The Right Way to Drink Alone at a Bar

two people in a bar
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Laugh, and the world laughs with you, Weep, and you weep alone. Drink alone, and the world assumes you must be weeping, and silently judges you for your lack of a drinking buddy.

But… why? Are we so uneasy with the idea of independence in the face of crowds that the simple act of grabbing a drink sans companion(s) is not only semi-stigmatized, but almost looked down upon? Eating alone hardly carries the same baggage (though, to be fair, you have to eat to live), and most coffee shops are basically designed for parties of one.

Walk into any given bar in America right now and you'll probably find someone in there, purposefully alone. Let me be clear: it's fine. It's great. It can be one of the best bar-going experiences of your life, really. But like ice road trucking, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. And also like ice road trucking, doing it the wrong way can be disastrous and troublesome for yourself and those around you.

Presented here, are the most enjoyable ways to enjoy a bar alone, while maintaining your privacy -- and without hindering the imbibing experience of everyone around you. It's not impossible. But it's a more delicate dance than you may think

The Basics:

These are some quick general rules of thumb for people who either A) Have no patience to read the rest of these words, B) just Googled "How to Drink Alone at Bars," because they are currently drinking alone in a bar and need guidance ASAP, or C) have a phone/laptop that's about to die.

  • The earlier it is in the day, the easier it is to drink alone. Nighttime is usually the right time, but not in this case.
  • This should be obvious, but the less crowded a bar is, the easier it is to drink alone. Not only is there more room for you to roost, it just feels less creepy this way.
  • Do your best not to attract negative attention. If you don't know what this means, you are probably the kind of person who often attracts negative attention.
  • Don't be embarrassed! Don't act like you are waiting for someone! Don't make nervous chit-chat with the bartender! Remember: You should be confident and calm in your own, solo skin.
  • Don't drink too much and get sloppy. This should be a guideline for life in general, but is especially pertinent here.
  • Try not to cry.

OK. Now that we have those out of the way, let's take a look at the kind of image you want to project.

reading in a bar
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Reading alone in the bar

THE RIGHT WAY: Like trying on bathing suits, going to your therapist, and dying, reading is an activity designed for you and you alone. So, it only makes sense that the most obvious and fruitful pastime for solo drinking is digging into a good book. The person at the bar reading a leatherbound copy of Great Expectations isn't pathetic… they're mysterious and brooding and potentially full of a more intricate webs of life-challenging secrets than a YA section at Barnes & Noble. All this is diminished if you are reading from an iPad. Or anything by Dan Brown. And if you are reading Dan Brown on an iPad you might just want to pack it up and head home. Or to the YA section at Barnes & Noble.

THE WRONG WAY: All this is diminished if you are reading from an iPad. Or anything by Dan Brown. And if you are reading Dan Brown on an iPad you might just want to pack it up and head home. Or to the YA section at Barnes & Noble. You want to avoid anything that will give anyone an excuse to walk up to you. So, steer clear of anything too pretentious (bye Nietzsche!), timely (newspapers could be iffy, especially in today's political climate), popular (sorry GoT readers!), salacious (sorry Fabio!) or interesting (sorry, all of these books!). All in all, it's hard to mess this one up.

computer bar
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Working in a bar… but you know, not for the bar

THE RIGHT WAY: This certainly doesn't apply to every bar -- and you should keep the aforementioned, basic guidelines in mind (because no one wants some dude with a MacBook monopolizing bar space on a Friday night). But in the right setting, posting up with your computer and doing work (or watching Netflix) is absolutely fine to do over a solo beer or two. If you have to work remotely, you might as well do it with a pint, right? And why is a bar so different than a coffee shop… aside from being much less crowded during the day, and way more fun, always? And for some reason, it just feels more genuine than diddling around on your phone the whole time. If you are going to head into your solo-boozing adventure with digital props, you might as well double down, here. Your boss will never know. But just in case, cover your webcam with a coaster.

THE WRONG WAY: You should be able to use your computer moderately and responsibly in public without some d-bag rolling their eyes about your apparent lack of human authenticity in the year 2018. BUT. You should not be setting up your monitor, your shredder, you two-way faxer-printer and act like the corner pub is your startup's mobile command station. Basically, don't intrude on anyone else's lack of productivity with your productivity. And also, don't type too loud. That's kind of annoying.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Just literally doing nothing in a bar

THE RIGHT WAY: This method moves away from props and distractions by embracing the great unknown: being alone with your thoughts. Obviously, the world is currently consumed with our devices. We have information blitzkrieging every waking second of our lives. And frankly, it's kind of a nightmare. Even our toilet time is being fused with screen-time, much to the peril of our mental and physical health. What you need to do here is... nothing. Just clear your head, and think. Recollect. Remember. Reconsider. The bottom line is that we desperately need time to be alone. Wholly alone. Free of screens. Free of friends. Free of everything except the infinite recesses of our own thoughts.

THE WRONG WAY: The obvious snag in this plan is that someone may try to approach you to talk. This risk increases tenfold if you are a woman, because the bar-going male is known to be a terrible plague on female privacy. So do your best to look like you don't want any attention. Maybe stick some headphones in your ears. You don't even have to play anything. People will think you're just listening to an award-winning podcast, and leave you be.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Listening to an award-winning podcast in a bar  

THE RIGHT WAY: You know, you actually could just listen to an award-winning podcast, too. To do this, choose an award-winning podcast and let 'er rip.

