Is it weird to go to a very small bar by myself?
June 24, 2022 2:52 AM   Subscribe

A friend brought me to a new bar last weekend and I really loved it. I want to go back, by myself, tonight, just to hang out for a while. But the place is tiny and I'm worried it's somehow awkward or rude--will the staff be weirded out by my just...sitting there for an hour less than 2 feet from them? What's the etiquette on this?

I (F 33) do not generally enjoy going to bars in the city where I currently live, and have never been a regular anywhere or anything, so I am mostly clueless as to what's cool/not cool. I can't really put my finger on why I liked the bar in question so much--probably the music and the unusually chill clientele/staff--but I've been having a shit time recently and would really like to go back and just enjoy sitting in the dark with a martini and some New Wave tonight.

I am usually semi-ok about going to restaurants and cafés alone, but what's throwing me is that this joint is tiny, like "seats twenty max" tiny, and the only place for solo customers to sit without uselessly hogging valuable table space is at the bar. Will the staff be weirded out by my just sitting there with a book 18 inches away from them, with only 10-15 other patrons around, not speaking? Is it rude? Will it piss them off?

I feel doubly awkward because the friend who took me there last week IS a regular, and so briefly introduced me to the owner & bartenders--if they remember me (hopefully not likely given they must serve hundreds of people a week), will it seem weird that I'm randomly there by myself 6 days later, sitting in silence?

If any more sophisticated bar patrons and/or bar staff could weigh in that would be amazing; I'd like to be able to keep going back to this place and don't want to put my foot in it. Thanks!
posted by TinyChicken to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not weird. In fact, given how you describe the place, you are exactly the kind of patron for whom a bar like that is made. Enjoy your evening!
posted by minervous at 2:58 AM on June 24, 2022 [36 favorites]

This is one of the purposes of bars! Please, go and enjoy. Order a drink when you go in, order another drink every once in a while, tip the same even when you order something non-alcoholic (assuming you don't want to get, like, DRUNK drunk).

You may find yourself in conversation with other people, and you may not. That's really kind of up to you.
posted by inexorably_forward at 2:59 AM on June 24, 2022 [11 favorites]

Where I come from, if there's enough light to read a book it's either a special place or a rough place they definitely don't want any dark corners. As far as your friend goes you could courteously verify just as a conversational point, "Will you get weirded out if I'm just reading here? Do you get many?" etc. etc. just to be friendly.
posted by rhizome at 3:13 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Before COVID, I had a bar I would go to 1-2 times a week. Sometimes I would chat with the bartender, sometimes I would read or listen to audiobooks/podcasts, sometimes the bartender and I would watch a soccer game. On Fridays, id chat with a bunch of regulars. Most nights, I would do some or all of these things in sequence, depending on how busy it was. I think this is what bars are for.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:53 AM on June 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

Is the "sitting in complete silence" part a very important part of the experience for you? Because in your shoes I would spend most of my time reading, but I'd also say hello to the bartenders and if they seem like they recognize you, go ahead and acknowledge that you've been in before and that you came with your friend, the Regular.

I think if you only order your drink(s) and never talk to anyone except to order a drink, that's a *little* weird (although I'm sure this varies wildly by region/culture, and I think in general most bartenders would rather have a quiet customer than one who won't shut up). If you want to come back to the this place regularly, I think you will have a nicer time if you spend a tiny bit of time on small talk with the staff - at a small bar you can't be a regular without being recognized, so you might as well lean into it a bit!

I've become a bit of a regular at a place close to my home and I usually read while I'm there but I also, you know, respond to friendly bids for attention from the bar staff. They are generally both busy and good at reading a room, so this isn't intrusive for me.

(Bonus: if/when you become a recognizable "regular," sometimes you get free drinks or snacks!)
posted by mskyle at 4:25 AM on June 24, 2022 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's responses so far--just to clarify following mskyle's question, I'm totally fine chatting a bit with the staff/other customers, I'm just not outgoing enough to make entertaining conversation the entire time like some people I've seen. :)
posted by TinyChicken at 4:31 AM on June 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

This is fine. No one should be upset with you for this.
posted by Jon_Evil at 4:47 AM on June 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a former bartender of ten years, I found customers who only wanted to interact when they needed a refill to be a huge relief.

I think your plan is solid. Sounds like a cool joint.
posted by rocketman at 5:12 AM on June 24, 2022 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, former tony bar bartender here,. It’s not weird at all. Literally do whatever you’d like, as long as you tip well, you’re golden!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 5:30 AM on June 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

I had one of those bars in Austin and I miss it. I ended up becoming pretty friendly with the staff, but they were super happy to have a low-effort customer who tipped enthusiastically.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:43 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I am doing something socially difficult for the first time, I remind myself that you have to become socialized into deviance - there was some study from the fifties or sixties about "delinquent" culture which emphasized that contrary to popular "youth are instantly seduced into a life of crime" narratives, it took effort, learning and work to fit into any kind of alternative culture.

