There’s a lot you can do when you go out to the bar to make sure you have a good night. You can work the bartenders for VIP treatment, depending on their personality (we’ve got you covered there). You can take cues from the space itself—design elements like low ceilings, light fixtures, and seating arrangements tell you whether it’s a place to turn up or act sophisticated. You can down shots as fast as they come or savor a complex cocktail over an hour. The one thing you can’t control? The people around you.
Which guy’s going to start looking for a fight? Who’s going to hijack the jukebox at 2am and play Billy Joel’s greatest hits? (All three volumes of them!) Who’s going to spend the night crying into her purse? Misjudge them, and you’re going to end up stuck in a level of hell you didn’t know existed.
The secret to reading a bar crowd is to remember this one rule: Everyone who goes out drinking is looking for something. Whether it’s no-strings fun from a one-night stand; attention to make up for a thankless day job; or a cheap thrill from pretending to be someone else, boozing brings out everyone’s most basic needs.
So how can you—the normal, well-adjusted drinker—take back control of your night out? You’ve got to figure out how to manage the crowd. Here’s your guide to spotting the 10 most common types of drinkers and understanding what they’re really looking for.
The Venus Fly Trap
Looking for: Love
Habitat: Slightly upscale, over-sized Irish pubs that do all their business with the happy hour coworker crowd
Drink order: Vodka soda with extra lime
She has seen that movie Valentine’s Day a few too many times, and she thinks all relationships start with a hilarious ‘how’d you meet?’ in which she cuts you in line for the bathroom. She refuses to use Tinder because she thinks it’s too superficial, but she’s constantly scanning the bar, T-1000-style, for dudes who fit her criteria. She ask for amazingly inappropriate things from the bartender (“Can I have a dirty martini, except instead of olive brine can you go out and buy a jar of pickles and use that? And can you take a picture of me and my friends while you make it?”) and think she’s flirting.
Looking for: A story
Habitat: The most run-down, busted-ass karaoke bar he can find
Drink order: Fireball Whiskey shots
Some people have hobbies. Some people have friends. This guy? He’s got the bar. You know the guy at your office who hangs around the coffee machine, loudly describing how he ended up in the Bronx with one shoe and an empty violin case last night? That’s the Daredevil at his happiest, the morning after one of his trademark shit-shows. In a bar, he’s the one ordering rounds of shots for people he doesn’t know, insisting it’s his birthday just for kicks, and challenging anyone who comes near to a round of beer pong. He can be fun as hell if you’re prepared for it, or a nightmare if you went out expecting to grab a couple of quiet beers. Next time he offers you a flaming Dr. Pepper, why not go along for the ride? Just make sure you’re not wearing expensive shoes.
The Hot Mess
Looking for: Free therapy
Habitat: The bar in the basement of Penn Station
Drink order: Heineken, the official beer of sad bros everywhere
The stereotype of the sympathetic bartender has been around for so long that it’s finally it the point where it’s just a punchline. The problem is, the Venn diagram between drinkers and fuckups is still basically one big circle, and there are tons of people who go out to the bar specifically to forget their problems—or to unload their tale of woe on someone else. And since they can’t bother the bartender with it, what do they do? They look to you. God help you if you happen to be having a conversation within earshot about your job/relationship/apartment/health—that’s as much of an invitation as he needs to jump in with his own awful story of woe. Don’t try to to participate, or offer actual, useful advice; just get comfortable and let the misery train steamroll right over you.
Looking for: A fantasy
Habitat: That adorable new place in Soho that’s making cocktails with cold-pressed juice
Drink order: All the white wine
Every kid has that movie or TV show that she holds as the ideal portrait of grown-up life, memorizing sophisticated lines to throw into conversation and mysterious-sounding drinks to order. And even though it’s been off the air for 10 years, believe it or not, there are still thousands of misguided little girls who watch Sex and the City and decide that they’re a Carrie. The clothes! The apartments! The Borscht Belt-level dick puns! As soon as they’re old enough to order their first Cosmo, they cobble together a group of four friends, read up on where the models are drinking these days, and hit the town in shoes they really can’t walk in. Their conversations are as superficial as it gets, and each one of them harbors a secret dream of throwing a drink in someone’s face one day, just like Samantha did at Sushi Samba. Guys, think you’re safe on this one? We’ve got one word for you: Entourage.
