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How to Drink Alone at a Bar Without Looking Pathetic

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The idea of drinking alone at a bar tends to conjure up images of the town sad-sack, pathetically sipping his way through a bottle of well whiskey. And because of this unfortunate trope, you’ve likely thought twice about grabbing a solo Martini. But that’s nonsense.

Drinking alone at a bar is an essential experience for any drinking grown-up. It can be wonderfully relaxing, whether you’re unwinding after work at your local dive, enjoying a pre-flight cocktail at the airport lounge or sipping a glass of pinot over a good book at your favorite wine bar. If you’re still worried about committing some sort of social faux pas by bellying up to the bar by yourself, we have you covered. We asked bartenders from around the country for their best advice on how to drink alone at a bar without looking pathetic. Here’s what they had to say.

Talk to the Bartender and Your Fellow Patrons

“The easiest way to not look pathetic is by simply striking up a conversation with the bartender. Technically, it’s part of our job! Even crafting a classic cocktail, like a Manhattan, can spark a conversation. ‘Why are you stirring that? What's the big ice cube for?’ It’s an easy way to break the ice naturally.” — Natalia Paszkowski, W Scottsdale, Scottsdale, AZ

“Make nice with the bartender. Tip well immediately and inquire their name. The creepy character with their back to the bar and a beer in hand, scanning the room, is not a welcoming attraction.” — Benjamin Wood, Union Fare, New York, NY

“Sit at the bar—would we have had Norm from Cheers if he didn't sit alone at the bar? If he just sat in a booth, he would have been left alone, but instead we have his comedic genius to keep us warm. We've learned from those Cheers days that it's OK to sit at the bar alone, making snide comments all day long.” — Colin Jansen, Russell’s Tavern, Seattle, WA

“A bar is a place with no judgements. A good bartender will usually find a way to connect two people at a bar, whether it’s romantically, for a business opportunity, or they just have similar interests. Who knows? You may end up meeting some amazing people.” — Cody Goldstein, The Horny Ram, New York, NY

“Time to make friends! Sit directly at the bar. Don't be the Lone Ranger at one of those community tables, or worse, a table by yourself. If you really want to meet people, go to bars that have games like trivia. Not only is it fun, but it's a natural conversation starter.” — Morgan Zuch, Datz, Tampa FL

“Ask the bartender if they would care to enjoy a shot with you. Lots of bars frown upon having shots while behind the stick, but we will pour ourselves a glass of sherry or low-proof amaro so you aren’t drinking alone. If the bartender can’t partake, they may have a friend or regular at the bar they will send a shot to and make an introduction.” Bryan Tetorakis, Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA

But Pick up on Social Cues

“There's a fine line between engaging in a broad conversation with the bartender and other patrons and butting into other people's business. Be mindful of when you might be intruding.” — T. Cole Newton, Twelve Mile Limit, New Orleans, LA

“Don’t sit at bar and rubberneck, trying to capture every chance for an interaction. That looks awkward and people notice. Observe the other patrons and decide if it’s best to chat. Don’t assume someone wants to talk and don’t force a conversation.” — Patrick Williams, Punch Bowl Social

“There is nothing wrong with having a drink by yourself at the bar, as long as you are not weeping over a girlfriend or boyfriend that just broke up with you—then it is really awkward.” — Tomas van den Boomgaard, Travelle Kitchen + Bar, Chicago, IL

“Know when to shut up. In a busy bar, the person working behind it does have the rest of the bar, and likely people sitting at tables, to tend to as well. Let them do their job. If they are at all good at it, they’ll know when to shut up and get to work as well.” — Dave Castillo, Workshop Kitchen + Bar and Truss & Twine, Palm Springs, CA

"If the bartender is running around busy, it is not the time to show them a funny meme. If the chick next to you ignores you when you try to talk to her, leave her alone. If you tend to lose perception of social cues when you drink, perhaps it's best to bring a chaperone.” — Lucia Appell, Kelly’s Olympian, Portland OR

“We, as your bartenders, are your mother/brother/pastor/counselor/confidante all in one. However, use us sparingly! Don't burden us with details just because we seem to be good listeners. I have regulars whose life history I know, but that took years. If you are new to a bar, don’t divulge the secrets of your marriage on your first visit. We will express sympathy, but also cringe at the overshare.” — Xan McLaughlin, Park Cafe, Charleston, SC

Stay off Your Phone

“One of the key missteps when drinking at the bar solo is to immediately get on your phone. It sets a precedent for other solo guests, and rather than inviting conversation with restaurant staff or your fellow diners, it signifies that you may not want to engage with others.” — JB Bernstein, Vernick Food & Drink, Philadelphia, PA

“As soon as you look at your phone, you look like you are occupied and people will not want to approach you. Instead, once you get your drink, tilt your head up slightly and stare into the distance until you actually start to ponder something. Ponder for 5 to 10 minutes in this position and I guarantee someone will approach you to start a conversation. I have had many memorable nights start this way.” — Dylan Stewart, The Ruin Daily, Chicago, IL

Bring Something to Read

“Bring a book. It gives you something to do, while simultaneously giving the air that you're interesting.” — Colin Carroll, Trifecta, Portland, OR.

