One of my favorite moments in parenting revolves around a bar.
This summer, my three-year-old daughter and I were exploring downtown Asbury Park, NJ late on a hot August afternoon. We were outside a bar when her voice rang out electrified with panic. “Potty, daddy! Potty!” We slipped inside to use the bathroom and discovered that the bar was empty and pleasantly air-conditioned. We went from bathroom to the bar, where I had a crisp, ice-cold lager and she had a club soda which she, like always, called “bubble water.” She bit into the lime that came with her drink and scrunched her face at the sour rush the bite caused. After we paid up, we rode on a pink flamingo paddleboat around a nearby lake and I had a hint of a buzz.
I used to have a short list of things you should never bring to a bar: weapons, an AA meeting, and a baby. Since becoming a parent, I’ve held firm on the weapons and folks in recovery. But I now believe babies and bars can mix as well as bourbon, bitters, a splash of vermouth, and a maraschino cherry. A lot of people seem to think that bringing a child into a drinking establishment is some sort of cardinal sin of parenting. It’s not. As long as you apply some fairly basic, commonsensical rules, the under-four set can be great drinking buddies.
First, you can’t drag a baby into any old bar. Kids don’t belong in the kind of places where people play illegal card games, host fight clubs, or sell cocaine. In other words, the real grimy joints. No, this doesn’t mean your only option is a pale ale and plate of boneless buffs at Applebees. It just means you should avoid any bar where Charles Bukowski would feel comfortable.
Another rule: Steer clear of nightclubs or any kind of singles scene when you’re with your kid. Introducing a baby to an environment where people are trying to make romantic connections makes for a really weird vibe. Plus, you owe it to young drinkers not to corrupt their youthful bliss with an idea of what’s to come. My wife and I once wheeled a stroller around an Oktoberfest event packed with college kids trying to pair off. You could feel the stakes change all around us. The prospect of casual sex seemed less casual with a curious toddler staring them in the face.
It’s a good idea to stick to bars that serve food. You don’t want to go to a place with a kid that doesn’t serve something for them. A well-timed grilled cheese sandwich order or a kid’s cup of milk can make the difference between a happy child and very abrupt hatred from everyone in the bar around you.
You generally want a quiet watering hole but there’s one notable exception: live music. All kids are different, but they usually respond pretty well to seeing musicians perform. It’s a good energy and everybody, from barflies to band members, enjoys seeing kids dance to music. And kids aren’t particularly discerning about live music — a reggae cover band from St. Louis is just as good as Jimmy Cliff to a two-year-old. And if they play a passable version of “Harder they Come,” all the better.
My friend, the great memoirist Jim Knipfel once observed that almost every bar in the world is great in the late afternoon. That’s doubly true when you’re a parent. Most parental drinking happens in the daylight hours anyway — your kid’s gonna wake up at six no matter how drunk you are, after all. Bars are less crowded and quieter in the afternoon. Leave the nighttime hours for people who need to get real drinking done.
And while it’s fine to drink around your kid, of course, it’s not cool to be drunk around them. If your kid is with you, you’re not Bluto Blutarsky at a toga party. You have to drink like a sophisticated, grown-up adult. So, no shots, no car bombs, no chugging. You sip your drinks instead of throwing them back. You can have about three drinks max if you’re not driving and one if you are.
And remember, you’re not the only ones drinking at the bar. Keep your stroller out of the way. People need more clearance in bars than they normally do — strollers and other baby stuff can quickly become a minefield and the last thing you want is to clean up the sticky remains of a spilled G&T.
So, to summarize, bringing your kid to the bar isn’t a big deal. As with everything about fatherhood, it merely requires a bit more preparation. Oh, and one final note: Don’t play “Let it Go” on the digital jukebox. It seems like a great way to make your kid happy, but they’ll want to hear it 50 times in a row and everybody will hate you. And that’s not why you walked into a bar in the first place.