Archive for the ‘Bar Culture’ Category


New Math

December 7, 2008

Dear Bartender: I’m no mathematician, but I’ve been thinking… If I go to a bar and drink 8 beers, tipping a dollar each beer, at $5 a pop I’ll spend $48.00. BUT, if I drink 8 beers and tip TWO dollars each time — and, as a consequence, the bartender comps me every fourth beer (not an unreasonable expectation, I hope) — I’ll spend only $46.00. It’s win/win for everyone! I’ve saved myself two bucks and doubled the bartender’s income. No small thing in these troubled times, am I right?


Dear Wizard: Yes, if you choose your bartender wisely. Think of yourself as Congress and your bartender as one of the Big Three; no sensible person should invest in something clueless.


Yet again

August 3, 2008

Dear Readers: I got the following two letters recently:

Dear Bartender: So, Saturday night I went to a bar with a group of friends and I decided to buy a round of drinks. I’m usually a nice customer and I asked the bartender to take a shot with me and tipped him well after he closed my tab.

I asked for his name and I told him mine. He then told me that he is moving to a different bar and will be working there Tues and Wed. I asked if he was going to remember me if I go visit and he said yes.

Is he working me to become a regular customer or was he interested?

And the 2nd letter:

Dear Bartender: About a month and a half ago I was introduced to a bartender at the bar where my coworkers and I were having drinks. I’d always assumed that his flirty attitude was him simply “doing his job.” Recently though he suggested I go to a bar where he was going after work. i asked if the place was worth going to, and he replied I will be there so of course it was worth going to. I went and we spent most of the night talking, sharing our life stories, he introduced me to some of his friends, and anytime he would leave he would assure me that he would be right back. I am still quite apprehensive simply because he is a bartender.

Is he really interested?

So, Readers, I was tempted to simply say that I’ve answered this question before (and not just once, either) — but then I read the second letter more carefully.

People: Bartenders flirt. Enjoy it. Have fun. By all means, flirt back. But it’s a safe bet in the end he’s not trying to sleep with you.

I gotta admit, however, that if he invites you out to another bar, one he doesn’t work at, and spends the entire night exchanging life stories and introducing you to his friends — you may indeed have found your next squeeze.


It’s raining, it’s pouring…

May 5, 2008

Dear Bartender: How do you know when to cut someone off? And when you do cut someone off, how do you do it?


Dear Slushy: The when depends on the who. I don’t cut everyone off at the same point of drunkenness. Some factors: Is he driving? What kind of drunk is he — happy, messy, angry, weepy? (Angry gets cut off first.) How familiar am I with his tolerance? I have a cheat sheet in my head of the regulars who can cross that fine line with little warning.

If it’s someone I don’t know, I watch how he interacts with the other customers — you know, to see if he’s bothering anyone or is getting sloppy. I’ve even cut off guys I didn’t know well who weren’t yet drunk but were drinking so much so fast that, should they suddenly cross some digital shift into totally plastered, I’d be pretty screwed if I had to tell my boss I’d only served him twenty gin rickies.

The how is easier. In a word: clearly. You don’t have to be mean about it if you’ve left no room for negotiation.

Cheers. Next one’s on me.


He Love Me, He Love Me Not

April 15, 2008

Dear Bartender: So here is my situation: Yes at the local bar where my friends and I go all of the time I have a huge crush on the bartender! I know, I know avoid at all costs! However, he happens to be friends of my friends as well so he isn’t just some random bartender.

Anyway I let him know I was interested (getting drunk and giving him my number – I know mistake number 1!). I didn’t expect anything when I woke up the next day, I even felt a little dumb about seeing him again, but now every time I come in to his bar he hugs me, usually doesn’t charge me, tells me not to tip him and sometimes when I come to the bar to order a drink he will just lean over the bar to kiss me on my cheek! Even if the bar is packed he will take time out to talk to me or if I’m leaving, to leave the bar to give me a hug goodbye! And even when the bar is packed, I will look over at him and well catch each other’s eyes.