“I like to bring the New Yorker, especially if there’s a really good article that I’ve been trying to find time to read. But go during the day when it’s brighter—don’t be one of those people who’s like, ‘Oh, the light! It’s too dark in here!’ Well, that’s your problem!” — Turlough O’Neill, Wilfie & Nell, New York, NY

“A good book is an effective prop—classier than a phone—and the title can give some insight to your interests which can be a nice conversation starter. A novel with a classic title deserves a classic drink—something stirred and whiskey based, like a Rob Roy.” — Chris McPherson, Flinders Lane, New York NY  

Don’t Take up Too Much Space

“Refrain from using either the bar or the seats next to you as your own personal storage closet. This rule is always in effect—yes, even if the bar is empty. Keep it classy, people.” — Bennett Turner, Huertas, New York, NY

“Don’t put your jacket or your bag next to you; use the hooks. It’s like riding the subway train. Be aware of other people." — Turlough O’Neill

Be Thoughtful About Your Drink Order

“Don't order vodka on the rocks if you want to avoid being judged by the bartender. It screams, ‘I’m bored, drunk, and looking for one final heavy drink before heading home.’” — Xan McLaughlin

“Drinking anything blue or with an umbrella garnish screams 'Talk to me!' when you’re drinking alone at the bar. Whiskey neat says ‘piss off.’" — Lucia Appell

“If you're going solo, you'll probably be engaging in a slow, gradual service experience. Order something that will age well, something you can nurse: wine, whiskey on a large rock, or an amber or dark lager. Probably should order food, too.”  — Bennett Turner

“Go during slow hours of the bar. Start with something low ABV. An Americano is a great drink to sip on casually. After that, maybe a Highball or perhaps a glass of wine or beer. Just make sure you don’t overdo it!” — Michael Huebner, Revival Cafe-Bar at Revival Food Hall, Chicago, IL

“Don’t get too sloshed. Having one too many drinks happens to the best of us. However, being a sloppy drunk alone and in public means there's no friend within arm's reach to take over damage control.” — Dave Bumba, Yuzu, Lakewood, OH

Embrace Being by Yourself

“Sometimes I just like watching the show of life. And I figure if you're drinking alone, the stronger the drink, the better.” — Jane Danger, Mother of Pearl and Cienfuegos, New York, NY

“Order a drink that makes it worth your while to be there – a Martini or Manhattan, a scotch or nice bourbon, a good Belgian beer or sour. If you’re drinking alone, you’d better enjoy it!” — Patrick Williams

“To drink alone at the bar, simply order a Vodka Martini, extra dirty and own it. Truly enjoy it. Drink it as if it were the last liquor you will ever imbibe. Savor every sip and enjoy being the only one to taste it. Then, and only then, will you truly appreciate being by yourself.” — Alyssa Kratochvil, ViewHouse, Denver, Colorado

“Enjoy yourself and anything your little heart desires, so don’t feel judged and just get whatever you want. Being alone at a bar is the best time to learn about spirits or cocktails, or wine, or beer, or whatever you feel interested in. It is an opportunity to just try something new.” — Johnny Livanos, Ousia, New York, NY

“People shouldn't give a hoot if they're alone. Eating alone, watching movies alone and drinking alone are really low pressure activities. You have no one else to impress or entertain. It's great!” — Celine Ilang-Ilang, Butter & Scotch, Brooklyn, NY

When All Else Fails, Lean Into the Stereotype

“Bring an iPad or other tablet device, the larger the better, so the bartender and other patrons can see what you're up to. Fire up your favorite dating app and begin swiping. There should be a look of absolute, undivided attention in your face. And your swipe speed should increase until it becomes frenetic. When the bartender approaches you to ask if you're OK, look up, sigh, and say ‘There really aren't enough hours in the day…’ Order a Long Island Iced Tea and shout ‘Make it a double!’ at the bartenders back as they walk away.” — Benjamin Harrison, Rogue Tomate Chelsea, New York, NY

 

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