How to Order a Drink at the Bar (Without Looking Like the Broke Backpacker You Really Are)
by Jeremy Foster | January, 2013
Oh the stories I could tell you.
I could tell you about the time I got head-butted in the face, or the English girl who caught her beautiful blonde hair on fire. There was the Aussie bloke who urinated in the middle of the floor and there was the Asian man who passed out on the toilet with his pants off. I’ve seen people bottled in the face and I’ve seen riots light up the dance floor. I could even tell you about the time I ended up stark naked in an alleyway getting my picture taken by transvestites.
But I won’t.
I’ve seen a lot as a bartender, and frankly, that’s half of what I love about it. The things I could tell you are shocking, hilarious and sometimes, they’re downright scary. But, to be perfectly honest, I love what I do.
But, of course, every job has its downsides. Sure, I get to talk to people all night, have a laugh, get them drunk, and even get drunk myself! (shhh … don’t tell my boss!) The problem is that I also have to talk to the people that, frankly, I don’t want to talk to.
We see a lot of different types of people at the bar: the socialites, the drunks, the snobs and the introverts. As a general rule, and for different reasons, these people seem to have enough money to warrant being at a bar, spending their dollars. And I don’t mind taking their money. I don’t mind taking anybody’s money, really. The more I make for the bar, the better I look as an employee.
So who do I hate serving at the bar? No, it’s not the weirdos. It’s not the creeps. It’s not the pushy drunk girl (or guy) slobbering in my ear asking for my number.
It’s the backpackers.
Yeah, I’m looking at you.
The hardest part about this whole scenario, though, is that I’m a backpacker myself. (Go ahead—call me a hypocrite. You wouldn’t be the first person.) I’m a high end cocktail bartender who makes different parts of the world my home for an indeterminate period of time. I pick up, find a new place to call home, find myself a job, and settle in for a while. Luckily for me, there’s always a bar looking for someone with my particular set of skills.
And luckily for you, I also happen to be a writer.
What you need to do, to avoid looking like the broke backpacker you really are, is actually very easy: go incognito! Don’t disguise yourself in a malicious or deceitful way (unless that’s your motive), but you can certainly masquerade yourself as something other than a traveler. What it comes down to, in its simplest form: is don’t be rude and don’t be an idiot. (Not until after midnight, at least.)
Keep It on the Down Low
When you walk into a bar and ask the bartender for their cheapest drink, consider what they’re going to think of you. “Oh, here’s another empty-handed nitwit who’s not going to spend more than $15, make a mess of our plants, abuse the staff, and disappear forever.”
And do you really think you’re going to get served first the next time you line up at the bar (if you can afford it)? The guy sitting next to you in the thousand-dollar suit, acting like a gentleman and making his way through the cocktail list is definitely going to get served before you do. And the backpacker who didn’t ask for the cheapest drink is getting served after him.
Ask for the bar menu and find the cheapest drink yourself. And, if you really want to know what you can buy for the lint in your pocket, ask if there’s anything on special. You’re taking an active interest in the bar without making yourself sound too cheap. It’s just that easy.
Don’t Let the Cat Out of the Bag
Not at first, at least. I know, you want to talk to your bartender—after all, we’re the people who have the information that you probably want. (Side note: in my most recent trip to the airport, I didn’t ask the information desk about where to find the most comfortable place to sleep—I asked a bartender. And he knew exactly where to send me.) Play it cool, order a drink and act like a respectable human being (for a little while, at least).
Then, only after you’ve established a rapport, let the bartender know that you’re traveling through on a budget. (S)he probably won’t mind as much anymore if you want a cheap shot from that plastic bottle of rubbing alcohol sitting under the sink.
Don’t Blow Your … Savings
I’ve seen it a million times. Traveling boy meets beautiful girl (or the other way around) and wants to impress same. Here’s a pro tip: dazzle them with your charming personality and impeccable style, not your waning bank balance. When the needle hits red and your credit card starts declining, who do you think looks like more of a blockhead? Is it the person who asked the bartender for their cheapest drink … or is it you?
Dress the Part (and Keep Your Pants on)
If you’re going out in public, dress well enough so the people you talk to feel like you’ve put in the tiniest bit of effort. Your running shirt paired with dirty cargo shorts, wool socks and hiking boots is not appropriate attire for a public space like this. I get it—sometimes it’s all you’ve got. And that’s okay. But if you’ve got the means, all I ask is that you try.
And when the clock strikes 2am and you’re still at the bar, wasting next week’s budget on your brand new friends, don’t act like a clown “because you can.” Chances are, when you take your pants off (for whatever reason—I’m not asking!), the doorman won’t like it. Though you might be thankful the next morning when you consider the drinks you didn’t buy because you got thrown out of the bar.
What it comes down to, really, is that you need to think about how other people view you as a traveler. If you want to have a crazy night out, by all means, do it, but make sure you’re in the appropriate environment. I’ve been the guy pouring “shooters for hooters” but I’ve also been the guy in suspenders making drinks at very high end, upscale cocktail lounges. When you walk into a place, survey your surroundings and adjust your behavior accordingly.
But, at the end of the day, what do I care? It’s your life, and, really, who am I going to tell?
But one thing is for certain—I’m definitely going to judge you. And I might even write about you on the internet.
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About the Author
Born in America, Jeremy Foster, an IT specialist by trade, packed up his belongings and left home on an open-ended trip to Australia. Years later, he's still on the move and exploring other countries. He is now a mobile cocktail bartender and the head writer for travelFREAK! You can usually find him on either side of the bar, acting wanky and pretentious about booze.