Bar culture may have changed in recent years, with a resurgence of classic cocktails and craft brew options edging out watery, mass-produced suds. But some things are eternal, and one thing in particular is as true now as it's ever been: the bartender is king; you're just a visitor in their domain, and a happy monarch means a happy realm. Now, some tips for winning favor:
Don't trash the place. At a downtown theme bar where patrons can play video games, emotions can run high, and apparently more than a few people are under the impression that it's acceptable to abuse arcade games. Whether it's leaving your ripped up coasters laying around or beating on a pinball machine, it's never OK to mistreat bar property.
While bartenders are there to serve you, they're also there to serve others. Being a courteous patron who can read a social situation can mean getting your drink faster and not irritating the man or woman bringing you your drink. Some patrons' first reaction is to jockey for a prime position in line; don't block the server station, don't shout any permutation of "hey, dude," never snap your fingers or wave your arms, and never, ever fight to the front only to draw a blank on what you want to drink. For one downtown bartender, racing to serve a patron with only a dim idea of what they actually want to drink has dimmed his view of human nature.
"If we're busy, don't come up to the bar not knowing what you want. If it's not busy, whatever," he said.
Buy in bulk. If you're ordering for a group, order everything at once; don't tack on a cocktail every time the bartender turns to fill your last request.
Know what kind of bar you're patronizing. If you're going to hit up a boutique-y spot, come with the right attitude. Specialty and swanky bars pride themselves on booze acumen and good taste. Barkeeps appreciate the discerning customer as well as the neophyte, as long as you approach the drinking experience with a sense of wonder and a desire to explore the wonderful world of liquor.
"We like people who are curious and want to try new things," said a bartender at one downtown bar. "We know how to maximize your experience."
Don't get snotty. Not all bars swing on swank. If your favorite joint serves drinks with ingredients you can't pronounce (see Page 17), chances are it doesn't pour too many whiskey sours from a plastic jug; but if you find yourself in a dive bar, your server will appreciate some understanding when he or she has to consult the three-ring binder of drink recipes to make your Burnt Fuselage.
One barkeep put his pet peeve simply: "People ordering obscure drinks and then acting flabbergasted when you have to look up how to make it."
For the love of all that's holy, tip. Tip on the first drink and tip well. Bartenders respect this as a classy move. You'll reap better service all night and, we promise, be remembered the next time you stop in for a drink. On that note, do not open and close your tab for every round. Nothing will get you ignored by the keeper of the booze quite like running the same credit card every 20 minutes.
Use your brain. We know that alcohol kills brain cells, but if you've had enough to drown your common sense, you've had enough. Drink smart, and everybody wins.