The other night when I came in he was just managing the bar so he wasn’t technically bartending. He came over and sat with me and talked to me all night. And we talked about real substantive things – like books, religion, etc. Then my friends were going to the store and I had mentioned I needed cigarettes and he just gave them money for them and asked my friends to buy them for me (he even knew what kind I smoked). When I was leaving he tried to get me to stay but I needed to wake up for work so I left. However, he hasn’t tried calling me or even asked me out.

I dated a bartender/bar owner for a long time so I get it: you’re a bartender. Your job is to flirt with pretty girls, make them come back, buy drinks etc. Girls try to hit on you all the time. But this time I think the guy may really be into me but I don’t know how to take it outside the bar where he works. I think he just takes for granted that he will see me at the bar at least once a week! Or maybe this is just an ego thing because I made it apparent I was into him? I’m not sure – am I confusing the signs? Is he just doing what a bartender should do? When is it bartender etiquette and when does the bartender ever like the girl?

Totally confused!

Dear ‘fused: You’re confused for a very good reason: this guy is doing everything he can think of to ‘fuse you. God knows what his agenda is but he’s sure not trying to be your boyfriend. Don’t tell him I told you, though, or those free drinks will disappear quicker than you can do a shot of Key Lime Pie.

He’s playing games. It’s his job. You know this already.

And, maybe I’m being too cynical here, but… that part about not tipping? He only means for you to tip him more subtly.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if I or any other bartender hasn’t hit on a customer and meant it once or twice. It’s just that, when we do, you won’t have to ask if we’re serious.



February 21, 2008

Dear Bartender: I was recently put into the unfortunate role of bar room snitch at one of my standard local watering holes. It was a Friday night and a few members of the kindergarten crew in the bar, those just barely 21 years old or those underage that snuck in somehow, were packing bottles from 6-packs bought at the deli across the street in their jeans and jacket pockets with no intention of buying drinks from the bar. At some random bar I might turn a blind eye, but as a frequent regular of this neighborhood establishment I felt it was my civic duty to inform the doorman of this outrageous infraction by which he responded by bouncing the youthful culprits, naturally to much protest. Am I a shameful rat or a righteous whistleblower (a la Serpico)?


Dear Stevie: Right on, whistleblower. You disappointed nobody but the pedophiles. These kids should be home sniffing glue — not clogging up bars. Don’t feel guilty about it. The way I see it, these kids would be just as quick to chase you out if you crashed one of their parties, unless you were, by chance, the guy in the clown suit with the twisty balloons he can turn into animals.

Balloon Dog


Ladies Loving Ladies

January 29, 2008

Dear Bartender: What’s the current word on ladies who come into the bar, get a little drunk and start making out? They’re not lesbians, they just like to make out when they’re drinking. Is it considered dumb by the bartenders? Passe??? Is it excusable behavior? Should said ladies stay out of the bar for a while? Do bartenders always remember the silly behavior of the patrons??


PDA Problems

Dear PDA: Why do you care so much about what the bartenders think? Bartenders have more to worry about than who kisses whom after a few dozen cocktails. Frankly, when women come into my bar, I’m happy if they’re kissing and not pulling each other’s hair. I’ve seen women drunk, I know what I’m talking about.


You Can’t Go Home Again

January 9, 2008

Dear Bartender: I have recently moved back to my hometown and thought it would be good to get out and mingle. I called up a friend and we decided to go to a local bar to see if anyone we knew still worked there. The bar was under new ownership so the entire staff had changed. The place was busy for a weeknight so we sat down and I ordered my usual drink.

As the night went on my friend left me to go over to a table with some random guys and I stayed at the bar watching TV. I started asking the bouncer and bartender if they knew what had happened to the old staff, and if they still came in every so often. After we chatted for a bit him and the bartender told me they thought it was funny how I had shrugged guys off throughout the night that were trying to buy me drinks. I told them I wasn’t interested in guys buying me drinks, I was able to buy my own. I also hate when guys try to get in my space when they are drunk, its not a turn on! They found me amusing and we ended up talking for the next hour while my friend was over getting drunk with the random guys who had hit on us earlier. When I asked for the check he asked me if I would come back in some time, I told him maybe but probably not because I am not big into the bar scene.

