" every time you sit at a bar-stool. Leave the mixology to the bartender. If you're going to a bar for a mixed drink like that, you damn well better have chosen a mixologists bar. They're a growing (and blissful) trend these days so go there if you feel like playing mad scientist with your hooch. The part about this that pisses me off the most is I've been with/over heard people at bars that do this. Once that golden chalice of ominous concoction is placed in front of them and they take an oblivion-seeking slurp...they don't like it. Actually, that's too mild. I've seen some scrunch up their face like someone just killed their loved one while they were eating a lime. I've seen some go wide-eyed like a deer in the alcoholic headlights. A few I've seen retch. And then they complained to the bartender and got the drink taken off their tab.

Go fuck yourselves.

You decided to play Cocktail Roulette, you pay for the damn thing. Its not the bartender's fault / bar's fault that you suck at making drinks even when you're not actually making them yourself. That's how bad you are at it. That's how much you fail. But no, little miss/mister Bitchface McGee decides its the bar's fault. So that cocktail made of 25 year old scotch and sour apple pucker? The bar eats that cost. It may even come out of the bartender's wages. So fuck you. You play the game, you face the consequences if you lose. If someone plays Russian Roulette and they know they got the bullet, they can't just give the gun back to the person in charge and say "I got the bullet, spin it again". You play the game, you follow the rules.

Step 3: How To Order
The most insulting thing these days is the fact that people no longer have patience. They want their drink in their mouth three minutes before they order it. Any longer than that they get pissed and tip poorly. First off, slow down Speedy Gonzalez. Even the shittiest cocktail takes time to make. Let them make it and maybe it won't suck. A properly poured beer takes time. When I went to Ireland, you could always tell who was a tourist and who wasn't by watching them order a Guinness. They'd order a "Guinness", not a "pint". The worst part is they weren't patient. If you know anything about Guinness, it should be that it takes 119.53 seconds to pour a decent pint. It takes place typically in two stages: the primary pour for volume and the secondary pour for the head. See this video for how to pour:

A tourist would always grab it either a) right after the bartender does the first pour but before the second pour or b) TOO EARLY AFTER THE SECOND POUR. You have to let the beer sit to develop the thick, white head to it. But no, Tourist Bob wanted it NOW. So he'd grab it while it was doing this:

Whoops. Way to fuck up a respectable pint by being impatient. So yeah, patience is kinda important. Just saying though.

Now that we've got patience down, let's move on to how to order. Approach the bar confidently. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT BEFORE YOU GET TO THE BAR. No one likes the person that doesn't know what they want when the bartender gets to them. Figure it out beforehand. If you get nervous (it's fine, drinking at a bar is an intimidating thing to some), just repeat it either under your breath or in your head a few times to get it down. Make sure you have CASH. CASH is important because not all bars have credit cards or an ATM close. If you're going out to drink, make sure you have the cash to cover what you drink in case they don't accept plastic. Besides, you're going to want to tip in cash anyway. Cash has a delicious fluidity when it comes to taxes. Not that I'd know.

So, you're at the bar. You know what you want. You have your cash out, in your hand, but not waving it like you're trying to surrender to the bartender. Catch their eye and smile. Be relaxed and polite. Being impolite gets you nowhere. Being polite and tipping well means that you'll get stronger drinks, more frequent buybacks (more on this later), and faster service. The quicker you become a regular, the better. At this point, just wait for them to get around to you. If it takes them awhile, be patient. The drink will taste sweeter.

Buybacks - Always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS tip on a buyback. A buyback is the bartender saying "Thanks for being a boozehound at MY bar. Keep drinking." And you should honor that. That's a free drink to put down your gullet. Reward it with some bread. The bartender deserves it. But, don't expect buybacks. Some bars are more stingy about their booze and buybacks are frowned upon (read: you get fired). Don't go to a bar expecting a buyback. If one comes your way, be happy and tip well.

So yeah. Follow these basic rules and you should be alright. If you need any more help, just let me know and I'll expound more. I'm good at that.


  1. Depends on what part of Ireland. If you're in Dublin or anywhere northward, then - yes - a "pint" is a Guinness. But if you're in County Cork, a pint would be Beamish.

  2. I've heard Beamish isn't as good these days due to its move to the Heineken/Murphy's brewery as opposed to the original brewery location. But true, Ireland does have its regional favorites.

  3. Could not agree more on all points. Bar etiquette makes creates a better experience for everyone involved.

    Tip the shit out of your bartenders when they make a good drink - they're usually earning a shit wage and that tip money is valuable cigarette money. That being said, I've run into a ton of bartenders that don't know how to make very basic cocktails. That shit is infuriating. If you want to be a bartender, buy 'The Bartender's Bible', and at least have a reference in front of you if you forget something. It's $6.99 on Amazon. It's not that hard.

    If it's a beer-and-whisky kind of bar, no, I don't go rolling in asking for some complex shit, but when you've got hundreds of bottles behind the till, you should be able to produce a Manhattan without asking 'umm, what's in it?'

  4. Great article! Thanks for posting, found some decent pointers even for a seasoned vet. Love the points on the Guinness, not only have I seen people slurp them down the minute they're in front of them, but I've seen too many bartenders who just don't know how to pour a perfect pint.