THE WRONG WAY: Forget your headphones, or your charger -- should you be in it for the long haul -- and your dreams will be dashed. Also, you can't be completely oblivious to the outside world: keep your volume at a level where the bartender can get your attention, and you'll be able to hear fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and all other impending danger. Other than that, it's pretty easy. Oh, and if someone you don't want to talk to tries to approach you, even though you have headphones in (again, the bar-going male can be a terrible plague on privacy) just pretend like you can't hear them, or that you have those new Apple iBuds that are permanently screwed into your ears.

taking a call in a bar
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Having a conversation... on the phone (!) in a bar

THE RIGHT WAY: I know what you are thinking. If using a laptop isn't grating/gratuitous enough, speaking on a cell phone must be a cardinal sin of bad bar behavior. But consider this: Why is speaking with someone on a cell phone (quietly, respectfully, and at a spot in the bar that won't totally ruin someone else's experience) "worse" than having a conversation with someone right next to you? Why can't you head to a bar, post up in a corner, and have a nice long conversation with your grandma? Are you really going to be the person that wags their pointer and shrieks "uncouth!" at a semi-public phone call with nana? Frankly, I can't think of a better place to sit back and yak over the phone. In fact, there should be a bar specifically designed for you to do this, that would normalize the whole endeavor. I would call it "Phonies' Corner," and I would serve themed drinks like the Singapore Ring-a-Ding Sling, and of course, iBeers. But that's just me.

THE WRONG WAY: This is pretty easy to mess up. You need to follow those basic guidelines laid out in the beginning of the piece to the extreme. Pick a very secluded corner. Read the room. DO NOT ASK TO TURN DOWN THE MUSIC. And for the love of God, do not ask anyone else to keep it down. It's a fine line here. If people are staring, you're doing it wrong. Abort.

Watching a sports game in a bar

THE RIGHT WAY: If there's one activity that expertly straddles the line between being alone (but occupied) and casually being able to waffle in-and-out of conversation with other patrons, it's watching sports. Televised competition brings out the extrovert in almost everyone. And, it is the perfect excuse for an introvert -- even a temporary one -- to leave the house and settle into a bar stool for a couple hours. And in this situation, it's actually OK to impede on other's conversation to interject a factoid, hot take, quick comment about the ref's suspect eyesight, and of course, the ultimate icebreaker at any sports bar in America: a joke about how much Joe Buck sucks.  

THE WRONG WAY: You know that bad movie stereotype of the dude who never outgrew his high school varsity jacket (but definitely literally outgrew it), eats pre-made nacho cheese straight from the can, screams at the TV like the coaches can actually hear him, and has mystery stains on his pants, shoes, and Kutcher-era trucker cap? Yes, they do exist. And no, you don't want to be this.

sandwich bar
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Eating alone at a bar

THE RIGHT WAY: You have to eat, right? And if the subject of your culinary desires just happen to be in a bar, who can blame you? Just be present under the pretense of food, and your lonely-heart problems are solved, no questions asked. In fact, we even have a guide for eating alone -- a decidedly less-hairy solo endeavor -- too. And feel free to combine some food with any and all methods just described. Except maybe the phone call. You shouldn't talk with your mouth full.

THE WRONG WAY:  If you keep all the aforementioned rules in mind, it really shouldn't be that hard to mess this one up. I guess don't chew with your mouth open, or do that lip smack-y thing? Look to be bad this, you have to be bad at eating in general. And if that's the case, maybe you have bigger problems than solitude.

Being alone but also open to casually meeting people in a bar

THE RIGHT WAY: Of course, sometimes you want to go to a bar to meet people. And hey! That's fine. Bars -- due to alcohol, ambient lighting, and alcohol -- happen to be one of the easiest, stress-free places to strike up conversations with strangers. It's half of the reason bars exist (the other half is keeping the stagnant jukebox industry alive, obviously). Having charm and emotional intuition is obviously not everyone's forte. But try to pick your spots, find opening in conversations that make sense, and try to be particularly diligent and hyper-sensitive about intruding on other people's good times. But also, if you want to be out there, you have to put yourself out there, first. Pretend like it's the first day of summer camp, and you just got a new haircut, baby.

THE WRONG WAY: Don't pretend you are there alone to be alone, then strike up conversations with every other person who is unfortunate enough to be in your orbit. Don't take up all of the bartender's time with banal small talk. Don't relentlessly hit on people. Don't be a black hole of no-fun that makes the bar around you a worse time for everyone. Basically don't suck. If there's one thing worse than someone sucking in a group, it's someone sucking alone.

Be confident in your own skin. Be comfortable. And rest secure that drinking alone in a bar can be a rewarding experience for all the reasons listed above. And hey -- maybe stop caring so much about what other people think. Because at the end of the day, no one cares as much about what you do as you do. Which makes you the perfect drinking buddy for yourself, right?

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. If you told him he could only eat one food for the rest of his life, he'd be frightened and confused. Follow him: @wilfulton.