Maybe it was the endless hours of syndicated Cheers reruns I consumed (thanks dad) or my family's transient lifestyle that moved me from state to state before I ever managed to muster up a sense of belonging (shoutout to therapy), but my ideal image of adulthood revolved around being the kind of person who could swing open saloon doors with authority to find a warm hello and a fresh pint. I dreamed of being a regular.
And now, after decades of moving myself around the country, plagued by a subconscious need to repeat the traumas of my youth (again, therapy -- you're the best), I've finally achieved my childhood goal: I've found that one place in the world where everybody knows my name.
So, in an attempt to guide little dreamers like me (i.e., the grown-up versions of weird, lonely kids who idolize a future filled with barstools and buybacks), here's how to become a regular. Follow closely, fellow drinkers, and one day they'll always be glad you came.
Find a bar that's just right
The bar should be close by, and primed for both post-work and late-night drinking -- a place where you can both pop in on your way home from the office and stumble home from after one-too-many tequilas. Similarly, you'll want a place with a good but not crazy-expensive drink selection (so you won't get bored/go broke), a laid-back atmosphere (so you can relax and get to know people), and a decently maintained level of cleanliness (because you'll get real familiar with that bathroom, trust me).
Opt for a stool over a table
This one's a bit of a no-brainer, but nobody remembers the quiet dude in the back. Don't be afraid to park it at the bar even if you're too shy to make conversation at first. After a few weeks, the staff can't help but remember you because at the end of the day, face time is what really matters.
Establish a routine
Bars can be busy, unreliable places. Turnover is often high, patrons come and go, and shifts change on a whim. When I started frequenting my regular spot, I made a habit of coming in on Sunday afternoons armed with the New York Times crossword and a thirst for cold session IPAs. Before long, the Sunday staff and I were thick as thieves and they in turn introduced me to the other bartenders, expanding my reach and further establishing my regular status. Plus, if you're the kind of person who aspires to be the human version of a neon beer sign, you're probably no stranger to the joys of a good routine.
You'd be surprised how many aspiring regulars consistently undertip, only to later marvel at their increasingly poor service or lack of buybacks. If you love a place and want it to love you back, you have to pad that bill a little. An extra buck or two for every drink goes a long way, especially in the beginning. And keep in mind, once you start receiving those coveted free drinks/shots/fries/whatever, you’ll still need to leave the guys behind the taps a nice chunk of change in order to maintain your foothold.
Stay in your lane
When it comes to being a regular, little matters more than good manners. Sure you might have an insider's understanding of bar politics, but that doesn't mean you should talk smack about the new barback's dishwashing insufficiencies. And while you may be enjoying a special rapport with your favorite Friday night barkeep, don't assume that your burgeoning friendship comes along with the ability to cut lines or hang around after hours. Remember, being a regular is a privilege, not a right.
If you're sitting at a bar and chilling on water all night, you're basically just prohibiting paying (and tipping) customers from blowing their hard-earned cash on a bevy of adult beverages. No need to be a lush (really, try not to be a lush), but keep the liquor flowing at a reasonable rate throughout the duration of your hang time and your bartender will remain in good spirits.
Don't be a creep
Look, if your only motivation to become a regular is to pick up that cute cocktail waitress, slow your roll. You never, ever want to be the scary guy sitting at the corner of the bar, winking and pushing singles across the table in a misguided attempt at flirting. It's better for everyone if you keep things platonic. Besides, if you do end up taking that waitress out and it doesn't go well, you’re out of both a date and a bar. That's a lose-lose, pal.
And don't bring first dates!
In a similar vein, bringing a first date to your regular bar is a huge mistake. It might sound like an ideal location at first -- you'll feel like the big person on campus, you can show off a hot Tinder date, you probably just want to drink for free -- but bringing an unfamiliar person to your regular joint comes with a lot of responsibility. What if they love the place and start showing up all the time, regardless of whether you keep dating them? What if you like them but they totally hate your bar? Your regular spot should be a special refuge from the harshness of the outside world, and a place that's just for you. Keep it that way.
Stay on your side of the bar
There's nothing that pisses off a bartender more than a trespassing customer. I don't care if you're trying to shake a hand, clean up a spill, or catch a mouse, violating that sacred line between server and served will definitely gain you a permanent spot on any bar's shit list. If help is needed back there, you'll be asked.
Entitlement is perhaps the worst quality in a human being, and that counts double for anyone trying to achieve regular status. Acting like you deserve perks like extra shots, buybacks, or music and TV requests is a big turnoff, so remember to be polite and gracious at every turn. The same goes for assuming your bartender-customer relationship extends beyond the confines of the bar. Always take cues from the staff -- if they want to hang out off shift, rest assured they'll make it known. Until then, cozy up to that barstool, mind your P's and Q's, and keep happily nursing that beer.