The 12 Commandments Of Bar Etiquette

Illustration for article titled The 12 Commandments Of Bar Etiquette

You know how New Yorkers are legally mandated to issue no fewer than five annual social-media reminders that tourists walk too slowly? The Boston version is that we're required to bitch about how loud and drunk all the college students are.


I think the New York chorus is slightly more obnoxious, because they're pigeonholing all tourists, many of whom are decent, well-rounded, and fully fledged human beings, whereas college students are almost exclusively teenagers and twenty-nothings, i.e. loud and drunk and worthy of all the scorn the cranky olds can muster. But New York's haughtiness toward tourists is less offensive than Bostonian student-shaming on one important score: New York would be greatly diminished without tourists, but it would probably still have a reason to exist. Whereas if Boston didn't have colleges, it also wouldn't have professional sports, world-class hospitals, or restaurants open past sundown. It would just be a crankier version of your cruddy hometown.

The situation would be even more dire in Cambridge, the little city next door where Harvard, MIT, and I live. That's why I try to be patient with the kids. Of course, it's been a lot easier to accept them since I've stopped working as the door guy at a Bud Light mill smack dab between the two campuses. I worked there on and off for 100 years, mostly for the employee discount, but also for the anthropology. I learned a lot about the ways that college students are terrible bar patrons.

I would like to begin a discussion of how an adult of legal age might wish to conduct himself in polite drinking society. Take note, recent grads. It's time to act like a person.

1. No Smuggling
This should go without saying, but I've cleaned enough bar bathrooms to realize that way too many of you think it's appropriate to sneak mini bottles of liquor into bars. That's just ridiculous, because a bar is THE ONLY PLACE ON EARTH where a decent person would frown upon a bit of clandestine flask action. You need a little something extra to help you through a movie or a bus ride or an arraignment, hey, that's your business. But a bar's business is selling alcohol, and you must not undermine this beautiful mission in any way.

2. Don't Ask for Samples
This is related to Rule 1: You have to pay for what you drink. It drives me nuts when patrons ask to try a sip of this or that draft beer. I realize this is usually done out of genuine indecision and pain-in-the-assedness rather than an attempt to cadge an extra ounce of beer, but the effect is the same either way. You're still taking up the bartender's time and the bar owner's liquor on an errand that does not directly translate into the sale of a beer.

Exceptions can be made if you're unfamiliar with the tap list and the bartender isn't sufficiently trained to explain your options to you. If you ask, "Hey man, what's the Dirty Dick's Deathbed Confession like?" the bartender may just grunt and shove a shot glass of it at you rather than explain the style. (That's a shitty bartender.) But just because you've never tried something before doesn't mean the first hit's free. If it's clearly labeled "Dirty Dick's Deathbed Confession Pale Ale" and the bartender tells you Dick was a sheep-humper and his namesake beer is modeled on the milder British interpretation of the style, then you've got enough information to risk a pint.


3. Don't Rearrange the Furniture
If you have excess posse or some other relevant situation, it's fair to ask if you can turn a couple of little tables into a bigger table, but please don't just start banging shit around like you own the joint. It messes with the servers' system and disrupts the flow of the place. Plus it's rude.

4. Keep Your Birthday to Yourself
You're an adult now, no one cares. Sucks, I know. Your friends pretend to care, which is why they're wearing stupid hats and finger-painting icing dicks on grocery-store sheet cake. The rest of us are there for reasons wholly unrelated to your mom getting laid.


5. Don't Ask for a "Strong" Drink
If you're looking to get wasted, more power to you, but be slick with it. Order drinks that you know to be high in alcohol, or order a lot of drinks. Asking the bartender to make your Jack and Coke extra-stiff signifies either that you doubt her judgment or that you're trying to get something for nothing. If you want to improve the Jack-to-Coke ratio in an individual drink, request a double, which signifies that you know you're asking for a favor and you're willing to pay for it.

6. Don't Peel Off Your Beer Labels
If you insist on being a fidgety weirdo, bounce your leg or grind your teeth or something. Your nervous tick shouldn't make a mess for someone else to clean. Leave the coasters alone, too.


7. Don't Make Music Requests
If there's a jukebox, then wait your turn and have at it. If the staff's running the music, well, then, the staff's running the music. They'll decide which tunes are played and at what volume. Tons of bars play awful music way too loud, which is their perfect right; don't complain, just leave. (The rules are more relaxed with the televisions. If you want to watch a particular game, it doesn't hurt to ask, as long as you accept the answer without complaint.)

8. Buy Rounds
If you're with a couple of other people, just take turns going up to the bar and buying each other drinks. It makes for more efficient service, and also fosters trust and community. If you can't count on Shaky Ed to match your generosity when it's his turn, then you shouldn't be hanging out with Shaky Ed. And if the night ends halfway through the lineup, you'll survive. It'll even out over time, and if it doesn't, again, it's time to upgrade your friends.


9. The Staff Doesn't Owe You a Lengthy Hearing
One of the shittier, more essential parts of growing up is accepting that with each step you take away from the womb, the fewer people around you exist solely for your comfort and gratification. I was a pretty lax door guy, but I'm sure I tossed an innocent party or two. Sometimes the fog of war makes it hard to pinpoint exactly how it all went down. That sucks for the guy who got his foot stepped on and just said, "Hey buddy, watch it, please," but that doesn't mean there's time to conduct a full and fair trial. On Saturday night at a certain kind of bar, all the bouncer can really do is get rid of anyone who looks like they were in the middle of some bullshit. That doesn't mean the bouncer has a right to shove you or call you mean names, but he can tell you to leave. If this happens, again, my sincere condolences, because it blows to be falsely accused, but you've got to just suck it up and leave. Pleading your case for longer than 10 seconds, even if you're right, never helps.

10. Leave the Women Alone
Chicks, man. Sometimes they're totally into you and laughing and touching your arm and accepting drinks, and then all of a sudden they decide they're done with you. It's terrible, and it's entirely within their rights. Let it go. (No need to even cover a scenario in which the lady in question never expressed the slightest interest in your song and dance in the first place.)


11. Be Civilized in the Bathroom
During my last doorman stint, I'd joke that I got paid free beer and Doritos to hang out with my friends for the first four hours, and then I got paid $100 to spend 15 harrowing minutes hosing down the bathrooms. Please do what you can to make bar bathrooms slightly less repulsive than they were, admittedly, born to be. For the most part, this just means pissing in the general vicinity of the toilet (women are shockingly bad at this), but you can also help out by not taking your beer in there, mostly because that's fucking gross, and also because the top of the urinal is curved, and your bottle's going to fall off when you're fishing around for your dong.

Other points of bathroom etiquette: Don't pee in the sink, clean up any sex juices you produce, and either wash your hands properly or don't bother to fake it. The only thing worse than not washing at all is clogging up the line by pausing at the sink for three seconds of half-assed, soap-free, cold-water finger-wetting. If you want to be clean, then get in there with soap and hot water and scrub around and make a difference; otherwise, don't waste the time, water, and paper towels.


12. Tip.

I'm sure there are tons of other things I've forgotten. Such as?

Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.


Art by Sam Woolley.

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