4 Reasons Why You Should Always Sit at the Bar

Many of the travelers I’ve had the good fortune to get to know over the years fall into an interesting (and somewhat dichotomic) category. They prefer solo travel, still love meeting people on the road, and yet they’re not terribly extroverted.

Chatting up other travelers in the hostel common room is all well and good, but when you’re in an unfamiliar place it’s helpful to get insider tips from the people who live there – not just the ones who are passing through. Meeting locals isn’t always easy, though, since they often have little vested interest in befriending someone who’ll be gone in a few days.

How does a traveler meet the locals, then? It’s simple – sit at the bar.


Going Solo, Madrid © bachmont

Now before someone at AA complains, I’m not even necessarily talking about the kind of bar where alcohol is the only thing on offer – I’m talking about any dining establishment with a counter and stools (and yes, sometimes, the bar kind of bar).

I’ve gotten into the habit of sitting at the counter whenever I can, no matter where I am – whether I’m traveling or I’m at a favorite restaurant at home. Here are my top four reasons why you should always sit at the bar/counter.

#1: Sitting at the bar alone is less weird-looking than sitting at a table alone.

One of the downsides to solo travel is the dreaded Dining Alone scenario. “Table for one” always sounds so depressing – and, depending on where you are, you’ll get outright looks of pity from the waitstaff (thanks a lot, Italy). Sitting at the bar or counter by yourself, however, draws far less unwanted attention.

Nevermind the images you have of that guy who’s at the bar every night by himself getting plastered, you don’t have to be that guy just because you’re seated by yourself at the counter. Although even that is a more desirable assumption from other diners than the “poor thing, eating alone, must have gotten dumped” you’d get by yourself at a table.

#2: People who work behind the counter are chatty.

There are some professions that seem to lure the extroverted among us. Successful B&B owners are never misanthropes, for instance. Hairdressers don’t usually limit themselves to one-word answers. Likewise, people who work at the bar are typically good at chit-chat. They’re happy to leave you with your thoughts or your conversation (if you’re with someone else) and aren’t compelled to interject themselves into your world, but if you make small talk with counter workers it’s often well-received and returned. This means that when you notice there’s a lull and they are, for instance, wiping down the counter, you have an opening to casually mention that you’re visiting from elsewhere and wondering if they might have a tip or two to share.


Berghoff Bartender © John Picken

#3: Regular waiters don’t have time to dole out travel advice.

I have nothing against the regular waitstaff who deftly perform their duties carrying heavy-looking trays from kitchens to dining rooms all over the world with nary a drop spilled. Frankly, it’s partially out of respect for what looks like a challenging job that I don’t pester them with my need for travel advice.

When you’re seated at a table, your waiter may be perfectly nice, but he or she is only table-side for a minute or two to take your order, deliver your food, clear your plates, etc. In a busy restaurant, the last thing they need or want is to get sidelined by a talkative customer. At the bar, on the other hand, a counter worker can multi-task with ease – pulling a pint, drying plates coming out of the dishwasher, and talking to you at the same time.

#4: You (sometimes) get extra goodies simply by being friendly.

Do not take this last point as an invitation to ask for freebies from the bartender or the person behind the counter. That’s just being a jackass. Do, however, take it as an invitation to be warm, engaging, and nicer than you might otherwise be to said counter worker, and you might get handsomely rewarded.

I’ve gotten free cocktails in San Francisco, full glasses of wine (instead of the regular pours) in Portland, and free samples of the house specialties in Venice – all because I sat at the bar and made small talk with the person working behind it. Don’t tell my mother, but I even accepted ginger root pills from a kind bartender in San Francisco during my rock singer days when I was suffering from a hellacious upset stomach and scheduled to perform in a half-hour. (They worked a treat, and I’ve stocked my pantry with ginger pills ever since.) I’ve also been gifted with great stories, which don’t stretch my travel budget but always make a trip richer. And those are things I don’t mind telling my mother about.

