Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Masked Drinker's Guide to Drinking in Bars in Which You Do Not Belong

Recently I've found great delight in a sub-genre of the drinking life. I've always enjoyed finding and walking into a random bar I've never seen. It's not always the greatest bar ever, but you're guaranteed at least one decent story, even if it ends, like every story from my high school years did, with the phrase, "and then we ran away."

Little did I know the thrill of taking this just one step further: bars in which you simply do not belong. You know them . . .you walk in and it is as if a needle scratches off a record. All eyes on you like a stranger in some old west saloon.

Now I don't mind saying, my first few times doing this, it scared the masked crap out of me. But after a few successes, I realized how much fun it was—I guess it's as close to my weak-stomached self can get to enjoying a roller coaster.

The reasons behind my out-of-placeness varies, but generally it is because I am "other." Other nationality, other race, other culture, other orientation, other gender, other age . . .you get the point. Like on the Electric Company, one of these things is not like the other.
Whether it's been an old mafia bar in Williamsburg, a Mexican salsa dive in Bushwick, a lesbian bar in the east village, or an old man speakeasy in Appalachia or anything else out there, the same method of becoming accepted has worked every time. So this week's Masked Drinker's guide is How to Go to Bars in Which You Do Not Belong.

Step one: walk straight to the bar. I won't lie—with every eye on you you're going to want to turn tail. Don't. Walk straight to the bar and sit down. Don't go to a table, no one wants to waitress for your alien ass.

Step two: order quickly and decisively. As to what you should order, look at the folks around you. Get the beer they're drinking. I don't give a shit if you hate Bud or Corona or whatever, get it anyway. You do not want to be the asshole asking for a goddam microbrew beer.
Step two-point-five: order a shot with your beer. No purple nurples or kamikazee's or other mixed drink shots. Make it easy on the bartender. Whiskey, tequila, vodka. Ordering a shot straight off shows you mean business. Real drinkers will take note, and you're one step closer to acceptance. If you want to go full bore, down the shot and order a second for sipping.

Step three: tip immediately. This might not be commonplace at the bar, but either way you let your tender know you're taking care of him/her. Don't overtip, though. No one wants a show off. A buck or two per drink is perfect.

Step four: listen. What's the tenor of the conversations going on? Baseball debate? Work woes? Raunchy jokes? Pay attention without being a creepy eavesdropper. Get the mood of the joint and basic personalities of the inhabitants.

Step five: talk. Throw something into the conversation if possible and appropriate. Crack a joke about something on the TV or juke. Whatever you do, just make sure it's funny and slightly self-deprecating. Establishes you as a fun person who isn't stuck up their own ass.

Step six: do not force it. Try joining in or talking no more than twice per visit. Sometimes the natives take longer to warm up than others, but the last thing you want to be is the annoying pest that keeps bugging everyone. Just wait and try again next time. I've never had to do this more than three times, and usually one will do.

Step seven: regardless of your reception, stay a while. Get at least two more rounds. If you've struck up a conversation with someone, buy them a round. This might seem like base bribery, but, hey, if it works . . .

Step eight: come back. Let them see you're not just a one-shot drinker who walked into the wrong place and acted like it wasn't a mistake (honestly, that's how this all got started). Come back within the next week and repeat the previous steps. Hopefully you'll see some of the same patrons or staff members. You're well on your way. Note, though, that you should be doing this alone. Bars in which you do not belong might accept you, but they don't want to feel like you and your asshole friends are going to take over. Once you're accepted, you can bring a friend or two over from time to time, but don't lead off with that.

There you have it, folks. Eight simple steps to making yourself at home in a bar where you're supposedly out-of-place. In today's increasingly tribal times, it's good to break through these barriers and get drunk with people who don't look or act just like you. Somebody get me the Nobel Peace Prize for Drinking now. I want it.

photos taken from internet


  1. Buying a round for the bar may not always be the best thing. It can be considered as being a showoff with your money. It is better to find a reason to buy the round. It can be a birthday or to celebrate gambling winnings. As long as it is "just because".

    Also it never a good idea to play the jukebox when you don't know the crowd. You never want to play the wrong type of music. You can lead the whole bar in a revolt against you. When you do have a good feel for the crowd play away. It can be a real icebreaker.

  2. Oh, yeah. Only buy that round once you've been talking for a bit.

    Some situations you can play the juke even before establishing yourself. A friend of mine once walked up to a Mexican juke and just picked songs randomly and the patrons thought it was great and hilarious. Depends on the mood I suppose.

  3. "You know them . . .you walk in and it is as if a needle scratches off a record. All eyes on you like a stranger in some old west saloon."

    I can still feel the eyes on me to this day. ;)

    Nothing much to add. As a minor league veteran of this type of behavior in my younger days, I can say your advice is spot on. Key is to REEEEELAAAX. Quiet confidence rules the day. Looking like you're having fun (don't go overboard) goes a long way to endearing yourself to the locals as well. Smiling is a good thing.

    Great job, O Masked One!

  4. Well with walking into any new situation alot of what happens is a matter of luck and gut instict. Now picking songs at random is a high risk play when you want to start of on the right foot. It can payoff with great results.

    Another trick with the jukebox is to just play one song and then take requests. You always make the excuse that you didn't have change. You can even take the requests before you play your song that way you get a real feel for what the bar likes.

  5. Dead-on. Confidence, decisiveness and not being a dick are the keys to life itself.

  6. In my own defense, I must say, if you ever stumble into a black biker bar in East St. Louis, you really are just better off running away (unless, of course, you happen to be a black biker). This is especially true if you are young, cute, and female.

  7. I have found some of my favourite hangouts in the city in exactly this manner. No matter how out of place I've been, once it was established I was a serious drinker and not an asshole: acceptance.