He gave me my check and I looked up at him because I noticed he had taken off a couple of drinks, he smiled and started helping another customer. He came back over and asked me again why I would not come back in. I told him if he was that concerned about not seeing me again he should just ask me for my phone number. He got super red and the bouncer I was talking with all night started giving him a hard time. He encouraged the bartender to get my number and take me out. I told him we should all go out, it would be a good time. The bouncer suggested we meet back at the bar in a couple days and all go out from there. I told them that would be ok but I didn’t want to stay at the bar. The bouncer gave me his number and told me to call him if I couldn’t make it. I was a little unsure because the bartender was so hesitant to get my number, but agreed to meet up in a couple of days to go out.

Are they just trying to get people to come into the bar? I am up for hanging out with new people but I don’t want to show up with my friend and feel like a complete fool!

Foolishly Flirty

Dear Flirty: I’ve distilled your question down to this: A bartender bought you a couple of drinks and then acted like he didn’t want to go out on a date. Are you missing something?

Yes. He wants you to come to the bar. It’s a compliment: he wants attractive customers. But forget any designs you may have had on a relationship with him outside of the box.

The bouncer, on the other hand, is ready to rumble. If you meet up with him, pack extra condoms.



December 30, 2007

Dear Bartender: Hi there! My question is one I’m hoping you’ll have an answer to…

I’ve been singing in bars and resturants for a few months now. My first gig was at a Beer Cafe in Perth Western Australia and I met this bartender who just captured me. It could’ve been because I was in a vulnerable position, being my first gig and all, but he was so appealing to me. Yeh, I know it’s your job to be nice and I could be wrong but, I’m sure there was some flirting going on. Unfortunately, my duo got a regular spot at a different venue that offered more cash and because I’m the new kid I didn’t really get much of a choice in the matter. So, in total, we gigged at this Beer Cafe twice and at the second gig when we saw each other he winked at me and later on I noticed him standing watching me. Yes, I’m probably reading into it way too much. I suppose I felt some kind of connection, however cliché that sounds. OK, so my question is this – 1) What signs show this bartender could be interested in me? and 2) how do I make it clear to him that I’m interested enough to be asked out? I have a funny (annoying) way of ignoring the exact man I want. Could I get away with just walking in on a quiet evening and asking him out myself? Or is that a turn off? I know there would be cultural differences between you and him but there is no resource like this in Australia. Your best guess would be muchly welcomed.


-socially naïve

p.s. he is probably around the 30 yr old mark and I’m 25. :-)

Dear 25: 1) A good bartender will flirt with anyone he wants to stick around his bar. That might be because that person tips well, other customers find this person attractive, or the bartender himself finds this person attractive. A good bartender will make invisible any distinction among these three criteria. That doesn’t help much, does it?

2) You’ve probably already made it clear. He hasn’t made the first move, so you should. Asking him out on a slow night would be a mistake. Ask him out on a busy night, when there are enough distractions that he can pretend he doesn’t understand you. Bartenders often have a hard time making a clear distinction between professional friendliness and honest romantic interest. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Meanwhile, if you want to encourage a yes, invite him somewhere specific, and where there will be other people. Invite him to a concert. Invite him to one of your shows. Invite him to an orgy.

Bartenders make great friends. Getting them to be friends on the other side of the bar will take extra patience and special attention. But it’s almost always worth it.



December 20, 2007

Dear Bartender: In many bars in the Wisconsin area (and am sure elsewhere) the last shot from the bottle is free. I asked a bartender at a local bar if they do this and he said no, but if I could come up with why this use to be done (and according to him required because of certain health risks or dangers) I could get the last shot free from now on. I was wondering if you knew the reason why this was done.

Dear Wants-a-Freebie: I’ve followed most of your question but I’m still confused: What are the health risks/danger imagined by your b’tender? You get the last shot free and the health risks are… ? It’s his job to cut you off well before one last shot sends you over the edge.