For him, every bar is a fight club waiting to happen. Did you accidentally take his seat? Insult his girlfriend’s hair? Nab the bartender’s attention before him? Get ready for a solid half-hour of mumbled threats, puffed-up chests, and being menacingly called “bro.” It can be tough, but the best way to deal with him is to be like the Buddha. Greet his threats and posturing with love in your heart, and take pity on him. He only acts this way because he spends all day getting ground down by his boss/girlfriend/parents. The best thing you can do him a favor and act like you’re intimidated. It’ll give him something to cling to tonight while he’s cleaning the litter box, and it’ll boost your karma points for when you really need to punch someone in the nose.
Looking for: Escape
Habitat: Airport bars
Drink order: Varies depending on the character
Tonight, she’s an international lawyer. Last night, she was an actress just out of rehab. Tomorrow, a tourist from Omaha. At home, she’s just another social media temp with two cats and three roommates. For people who are bored with their day-to-day lives but haven’t yet figured out they can do things like travel or dye their hair, the anonymity of a bar is good for cheap thrills, allowing them to get away with lies that are of absolutely no consequence to anyone else. Can we all see through that janky Bridget Jones-meets-Dick van Dyke accent? Of course. But why bother to call her out on it? Pleased to meet you, guv’nah.
Looking for: Cred
Habitat: Opening nights
Drink order: The most complicated drink on the menu
The more food and drink becomes a staple of popular media coverage, the more people feel as if they’re actually a part of it. Having studied the backstory on every new drink’s creation and traced every chef and bartender’s employment history, regular folks suddenly make the mistake of assuming they’re in the inner circle. The good news is that people who actually work in the industry are the least likely to spend all their time talking about its nerdy details at the bar, so it’s incredibly easy to spot an Insider out in public. Their ultimate goal in life is to carry a boomerang…but with thirst that strong, nobody’s going to want to vouch for them.
Looking for: Peace and quiet
Habitat: Weekday happy hours
Drink order: Narragansett (easy to drink for hours without any risk of actually getting drunk)
Like a white-noise machine, the sounds of a busy bar can be weirdly soothing. Similarly, being surrounded by people you don’t know and don’t need to talk to can be even better than being completely alone. For people like writers, who spend a lot of time in their own heads, or people who spend all day dealing with other humans, going to the bar is the perfect escape. They get to relax and de-stress without any of that messy ‘dealing with your own mortality’ that can happen when you’re truly alone. Or maybe they’ve just got a roommate who never leaves the house. The best way to approach a Loner? Don’t.
Looking for: Respect
Habitat: Whiskey bars (whiskey’s complex history is irresistible to know-it-alls)
Drink order: Old-Fashioneds. Actually do you know why they’re called Old-Fashioneds? It’s a great story…
You’re sitting at the bar, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you’re listening to a 40-minute explanation of the micro-economics of Mexican agriculture and the aftereffects of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. How did you get here? The last thing you can remember is asking for a lime in your G&T. Thanks to the magic of smart phones, anybody with a burning question can find the answer to it in seconds. Unfortunately, that’s no fun for the Professor, a time-honored drinker’s role since before Cliff Clavin ever walked into Cheers. Now, he’s been reduced to assaulting unsuspecting victims with his intellect—and nobody’s safe. If you get hit, your best bet is to bargain for your freedom by luring someone else into his sights as quickly as possible.
The Stealth Singer
Looking for: An audience
Habitat: Places with a ladies’ night
Drink order: Captain Morgan and Diet Coke
Forget singing in the shower. The Stealth Singer knows the best place to really belt it out is in the bar on a Friday night, when the jukebox is going full blast and she’s just relaxed enough to really go for those high notes. She’s not interested in going to a karaoke bar—there’s too much pressure to be, y’know, good when you get up on a stage. But she just can’t control herself when that sweet new Katy Perry jam comes on the soundtrack. Usually her group of friends will embarrassedly join in for the chorus, but it’s painfully clear who the star of the show is.