This is the Travel Take, where Matador’s writers and editors make the case for their favorite travel hacks, tips, and personal tics.
An age-old dilemma has plagued bar-goers for centuries: “Table or bar?” It’s a question that seems as old as bars themselves, and it’s not all that hard to imagine thirsty serfs in the Middle Ages having to decide whether they’d rather throw back mead with the barkeep or crowd around a table with like-minded fellows. Nowadays, a whole host of factors play into the quandary of sitting at a table or at the bar, and sometimes you only have a split second to decide. Well, let me make it easier for you: Sit at the bar.
Whether you’re alone, with a friend, or on a date, sitting at the bar is less awkward and more conducive to socialization than sitting at a table. No matter what scenario you find yourself in, here’s why sitting at the bar is always the right move.
It’s less awkward.
When you’re solo, sitting at the bar is a pretty easy sell. Sitting directly beside other patrons in the company of a bartender tends to mask the fact that you’re out by yourself, and it minimizes self-conscious feelings. Being out on a date tends to complicate your decision, but it shouldn’t. While tables seem to offer more intimacy and allow for easier conversation, they put you in the awkward position of staring directly at the other person for two straight hours, increasing the pressure of constant conversation and making physical contact incredibly difficult. There’s a reason why the French sit side by side at cafes.
Barstools appear more informal, but they allow for a greater degree of intimacy. You’ll be sitting much closer to your partner, and you’re always able to turn and face them directly. Conversely, if the conversation lapses, you can lean on the bartender or the TV to fill in the gaps.
Socialization comes easy.
No matter how friendly other patrons might be, no one is going to get up from their table, sit down at yours, and strike up a conversation. It just doesn’t happen. At bars, it happens all the time. If you’re in the mood for a calm dinner with no interruptions, or have an important business meal, by all means, grab a table and enjoy the privacy. But if you’re hoping to stave off that awkward feeling of being alone, or looking for even a modicum of social interaction, you can’t beat sitting at the bar.
Whereas tables are considered private, invite-only parties, bars are more like inclusive social clubs. Interrupting someone’s meal at the adjacent table to comment on their novelty T-shirt is far more awkward than simply turning your head to talk to the person next to you at the bar. Whether you’re out alone or with a friend, you’ll find that meeting people at bars is fairly effortless. Barstools are revolving doors with new people appearing constantly, and even those sitting at tables will visit the bar to grab drinks. The close proximity to others makes starting conversations easy, and even if you’re shy there’s the possibility of getting drawn into others’ discussions or colorful arguments merely by sitting there and minding your own business.
The bartender will become your best friend.
Okay, you probably don’t want to be sitting at a bar so much that the bartender actually becomes your best friend. The point is, as long as you’re a relatively friendly, easygoing patron, the bartender is going to appreciate your company. Remember, bartenders deal with all kinds of rude, demanding people. Tipping well and making good conversation can win you a bartender’s favor, which will make you feel right at home on that barstool. Sure, waiters are usually pretty friendly, but their presence is fleeting and they’re usually more concerned with turnover than making you genuinely feel at home.
Especially if you’re traveling in a new area, talking to the bartender is a great way to get the inside scoop on favorite local restaurants, hikes, experiences, and even other bars. It’s arguably far more effective than going to a visitor center, as the suggestions that appear in pamphlets and guidebooks will be heavily saturated with tourists. Bartenders are generally pretty familiar with the area, and will probably have useful insight into off-the-beaten-path excursions. And if they really like you, you might even get a free drink before you leave.