Recently, I stopped into a Brooklyn bar with my wife. The bar itself was perfectly fine. It looked like it was made from whatever prefab kit every bar in an area heavily populated by millennials seems to come from: Edison bulbs that don’t cast enough light, a bathroom labeled “water closet,” a menu written in Deco font trying very hard to make the $14 gin and elderflower cocktail standout from the hundreds of other $14 gin and elderflower cocktails on other menus at nearby bars. Perfectly fine. But as we settled onto a couple of stools, my wife bumped her knee on something under the bar and said, “Oh nice, they have hooks.” Then she hung her bag underneath the bar. And just like that we fell into the trap, far too impressed by something that should be every bargoer’s right.
At least anecdotally, we were not alone in our misplaced gratitude. I’ve heard and continue to hear similar responses upon discovery of a hook at all sorts of establishments, from pristine, subway tiled cocktail dens to perpetually sticky dive bars. These places to keep our bags and coats tucked away should not be thought of as a luxurious gift bestowed upon us, but something we deserve just for showing up.
I don’t carry bags into bars all that often. Occasionally, if I stop on my way home from work, I’ll have my backpack with me, but bags—big bags at that—are common, especially in cities like New York where riding public transportation means people need to carry an entire day’s worth of stuff with them (you try balancing your gym clothes, travel coffee cup, dog-eared copy of Umberto Eco and Macbook on your lap during rush hour). That means that when you get to the bar, you either have sit with your bag like you’re on the L train, carefully sipping your Martini and trying to avoid an accident, or dump your stuff in a pile on the floor. Both of those options demonstrate a lack of consideration of your comfort. Having a place to stash your things is as important a piece of customer service for a bar to provide as a toilet that flushes, which is not a feature anyone jumps up and down to celebrate.
But hooks aren’t just good for drinkers who don’t want strangers stepping all over their bags; they’re also good for the bars. They keep clear and uncluttered what can quickly become a tidal wave of humanity between the hours of seven and midnight—and that means you can pack in more people. Plus, hooks are not some expensive upgrade like a dedicated wifi network or hand hammered “water closet” sign. They come five for six bucks on Amazon. Any establishment that can’t figure out a way to come up with those meager resources to show its customers that it cares doesn’t deserve their business or their oversized purses.
There is a counterargument to hooks from prolific San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik, which, frankly, never crossed my mind until I had to think hard about the place they occupy in our modern society. As her 2014 argument goes, these hooks are not a convenience; they’re a safety measure to stop barfly pickpockets from stealing purses from people who, I guess, have had one too many Vodka Crans to notice. And to hang your bag on a hook—to even want to hang your bag on a hook—means you don’t trust the bar to be clear of thieves. And for some reason, that is unfashionable. Garchick prefers to wear her bag across her body as a sign of “chic insouciance.” As someone who regularly wears t-shirts with brewery logos on them to work well into my 30s and still carries a backpack, I clearly know very little about what’s fashionable (although, just as clearly, quite a bit about insouciance), so I can’t say whether or not hanging your stuff on a hook is a faux pas. But even if constantly wearing your bag across your body is indeed the more fashionable choice, it is not a choice that should be forced on anyone.
Hooks have gotten quite a bit more ubiquitous over the past decade and a half, but we shouldn’t rest until they’re everywhere. And the next time you go to a new place and start rifling around until you find a place to hang your stuff, don’t exclaim like you won a mid-level scratcher prize. Just nod approvingly. That bar is doing its part.