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Bar Etiquette
by Jack Rinella

Some nights the bars are packed with wall to wall men and women. At other times it may just be the bartender and you. In any case, as part of my back to basics, here are my suggestions to make the most of it: Smile.

In the rare occasion that the bar is being used as a mortuary, this first bit of advice may be safely ignored. At all other times, please use the muscles around your lips to show pleasure and contentment, rather than the less inviting scowl. You'll find yourself getting farther and having a better time. Stone-faced posing will get you nowhere fast.

Break the ice. Just because it's February in Chicago and you'd rather be in Tahiti is not sufficient reason to stand there looking completely bored, self-engrossed, and seemingly lifeless. Greet someone with a friendly hello, leading question, polite gesture, free drink, or straight-forward nod. Go ahead. Be first. He or she, after all, is hoping you'll do just that.

I recently said hello to a guy sitting at the bar and the first thing he said was "I was hoping you'd talk to me."

Affirm. Be encouraging, friendly, gracious, etc. For example, as I was walking past two guys, one of them brushed my ass. I immediately looked at him and told him that he was causing trouble, since my ass cheeks are very jealous of each other. He had touched one and not the other. He politely agreed to rub the neglected body part. I thanked him with a kiss. We both smiled and I went my way.

As a result we both felt good, felt appreciated, and affirmed. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Meet, don't meat. I know that as the night wears on, our hormonal levels get unbearable and the amount of pheremones in the air causes significant agitation and strong desires to score. Resist your biological urges to become a social rapist. Remember to respect everyone and treat them in a way that shows you've not made them into sex objects.Rubber dolls don't cruise bars. If you can't be polite, stay home with a jac-u-pac and a porno movie.

Keep it safe. Take care with the level of alcohol you consume. Stay away from those who are intoxicated and make sure no one can use that reason to stay away from you. I know that non-alcoholic beverages cost ungodly prices at a bar, but the truth is that a cola, ginger ale, or glass of water may be a much better investment than fermented hops, grapes, or grains.

Keeping it safe also means that you don't share viruses, bacteria, and bugs. I'm a firm believer in hunches. If something doesn't feel right, then be wise enough to avoid it, even if the indication to do so is only a slight, easily-brushed feeling.

Be prepared to score. Trim your finger nails, wash your ass hairs, brush your teeth, and be certain that you have water-soluble lube and condoms handy. If you're out scouting for a boy, then be a good boy scout and be ready to do it safely.

Just say "No, thanks." Know when enough is enough or it just isn't right. You can be gracious, respectful, promiscuous, adventuresome, inquisitive, experimental, and choosy. You have every right in the world to say no. If you'd better not have another drink, be mature enough to say so, even if it is free. Better to waste a drink than to waste yourself.

An offer for something you don't want can be refused, and should be. It's your life, your body, your conscience, and your choice. No doesn't have to mean never or not at all. It can mean "Thanks, but not now," "Let's discuss it," "Let's negotiate," or "How about an alternative?"

Talk it over. The only thing worse than going home alone (and that's not a bad option) is to go home with the wrong person. Define limits, understand expectations, discuss issues of health, and know something about the person with whom you're planning on going home or taking home before you leave the bar.

If the negotiations portend an unfortunate barrier to a pleasant encounter, say so and move on.

Tip. The men and women who work at our watering holes by checking our coats, serving our drinks, and picking up after us are all there to make a living. They depend on the money you leave for them. Be generous to them and they'll be your best friends. After all, they are an extremely important part of our having a good time.

Avoid dangerous vocabulary. The words "must" and "should" reflect deep prejudice, self-righteousness, pettiness, and superiority. In reality none of us can say what must or should be, especially when it comes to someone else's behavior.

Refrain from judgment and criticism. Give the other guy a chance. After all you're not walking in his or her shoes. Likewise, "they say" more often than not is followed by information that is incorrect. Unless you know the facts and can document their origin, keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself.

My mother's advice is simple and important: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Keep it legal. There is absolutely no valid reason to endanger yourself, your friends, the bar owner, his staff, or anyone else for that matter by the introduction of illegal drugs or activities. I firmly believe that a great number of activities that are currently illegal ought to be decriminalized but until that is the case, don't jeopardize your freedom and the bar owner's license by doing what the law proscribes.

As a corollary to that advice, don't tolerate illegal activity either. There are a lot of places to be and lots of things to do without getting yourself in trouble.

Be cautious not paranoid. Prevention is worth a great deal more than repair. Leave your wallet home and party with a limited amount of cash and only the necessary identification.

The vast majority of strangers are honest and dependable, but even the best bars have one or two patrons of dubious ethical character. When in doubt ask someone who is in a position to know. In any case, take safe-guards. If you bring someone home, don't have valuables lying around. When they're about to leave, escort them to the door.

Refuse offers of free drugs. Don't leave your drink un-attended as you never know when someone might add something to your beverage. That, by the way, is not a vain warning. It's been happening in Boystown.

Respond. Acknowledge people who acknowledge you. That doesn't mean you have to say yes or go home with them. It just asks that you be polite and courteous. Smile back. Answer their question and then ask them one. Reciprocate. Say thank you.

The only way to make our bars more fun, more inviting, and more popular is for each of us to do our part, adding politeness, humor, and grace to the atmosphere. Let's make sure that when they talk about attitude, it's to say that "That's a great place to be."

Double up or take a cab. Be careful of walking the streets alone late at night. If you do so, avoid groups and walk quickly and directly. If you've been drinking, hail a cab.

If possible cruise with a friend so that you need not walk home alone. In the bar, it's better to appear to be alone, so make arrangements for some solo cruise time. When you're about to leave, make sure your friend has a safe way home and that you do too. Enough of my platitudes.

Copyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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