Night Life

Bar Etiquette 101

Hey there, guy. Unless you're looking for a lost dog, you might want to stop whistling. Don't snap your fingers, either. And could you please not yell or pound your glass on the bar? Panicked pleas to your bartender for quick and exacting service will get you neither. In fact, they could brand you an asshole, but if you've called the bartender "ace," "chief" or "boss," he probably already thinks that anyway.

These are a few of your bartender's least favorite things. And there are many, many more. I've spent the last few nights (read: years) "researching" this topic, so listen up. This column will make you a more effective drinker. Without further ado, here's what I remember of what I learned.

1. Assume your bartender knows how to do his job. Don't ask him to "hook you up." He doesn't know you, and now he doesn't like you. Don't wink slyly and ask him to "make it strong" or " not put so much ice in it." Drinks are made with recipes, and your bartender is going to follow that recipe until you give him a reason to do otherwise. And you guessed it, "a reason" means you have to tip well.

"Generally two or three dollars on the first drink makes me look out for you," a bartender at a fashionable downtown club tells me.

And never, ever bring in printed drink recipe cards. It's downright uncouth. Your bartender pours drinks for a living. Assume he knows how to make your gin sidecar.

2. Cash money rulez, beeyotch. Like many in today's ever increasing cashless society, you may prefer plastic to paper. That's fine if you're shopping for groceries, but it's not so great at a bar. You really should make the extra effort to hit an ATM, and either pay your whole tab in cash (and tip generously as you go) or hand over a five-spot with your card when you start your tab. Either way, you'll be running circles around the guy that promised your bartender he'd "take care of him" at the end of the night.

"People that tell you they are good tippers are notorious non-tippers. Why should I believe you? I deal with drunks all night. The proof is in the wallet," Downtown says.

3. Have your shit together. "My biggest thing is order all your drinks at once," says a bartender at Washington Avenue music dive Mary Jane's. "Don't order a beer, have me bring it back and then say 'and a vodka tonic.' You're wasting my time. Hell, you're wasting your time."

Believe it or not, this happened to the Mary Jane's bartender no fewer than four times a couple of weeks ago. And it was all on the same drink order. And this is what MJ's man says happens to clueless customers like that: "I ignore them all night to the best of my ability."

Also, just as if you are at the head of a long line at the grocery checkout, you should have your money ready. As one bartender told me, "I don't have time to wait around for someone to dig around in their pockets for nickels."

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It's not a good idea to respond to a bartender's friendly "How are you doing tonight?" with "I'll have a rum and Coke." "If I take the time to ask you how things are or how your day is, have the courtesy to at least pretend you give a flying fuck about me," Downtown begs. So make an effort at eye contact. Your bartender may supply you nightly with a potent potion that's slowly smothering your soul -- but he has one too, and his is just as needy as yours. When you stare past him with awestruck eyes at the big bottle of Captain Morgan, your poor bartender feels unloved.

A couple more miscellaneous respect issues: Don't order a drink at point A and then migrate to point B across the bar. And it's poor form to yammer on and on to your buddy or your intended conquest while the bartender is waiting for you to pay.

5. Ya better recognize. Don't ask for exotic, bar-specific shots when you're not at that bar. Ordering a "fuzzy butthole" like the one you had in Las Vegas, or some layered purple, green and yellow shot you had at Mardi Gras two years ago will be met with perplexed stares here in Houston.

Also, if you're with a group of eight and you ask the bartender for "another round," chances are he doesn't remember that you had an Amstel Light, your buddy had Jameson on the rocks, your sister had a Crown and Coke with two limes and so on. Reorder the drinks as though it were your first time, to avoid confusion. And don't order drinks for a group of ten, unless you are prepared to pay for all of them, not just two for you and your mate.

6. Know the lingo. Younger drinkers need a better handle on bar-speak. There may be regional differences on this one, but here in Houston, asking for a "tall" drink means you'd prefer it to be weaker than the average cocktail. "It's almost inevitable -- when a young kid asks for a 'tall' vodka tonic he's going to bring it back with attitude," says a pourer at an upscale steak house. "[He'll say] 'Did you put any alcohol in this? I asked for it to be tall.' Look, I know you just turned 21 and you're very excited to be out for booze, but if you want a strong drink, either tip me well or ask for a double, asshole."

7. Answers to questions you should never ask.

a) "What's good here?" It's a bar -- chances are you'll find something that satisfies the overwhelming demands of your world-class palate.

b) "What do you have here?" Again, it's a bar. They serve liquor. You'll need to do your chandelier-shopping elsewhere.

c) What's the strongest drink you've got? A shot of 151, but chances are if you shoot it your tiny dick will shrivel up even further.

8. A few random screeds for the road. Downtown rants, "Can I say something about limes? Limes are out of control. Girls in particular always ask for more limes. If you put five limes in your drink, it's not a drink anymore, it's a fucking fruit cocktail!"

Another Montrose barman hates the phrase "When you get a minute."

Steak-house guy often finds himself called "barkeep," much to his dismay. "Barkeep?" he wonders. "Did Sherlock Holmes just walk into this motherfucker?" 9. Last call. It's a lot to think about, I know, especially when you're just out to have some fun. But at the end of the day "please," "thank you" and generous tipping go a long way. And if swimming this treacherous ocean of expensive booze politics is too frightening, just remember that grocery stores sell beer and liquor stores sell the hard stuff. And you can stuff it as full of limes as you like and drink it all in the comfort of your own home where you, gentle reader, are head barkeep.

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Brian McManus
Contact: Brian McManus