My job is to go to bars and drink in them. It’s a simple responsibility, but one that I do not take lightly. Over the years, I noticed certain themes and similarities emerging between the bars. It was clear that further research was in order. Now, after years of intensive bar visitation, I have determined that there are precisely eight kinds of bar in the world. I call them the Barchetypes. And to give the last decade or so of my drinking some modicum of meaning, I'm going to tell you about them.
The Hole in the Wall
You like frills, do you? Well you’re shit out of luck here, Mr. Fancypants, because holes in the wall are, by definition, frill-free. These are places owned and operated by a native son with a name like Smitty or Cooch. They’re open every day between the hours of 6 a.m. and whenever the last regular shambles out the back door (usually just before 6 a.m.). People who frequent holes in the wall all know one another, and they revel in the group spirit, extended happy hours and proximity to home. Beyond an insane level of devotion to the local sports franchises, a hole in the wall doesn't purport to have a “concept” or “theme.” There’s no food, unless you count the old Slim Jim packages hanging behind the bar or the jar of pickled eggs that is strictly there for dares. With the possible exception of replacing a rickety stool every decade, holes in the wall don't keep up with maintenance, let alone the times. They are enduring reminders that the more things change, the more working class drinkers remain the same.
The Full of Itself
These bars started popping up about a decade and a half ago, when “bartending” morphed into “mixology.” They purport to bring a science and a purism and a sense of history to the creation of cocktails. Sometimes they’re on point, and sometimes they’re just obnoxiously awful. The last thing I want when I’m trying to enjoy a relaxing drink is either smug superiority from the bartender, or a member of the waitstaff insisting on telling me about the fair-trade origin of the drink's sambucus syrup. Shut up and make with the alcohol fetching. And turn off the damn Avett Brothers. Nobody really likes them. Oh, and a comfortable chair would be nice. I should reiterate that many of these places are wonderful and employ some of my favorite people in the world.
Pubs differ from holes in the wall in that they're usually cleaner and more tourist-tolerant. (When I say tourist, I mean anyone who didn't grow up within a three-block radius of the place.) They tend to be cozy spots where a lot of drinking still gets done, but you're far less likely to see someone pee on the jukebox or get beat up by a teamster. Most pubs offer good beer, reasonably priced drinks and greasy food that tastes awesome after midnight. The cool-people-to-total-jabroni ratio in these places tends to hover around 10-to-1. Disregard this ratio, however, if said pub has a karaoke night. In this case, the ratio reverses. Depending on the frequency of said karaoke night, you may actually want to consider downgrading this place's rating from pub to plastic bar (see below).
The Plastic Bar
Of late I’ve taken to calling them “Donald Trump bars.” Which is to say, the plastic bar was born without a soul. You might know them as upscale bars, or yuppie bars or “that place with the frozen Jägermeister machine.” But while they may not have authenticity on their side, they do have booze, so let's not get too hung up on technicalities. Treat a plastic bar the same way you'd treat a museum exhibit: Speak softly, don't touch anything, and leave as quickly as possible.
The High Concept Bar
These are built upon a central idea that is sometimes clever, but more often tiresome once the novelty has worn off (this process usually takes about a week). These typically sprout up in major metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco and London where there's an ample supply of a) tourists looking for expensive thrills or b) arrogant twits who believe they're more sophisticated than the average beer-swilling philistine and feel the need to prove it by embracing the latest in nightlife novelties.
The Hotel Bar
These come in many shapes and sizes, but have one defining characteristic that unites them: Hotel bars are always located within stumbling distance of a bedroom. And that means possibilities. Not all of them good ones.
The Live Music Venue
These places barely qualify as bars. Be prepared to hold your own against a crush of sweaty, alcohol-starved humanity while yelling over the aural assault that is the experimental ragecore quartet you were dragged there to see and the converse-wearing indie rock fans who get exponentially more annoying for every minute you age past 27. Bring throat lozenges as you'll be screaming “WHAT?” at the top of your lungs most of the evening, not just because the music is loud, but because the only thing fewer people do than pine for a drink at a live music joint is shut up and pay attention to the music. Do not, under any circumstances, wear open-toed shoes to the live music joint. Especially if you plan on using the bathroom.
The Sports Bar
This Barchetype is responsible for an extremely high number of divorces, full-scale brawls, illegal gambling rings and chicken wing choking incidents. As a result, men can't seem to get enough of them. This is because men, while occasionally sweet and erudite, are complete tools most of the time. And with the exception of a few really messed up sex clubs, there's nowhere a man can tap into his inner-tool more completely than a place where the menus are shaped liked hockey sticks and feature meals named after ballparks and Hall of Fame pitchers. In fairness, I did once have a transcendent dining experience at a place called Tailgaters in Jersey—though I suspect it owes something to the fact that the Sixers were beating the Celtics in a pivotal division game, and there was a $5 Jack and a beer back special from 3 to 6 p.m. It's possible those things caused me to elevate my Fried Catfish Hunter sandwich with extra OJ Mayo to legendary status. But—booyah!—what a meal!