Not that his job is easy, mind you. I’ve had lots of people teetering on the edge of plastered and I’ve had to judge if the next (last) shot will send them into psychoville. I don’t always guess correctly.

That said, I’ve never heard of the practice of giving away the last shot in a bottle. If I were your barkeep I would need a damn good reason to give it to you free, but I might settle for a sexual favor, or at the very least a generous compliment. If your barkeep isn’t into that, try waving a five-spot in his face.

UPDATE 12/20: Read the comments for more (better) info. (What can I say? My research assistant is on vacation.)


From Me To You

December 2, 2007

Dear Bartender: My question may be a strange one… but then again after reading some of the other questions I guess mine is tame. My friends and I have been visiting a local bar maybe 2x a month for drinks and to catch up on each other’s life. During our last visit it came to my attention that one of the bartenders actually has paid attention to our likes and dislikes regarding drinks and menu options. He also remembers each of our names….unlike some of the other bartenders. We are getting to the “tis the season” time of the year, is it appropriate to give bartenders gifts at Christmas time? If so, what kind of gift is appropriate? I’m not referring to anything romantic in nature, just an appreciation for paying attention to the little things.

Any advice is greatly appreciated.


Dear Teresa: You’ve put me in a sticky spot, tempting me to instruct you to abstain lest any reader think that I, as a potentially interested party, have either 1) jettisoned my judgment, or 2) made this question up. But I’ll be brave and tell you the truth: While a present is not by any means required, it’s nevertheless totally OK. I’m just disappointed that you’ve ruled out giving him something romantic.


Hey Nineteen

November 30, 2007

Dear Bartender: You may not want to answer this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. I’m a mature 19 year-old who enjoys a good drink, even more so when it’s in the company of like-minded people, in a public watering hole of my choice. Alas, I have yet to reach the legal drinking age in my state. That’s where you come in.

You must have noticed, over the years, what gives underage drinkers away — and I’m not talking about the way they look, necessarily, seeing as when I go out I see 40 year-olds desperately trying to look fifteen. I’m talking about other, less obvious clues that make you say, “Uh, hey, before I give you that whiskey sour, let me see some I.D.”

If you can help, I promise never to betray your trust by driving home drunk and killing someone.



Dear You Take Me For A Fool: Let’s start with that whiskey sour. The only drink that screams “card me” more than that is a Long Island Iced Tea. That said, why should I help you? For all I know you’re an underage cop looking to shut me down. Do what the rest of us did when we were your age: raid you dad’s liquor cabinet, or just sniff some glue.


In vino veritas

November 8, 2007

Dear Bartender: So. I had a disagreement with the owner of my favorite neighborhood bar. I behaved badly and my favorite bartender got caught in the middle. What is the appropriate mea culpa, apology, compensation for the bartender?

–truth-teller eating crow

Dear Crow Eater: I’m assuming you’re still allowed in your favorite bar; that’s a good sign that things aren’t so bad. And you feel humbled; that’s also good. Most people in bars are quick to lay blame on everyone but themselves. It’s vaguely possible that alcohol has something to do with this clouding of their judgment.

As for your favorite bartender: don’t sweat it too much. Good bartenders have more patience than a pregnant elephant. Next time you see him, say something like, “Thank you for putting up with me. It means more than you know, and it’s a lot more than I can say for my wife, my kids, my boss… even my mother.”

Admit it: it’s probably true.

Then sit down and order your favorite drink. And don’t get him in trouble again.


Comeuppance See Me Sometime

October 22, 2007

Dear Bartender: I am currently doing research for a paper about the industry’s wealth of incompetent and/or sexually deviant bar owners, and am finding it hard to see how people who are putting up with a bad bar owner can act, other than quit. I work for an asshole, someone with little experience in the field, who has just gotten a divorce, and who is trying to bring the place down as fast as he’s falling, and don’t know what I can do, other than harm the other bartenders at the place who rely on their jobs for rent.

Have you any stories about bad bar owners who have received their comeuppance? I haven’t heard of it yet…

PS, love the site, you’re providing a necessary service.


