Food & Drink

Fact: Eating at the Bar Always Beats Grabbing a Table

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Few things in life are better than a good restaurant bar. A child’s love, maybe. And drinking Coke through a Twizzler at a movie. But really that’s it.

Now look, I’m not trying to convince you that there is never a time to sit down at a table in a restaurant. In fact, in some situations, it’s the only choice: in groups over three. On your anniversary, or your wife’s birthday, or when you’re dining out with an embarrassing relative and you don’t want anyone to overhear his batshit political views. But for basically all other times, if you don’t immediately look to the bar as your first option, you have failed me, and you have failed yourself, and I’ll tell you why: 

You can pretty much do whatever you want

When you sit down at a table at a good restaurant, there is a certain expectation that you’ll be ordering a full meal. Of course, there is no binding law locking you into that promise, so it’s more like a tacit agreement you have with the waiter, that -- in return for his/her service -- you will not screw them over by just getting an appetizer and water. At a bar, you are bound by no such agreement, as long as you get something. Just want a drink? Great, that’s what the bar is here for. Might also get a little snack? Perfect, Chad will show you the menu. Going to eat a full dinner? Holy shit, look at the elation on Chad’s face! 

Bar food
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

The menu is usually cheaper, and almost always better

There is a restaurant in San Francisco called Spruce. Spruce is fancy; one of those special occasion joints you might hit with your parents if your dad has a German car. A place where you could easily spend $100 a person. But if you happen to find a seat at their bar, you can enjoy a fantastic burger, or a ridiculously good pastrami reuben for $15. Add in a beer and a tip and you could walk out of one of the nicer restaurants in the city only $30 lighter. But here’s the other thing: nine times out of 10, the bar menu at any good restaurant is just better.  

Chefs seem to lighten up when they create menus for the bar -- they relax a little, and don’t over think it. They throw on a burger, offer up late-night ramen. Do something cool with deviled eggs. The dark secret of most dining experiences is that, to your face, people might tell you they want something fancy and experimental, because everyone wants to be seen as a little more cultured, with a little more of a refined palate than they actually have. But in reality, people just want that burger. They want an excuse to get that sandwich, or just order two appetizers that have fried stuff in them, and not be judged for turning down the chef’s special uni-topped salmon. They feel guilty about this. The bar frees them from this guilt.
 

You don't need reservations

Just like Anthony Bourdain’s (old) show! In the annoying world of booking tables at restaurants, where the best reservations are snatched up by algorithm-gaming tech nerds and people who know industry people, the bar is a bastion of democracy. You can walk past the gate-keeping hostess without a word, merely pointing with your eyes (and sometimes finger) at the bar. I like to give a brief thumbs up after I point, but you can do what you want. At the hardest to-get-into restaurants, you can sate your hunger on a whim, by just being smart about timing. The world is your oyster. Or the bar, at least, is where you can consume oysters. 

Sean Cooley/Thrillist

It doesn't seem so sad when you bring a book

As someone who dines out alone often, I often have some sort of emergency reading material on hand in case things are boring. A small novel, or a magazine, or a book downloaded on my phone. But when I see people dining alone at tables with a book, it instinctively makes me feel sad. They might be totally fine with it, and just be enjoying themselves and I can piss off, but there is something that makes me want to go sit with them, and ask them questions about their childhood and if they’re going to finish their fries. But when you do the same thing at a bar, I feel no sadness. In some ways just having people in proximity to you, knowing that the energy surrounding you is there, and you COULD engage in a conversation if you wanted to, feels nice. It feels like your solitude is a choice, and not a sentence. Also, it’s easier to eat your fries.
 

Befriending the bartender makes your life forever great

I’ve saved the best perk of bar sitting for last. Making friends with a bartender is one of the most important life skills you can have, outside of learning CPR, and the Konami Code. You need to be friendly but not overtly eager and annoying (thus having the book on hand in case he's busy or actually kind of a dick). Show an interest in what he's doing. Ask questions about drinks he's making. Show yourself to be a good, self-deprecating, and learned person who wants to know things. 

If you do this, and the bartender is a good person, he may just reward you with a free drink, or an appetizer, or a taste of a random Austrian gin that is somehow better neat than Scotch. He might tell you about an insider stock tip he heard from a guy named Todd who works in finance, or recall an amusing anecdote involving Jake Busey and Kel from Kenan and Kel. Either way, nurturing that brief fleeting friendship gives you the chance to make memories you’d never be able to create sitting at a stupid table. Plus, you can order that burger. 

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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's national writer-at-large and is sitting at a bar right now. Please do not follow him @KAlexander03, as it only inflates his already massive ego.