From Behind the Bar: On Not Being Creepy

From Behind the Bar

Tales from our resident bartender.


[Photograph: Alice Gao]

What I'm Drinking: Jim Beam "Signature" Six-Grain Bourbon (with a drop of water) Sixpoint Brownstone Ale (Half-Pint)

Bars are societies writ small, and each has iron-clad regulations governing what will and will not be considered acceptable behavior. At one bar, patrons might be encouraged to dance on the bar and take shots with the bartenders. At others, the slightest exhibition of rowdy behavior might get a guest shown to the door.

Some rules are ubiquitous—"Tipping is not a city in China"—while others are specific to a particular bar or type of bars. I've been in joints that have rules regulating anything from card-playing to beer drinking, some of which are so specific that one can only imagine the circumstance in which they were deemed necessary. "No Dogs in the Bathroom" makes a lot of sense, though it might have been interesting to be around the night when there were so many dogs in the bathroom that a harried owner woke up the next day and decided they must be banned.

I currently work in a bar that has a set of ten rules delineated right in the menu. While most are a bit tongue-in-cheek, all are designed to address a series of issues that have come up, time after time, in bars that we have worked in over many years. Of these, one stands out for its versatility, pointedness, and its prevalence in application. The rule itself is very simple:

Don't Be Creepy.

Don't bother people. Don't force your conversation on them, nor your attention. If you see a person reading the newspaper, don't assume that they are there to make small talk with you. Instead, assume that they're there to catch up on the news of the day.

Often, the reason people come into bars is to meet other people. Just as often, it's not. While you may be on the prowl for some kind of connection, whether it's a political debate, a mild flirtation, or a random hook-up, the person on whom you are lavishing your attention may not be in the market for what you have to offer. Once you have had a drink or three, your attempts at charm and wit can be perceived as aggression. At that point, intentional or no, you are creepy. Period.

Alcohol gives us courage that we don't have when sober, which is how shy people have landed dates since the Egyptians figured out that distilled spirits made for a good party. When you drink, you think you are more charming and handsome than you normally think, and there are plenty of cases where your drunken derring-do leads to fabulous evenings spent in hot tubs, back seats, and trash-laden alleys. They also can lead to wedding bells. We bartenders are not there to prevent people from having a good time.

What we are there to do is to step in if whatever groove you're laying really isn't working for the person on whom you are laying it. There have been many occasions where I have seen a pair of pretty girls who are having a reunion barraged with a series of bar-flies (yes, that means you) who think that the women are fair game for hitting on, just because they are sitting there. These women are usually polite people, and they don't want to tell you that you are bothering them.

We bartenders have to make sure that everyone has fun. Everything is acceptable until it starts to impede on someone else's good time. The most common phrase I utter to a well-meaning drunkard is, "She's not here to talk to you; she's here to talk to her friend."

The "Don't Be Creepy" rule may suggest gender specificity, but that doesn't mean it doesn't apply to everyone. I was working the bar a few nights ago, and a woman persisted in intruding on a pair of men who were obviously catching up. After a few failed attempts to engage them in conversation, she deemed them "on a date," which wasn't okay either.

The rules of a bar are part of what make it a nice place to visit, and the bartender is most often the person who has to enforce these rules. We have a responsibility to make sure everyone in our bar is as happy as possible. If a bartender sees you've had one too many and asks you to leave someone alone, it's for your own good, and the good of your fellow patrons. You'll be remembered much more fondly by both patrons and staff if you heed that warning.