Dear Nick: Bad bar owners who’ve found their comeuppance are like unicorns: we’ve all heard of them, but dernit if we’ve ever seen one in person. Bar managers are even worse. I’ve endured a few. Does the stress of owning a bar make bar owners crazy? Or do only crazy people open bars?

Alas, as far as I know, you can either endure them, or quit.

But it’s this paper of your that fascinates me. I love how you’ve married incompetence and sexual deviance. Is there a connection between the two that I never knew about? And what compels these sexually deviant/incompetent people to open up bars? What kind of research are you doing? How bad is your boss? What’s his sexual deviance??

Don’t leave us hanging, Nick. Tell us more!


Across the Pond

October 21, 2007

Dear Bartender: I recently visited London and went to a lot of pubs, bars and clubs. On the first night, I left a tip for the bartender. He looked confused. A friend of mine who lives there told me it is not customary to tip bartenders in the UK. I also noticed others were not tipping.

I was uncomfortable not tipping, so I kept tipping anyway.

Did I do the right thing?

–Confused American

Dear Tourist: No.

Though I sympathize. Habits are a bitch to break. Even good habits. But steel yourself and resist the urge to tip where it’s not customary.

And extend a tiny bit of sympathy to the next Brit you see stiff an Yankee drinkslinger.


The Other Woman

September 22, 2007

Dear Bartender: Have to tell you, I enjoy your sense of humor and advice. I stumbled upon your site in the wee hours of the morning, after awakening and worrying about my new position and career in bartending.

I am a 50 year old female that has re-entered the work force after raising three children. Over those years I did work here and there, but not as a bartender. I did go to a bartending school and then landed a perfect starting job. I have been appreciative of getting it and eager to learn all I can.

The place I work is a private club that has one bartender but needs additional help two days a week and for occasional private parties. This suits me fine. In fact, so far everything is great except for the other bartender.

Going into this field, my concern was dealing with the customers, as in mean, rude, drunk, etc. My thinking was that would be the worst aspect of the job. So far, that has not been the case. My problem is with the other bartender. The training part of the job is over. But the other bartender has control issues, for lack of another way to term it. For example, when opening and closing, instead of splitting duties down the middle she will delegate….step by step. At first, I thought, OK…I am in training. But then it carried to behind the bar and in front of customers. She will criticize me for the speed at which I make a drink and the quantity of liquor I put in a drink, right in the middle of the rush and while customers are lined up and can hear. She will give me a “command” like “get to the kitchen” when something there needs to be done. I feel this undermines any respect I might have or will earn from a customer. I feel that this is disrespectful to me, as a bartender. If she, as a training bartender, has an issue she should pull me aside and discuss this, but not in front of a customer.

I am a novice here in this field. The other bartender is in her mid-20s and a part time college student. She was taught bartending by a previous bartender and this is her first job as a bartender. Is this a case of the blind leading the blind?



Dear ChessChamp: This kid is creating an unacceptable working environment. Fuck her. Who does she think she is? Send her to me and I’ll give her a stern talking to.

I have a boss who gets like this, too, sometimes. Thankfully I’ve got a good enough relationship with his boss that I can ignore him completely. If you can get yourself into a similar arrangement, I recommend it. Meanwhile, the next time it’s mad busy and she criticizes the way you’re doing things, stop what you’re doing and ask her — sincerely, as if you were really curious — to do it herself, so you can watch and learn.

Do this every time and she’ll soon back off.



September 6, 2007

Dear Bartender: I hope I don’t sound like my life is a Simpsons episode, but my husband seems to spend an awful lot of time in bars. His favorite is this disgusting place I would never set foot into without a hazmat suit. I used to think he was actually sneaking around, having an affair, but I had him followed by a co-worker and, sure enough, he was spending all his time in that bar. (He apparently has a lot of “drinking buddies” there.)

Bartender, what is so attractive about that place? Now even my co-worker, the one who I had follow him, thinks it’s a great bar — he goes there almost every day! He sees my husband more than I do!! Maybe I should call up his wife to comiserate?!