24 Responses

  1. Barbara Bunce

    Love these tips; I never would have thought of it. Yes, I had those prejudices of the lone drink at the bar! Now, I will take your advice. Great stuff.

    Reply
  2. travelpology

    Great points! Whether it’s at the airport or in a foreign country, you’re always bound to meet someone. You don’t have to be a solo traveler to do this. If there is 2 of you, sitting at the bar is equally fun. ;-)

    Reply
  3. Don Nadeau

    There’s another good reason to sit at the bar. Sometimes it’s the best way to be able to dine at an otherwise booked up restaurant.

    For example, I love Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill, one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago and one of the very best Mexican places in the U.S. Asking for the bar or counter gets me in every time.

    And as Jessica says, you meet great people that way.

    Reply
  4. Margaret

    What a great idea! It makes so much sense it should be COMMON sense… wonder why it’s not? (We may ALL end up at the bar!

    Reply
  5. Bill

    When I travel I almost always sit at the bar, even if I’m not alone. It’s a much more engaging experience. I’ve met really interesting people, heard great life stories and gotten many good tips.

    Reply
  6. Michelle Snow

    I agree. I also find that sometimes opening a conversation with the bar/counter staff sometimes gets me invited out to hang with that person and their friends. That lets me see the city through a local’s eyes, which is always fun.

    Reply
  7. dasSuiGeneris

    Excellent advice! There’s one more reason to sit at the bar: unhappy table-sitting couples look at single bar-sitters with envy, lol!

    (My visit was spurred via RT by @whereivebeen )

    Reply
  8. Andrew

    Rock singer days? We must hear these stories? TBEX over beer (at the bar naturally)?

    I love sitting at the bar, even in my favorite local pub. Actually especially there, because I know some of the staff. But in general, whenever I am alone I love to sit up at the bar and watch the bartender. Somehow being able to see what is going on I almost feel a part of the action. Not so talkative, but i have had some good times at various bars around the world.

    Reply
  9. Home Exchange Mom

    I’ve practiced this for years, especially when traveling for work. The only downside is having to turn down date offers and drinks from gentlemen, lol, although some will still buy you a drink even if you make it clear you aren’t interested in more. It definitely makes it easier to meet people for the shy among us like myself.

    Reply
  10. Andrea

    Great post…very true! We often sit at the bar and chat to locals and the bartenders, especially if we haven’t met many people in a place. The last great freebie we got was free shots of Belvedere in Queenstown, NZ. Not to be sniffed at!

    Reply
  11. Bike Boxes » Grounded Traveler

    [...] Alway Sit at the Bar – Vagabondish. A guest post by Jessica, who also guest posted here on Grounded Traveler, about always sitting at the bar when traveling. This is my favorite spot to sit whether traveling or not. [...]

    Reply
  12. Scott

    Could not agree more! I am actually a full time bartender/waiter, and I love the bar move when you are solo. It is those experiences that I have found have been my favorite abroad!

    Reply
  13. Mike

    Interesting thoughts. I’m a solo traveler who never drinks and doesn’t mind drinking solo so it has never crossed my mind to sit at the bar.

    Reply
  14. Debbie Beardsley

    Loved the tips and will definitely sit at the bar during my next trip! It is always a little uncomfortable sitting at a table alone and have no idea why I didn’t think of using the bars. Great idea! Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Eileen Napier

    I travel alone a lot and I agree,sitting at the Bar is the best spot
    for all the reasons you mention and more,i could write a book on the tales I have been told and the magical people I have met.
    There is many a Bar waiting for me yet,so off I go,may see you there some time!

    Reply
  16. Tom Bartel

    Always sit at the bar, especially if you speak the bartender’s language. If not, drink more. You’ll be fluent by the time the night is over.

    Reply
  17. j

    What’s wrong with sitting at the table sometimes? I disagree with some of your statements. How are you lonely or weird for sitting at the table? People should stop judging each other and sit where ever they like, please thank you.

    Reply

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