What do bartenders search out first when they travel? Other bartenders. We know they hold the key to tasting the best of what a place has to give. They can lead you to the kind of fun only a local knows about, and they can steer you away from over-rated tourist pitfalls. They can make you feel at home, even if you've never been to the place before.
When making friends with bartenders, often it isn't about what you do but what you don't do. Think of it like a first date: when they walk in, you still have hope, and as the night goes on, you either start to like them, or you are texting your bestie calling for a fake emergency to appear.
To help guide you, I asked a bartender or two based in tourist-heavy areas. Every bartender I spoke to told me they don't dislike tourists and understand that travelers are our bread and butter. But it's how you approach the bartender that will make the difference between being served and guided.
As a long-time bartender in Louisianna, I relate to what they had to say!
Karen Koski - Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, Austin, Texas
"Make it strong!"
Karen works at a trendy music venue with a constant stream of new people based on the artist performing that day. The first thing she pointed out is something that every bartender I know can't stand.
"The most annoying thing would be hearing 'make it strong' or 'put a little ice in it' like that will make a stronger drink," Karen says.
We would all rejoice if 'make it strong' in all its variations were never to be spoken again.
Bars, like any other business, have checks and balances. It is not only irresponsible to overpour; it is considered theft. We can lose our jobs if the numbers don't add up. The bartender isn't trying to say they don't like you-they want to keep their job. Would you walk into a grocery store and ask them to throw in an extra chicken on the house?
Karen truly enjoys all the people she meets and the musicians she gets to listen to. She's often asked about her favorite show or band, something I share with her at the bar where I work.
This is understandable, but please avoid asking bartenders at music venues who is their favorite. We can't really answer that question for multiple reasons. First, we hear so many different bands it's almost impossible to pick a favorite. Second, music is personal; the bartender would never want to lead you away from a band that you might really enjoy.
Kimberly Kowalski Kenny - Daiquiri Deck, St. Armands Circle, Florida
"They come in, and they think they are the only ones because they are on vacation, and so a lack of patience when I have a full bar, waving and staring at me, isn't helpful."
Kim's biggest point is one that I also can't stress enough. Patience!
Do you want to win over your bartender? Here is a quick and easy way. Look around when you walk in. Do you see a full bar with people waiting? Now, look at how many bartenders there are. They are coming, I promise.
Seasoned bartenders like Kim have a second sense at the bar; they feel you waiting. It's a bartender's superpower, knowing someone is at your bar without even looking. Believe me, we don't always want it.
While you trap us, asking about everything on the menu, we are dying on the inside knowing you and other people are waiting for your drinks. A quick phrase like "Wow, I don't know how you handle all these people. You are doing great" goes a long way.
Oh, and we all beg you, have your drink order ready if it's packed. When it's slow, we don't mind answering your questions. When we are balls-to-the-wall packed, we become drink-making machines, and it's hard to compute anything other than the answers to "What can I get you?"
Your consideration when the bartender is slammed will stick with them. When it slows down, they will remember you and be more open to leading you in the right direction.
Terra James-Jura - Nashville, Tennessee
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"Listen, don't ask me how to get someplace in the city. Your smartphone is right in front of you and can give you perfect turn-by-turn directions to get to the steakhouse. I can't even direct myself unless I have something in maps."
Terra has recently relocated to Nashville, and she likes helping locals. But picking someone who is clearly working and busy to give you detailed directions is not the best choice.
"I also love customers who hydrate," says Terra.
Do you want to lose a bartender as a friend? Make us peel you off the bathroom floor. Walk you out as your body slowly turns to hot pudding so we can find you a cab. After all that mess, we get to turn around and clean up your mess. Hydrate people. Water is your BFF on vacation.
Curtis Casados - The John, New Orleans, Louisiana
"When I meet tourists and the first thing they want to tell me how is how dirty the city is, or whatever. We have 11 million people through here. If you had 100,000 people traipsing through your backyard, it would probably be dirty too."
Curtis makes an excellent point about something visitors do and possibly don't even realize they are doing it. Comments that are actually insults. Making comments about "How dirty this city is," or "it's fun, but I could never liver here," and the like is insulting to the people who actually live in and love that city.
Places like New Orleans are treated like theme parks by many. People live there. They don't like the dirty parts any more than you do.
"New Orleans is not actually a lawless playground," says Curtis. "That too-common, 'I-am-inNew-Orleans-I-can-do-whatever-I-want' attitude is neither true nor helpful. Bartenders are not there to babysit you."
One thing that he brought up is close to both our hearts. While we have talked about possible insults, some topics shouldn't be discussed. Katrina is still and will possibly always be hard for people of the city to talk about. I have moved away, but I still have a tough time talking about it. Please be sensitive to the immense suffering, pain, and loss that an entire city went through.
What seems like an innocent question reminds them of desperate days, not knowing if they had a home anymore. It reminds them of having their whole life wiped away overnight and wondering if their friends who stayed were still alive. It brings back so much pain that all these years later, my screen blurs as the tears well up in my eyes as I type this.
Mike Charbar - Houston, Texas
"When they come in asking for something specific, like there are 10,000 different liquors and god knows how many beers."
Most bars try to carry as many options as possible. A lot of factors come into play when it comes to products. Space, want, and availability is on the top of the list. Some areas could consider Dos Equis a craft beer while you consider it bottom shelf in the beer world.
Like I said before, look around at your surroundings. If the drink menu has at least 5 ingredients per drink and if any have the word infused in it, there is a strong chance they will not have Crown apple.
Jolie Meaux - Hideaway on Lee, Lafayette, Louisiana
Ok, it's me. I have already expressed my opinions on this subject. I want to add a topic that is specific to my area. We get a lot of visitors to our area based on our particular culture. Lafayette and surrounding areas are densely populated with Cajun and Creole communities.
While we love people appreciating our culture. As a bartender myself, the main thing that makes me draw back from a patron is to be told about my own culture. While I know you have seen the shows or read the books. We live here; this is where we grew up. It is our ancestors you are talking about. You can read a book all day, but it will never be the same as standing on a stool next to your MawMaw making a roux, telling you stories of great floods and your drunk Uncle who gambled an entire town away.
Oh, and bad jokes. If you get a smile that looks like it was built of concrete, it's not funny. It's painful.
After all of this, I would like to re-iterate that they all said they love tourists. We all welcome them and want them to come in and enjoy the places we live in and love. One even said they like the tourists more than the regulars. I can't tell you who because regulars are a whole different pain, and that person has to go to work tomorrow.
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