What am I missing here?

–Wife In Name Only

Dear WINO: Definitely call up your co-worker’s wife. Marriage is no substitute for having friends. Your husband apparently has already figured that out.


East Meets West

August 19, 2007

Dear Bartender: I was at the neighborhood bar, and I heard the following exchange:

Patron: Heineken
Bartender: What? Heineken?
Patron: <nod>
Bartender gets the beer
Bartender: Six dollars.
Patron pays with a 10 and pockets the change.
Bartender: Actually, you should leave me a dollar. You should always leave a dollar a drink. If it’s a drink, you leave a dollar. If it’s two drinks, you leave two dollars. If you buy ten drinks, it’s ten dollars. It’s math, you leave a dollar a drink. You’re Asian, I know you understand math.

The remark was uncalled for in my opinion. What do you think?

–Understanding, but still….

Dear Still: Eurasian? I’m not Eurasian!

Your question has a complicated history. When this country was young, tipping was considered un-American — condescending and inconsistent with a free country’s ideal of an honest wage for an honest day’s work. That’s not changed. Nevertheless, nowadays, like it or not, tipping in American bars is expected, common, and often the only way a hard-working bartender makes any money. And it’s not wholly imperfect: Think of the poor souls, in a busy hotspot, waving around a $10 and shouting that they want bloody marys, dirty, with olives and salt on the rim. Sometimes a tip makes the world spin a little faster.

But it’s not wholly perfect, either — and nothing demonstrates that better than when some asshole bartender demands a tip.

Once upon a time it was possible to offend someone with money. I wouldn’t advise trying that on a prick like this.



July 16, 2007

Dear Bartender: Dilemma. Is it OK to cuss in a bar? The drinking age in my state it 21, so it’s not as if there are children around. So why did three women at my fave watering hole the other day tell me my talk was too blue?

— Cusser

Dear Cusser: The women have a point. You need consensus to cuss freely. You didn’t have it.

Come to my bar, you can swear all you want. If it gets exhausting I promise I’ll tell you to shut the fuck up.


Midnight Express

July 2, 2007

Dear Bartender: The other night I had a customer come in telling me that he was a plastic surgeon who never gets drunk no matter what he drinks. He was waving his card in front of me and began to taunt me a bit, so I decided to call him out. He bought the first 3 TGV’s (Tequila, Gin, Vodka) and after that I offered to buy him every other round as long as he did not seem to get drunk. Shot 12 seemed to be the one that took him out. I had to haul him out of the bar onto the street. At the moment I was feeding him a bit of water — after considering that he was alone and in his mid 40’s and I’d already instructed him how to throw up — my manager came over to me and told me to “forget that you ever served him.”

My question: Where is the line drawn — in regards to the ego and the morality of this issue?

P.S. I feel that I was wrong because my ego took control of my common sense.

-Andrew from Paris

Dear Andrew: This guy clearly wanted to board the express train to Toilet Town. But no matter. When your boss told you to forget you’d ever served him, he meant that you should be at least as drunk as the guy you threw out. It works for me. There are loads of drunks I don’t remember serving.


Teetotaling on the job

June 19, 2007

Dear Bartender: Is it possible for there to be a good bartender who doesn’t drink?

–Phoenix Rising

Dear Phoenix: Can there be a good pope who’s not Catholic?

Actually, yes, I imagine there are lots of non-Catholics who’d make good popes. But that doesn’t make it easy.

There’s no requirement for a bartender to drink on the job, or drink at all. Many bars, in fact, require their employees not to drink on the job. In those cases, would anyone know the difference if a bartender drank at all?

And yet… An excellent bartender is in rapport with his customers. That doesn’t mean he has to be a lush, but a non-drinking bartender would be wise to keep his non-drinking habit a secret. Bars are, after all, in the business of selling drinks. And the bartender sets the tone for the crowd.

I’d advise non-drinking bartenders to ward off any offers of shots with an offhand “My parole officer made me promise to only do shots with him.”


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