My point being that if you like a bar or a coffee shop, etc, and you want to be able to drop in like a regular for a drink or a coffee, you will need to socialize yourself into becoming that person, and this means that you will have to push through a little discomfort, but that's okay - the discomfort is not because you shouldn't try or because you are socially feeble, it's just the normal part of getting acclimated to a new place or a new scene.

Before the pandemic, I was a regular at a "cool" neighborhood coffee shop with, like, cool and sometimes unfriendly staff. Most of them never really warmed up to me, but they never really warmed up to anyone. The first few times I went, I felt pretty nervous, but eventually I too was just one of those people who was there virtually every Sunday.
posted by Frowner at 6:10 AM on June 24, 2022 [15 favorites]

I go to a quiet bar every Friday at 4:30 for one hour (while my daughter is in a theater class, in an area with not much else going on). I sit at the bar, read, drink two beers, and very occasionally chat with the bartender. It's all good.
posted by gaspode at 6:14 AM on June 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Will the staff be weirded out by my just sitting there with a book 18 inches away from them, with only 10-15 other patrons around, not speaking?

One of my favorite things is to read at a bar. I've found, though, that not all bars are equally happy to have readers -- my theory is that sometimes they are looking to curate a different, more lively vibe and readers maybe throw that off. But the place you describe, assuming there is enough light at the bar to see the page, sounds perfect for this. (Frankly, it sounds like the exact kind of spot where I would happy become a regular and I wish there was a place like that in this town.)

My experience is that bartenders appreciate low-effort, friendly-but-quiet customers who aren't there to use the bartender as a therapist, hit on them, or start arguments. Especially if you are drinking very slowly (which happens when you are reading, vs drinking faster while in an animated conversation with your friends), make sure to tip well.

When I am at a bar alone, I try to pay some attention to how the seating is going, and always offer to slide up or down the bar as needed so that they can seat groups that come in.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:39 AM on June 24, 2022 [6 favorites]

It's as weird as you make it. If you go with the notion that it's weird, and you proceed to act all awkward around people, then yeah, it could be weird. If you just go and then play it by ear once you're there, it'll be fine.

I've read a lot of books in bars, and in my experience, it's pretty much impossible to read a book in a bar without at least two people (at least one bartender and at least one other patron) asking you what you're reading. Natural conversation starter, although it might result in you not actually doing much reading. But that could also be a good thing, if the people are as cool as they seemed last week.

I'm fairly confident in saying that, as weird as this may seem to you, this would not register on the weirdness scale for most bartenders (and especially bartenders at tiny dive bars). They deal with drunks for a living; they've seen things you can't imagine. If you feel chatty, you can even incorporate this into your conversation. "I feel a little weird being here by myself. Do you see a lot of weird stuff here?"

Tip your bartender well.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:41 AM on June 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Just chiming in that this is so so so normal, and also a great pleasure in life that you should not deny yourself for a day longer! Tip well and be pleasant, and you'll eventually wind up with a relationship with the bartender where they don't bother you for conversation (bartenders are usually too busy anyway and very respectful of a book in my experience) but still get to know your regular order and/or give you freebies.
posted by babelfish at 6:56 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

In pre-covid world I literally did this several times a week. My only suggestion is that if at all possible, sit at the bar, rather than a table meant for more than one person.

My motto: Heaven is a bar without a television.
posted by dobbs at 7:23 AM on June 24, 2022 [7 favorites]

The fact that a regular brought a friend to the bar, and the friend enjoyed the place so thoroughly that now they want to return on their own and perhaps keep coming back? The bar owner and bar staff will simply and truly LOVE that, if they do notice/remember you. That's exactly how a small bar wants to build its clientele.
posted by fikri at 7:47 AM on June 24, 2022 [8 favorites]

There is absolutely nothing weird about going to a bar to read and have a drink without talking to anyone.
posted by cakelite at 9:31 AM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

It's absolutely fine. I've spent a lot of time in bars, often quietly reading a book quietly on my own over a couple of beers, and I can confirm it's one of life's great minor pleasures. Bar staff are pretty adept at judging whether a customer wants to chat or not, and very happy to leave you in peace if they see that's what you prefer.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:26 AM on June 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned: some people (I'm talking about other patrons here, not the staff) will definitely read "woman, alone, at a bar, reading" as someone signaling potential interested in being chatted up and flirted with. This may be a plus or a minus for you.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:33 PM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've sat and read solo in a bar with only nine (I think) seats. Nothing wrong with it at all. Just make sure that you're ordering appropriate amounts of food/beverages over time so that you don't tie up a seat for three hours for no return for the bar.
posted by praemunire at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have talked more about books in bars than almost any library I’ve worked in or visited. Isn’t it funny? Depends on the bar, of course.

Could be worthwhile to choose your reading material with this in mind. Otherwise, have at it! Sounds fun to me.
posted by Riverine at 4:04 PM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So: I went and it was great! It was exactly what I'd been hoping for and ended up not feeling that weird at all. The only seat left when I arrived was...smack in the middle of the bar which did feel a bit awkward at first, but it was the owner who steered me there and no one (openly) glared at me, so. (I did not attempt conversation as they were slammed by the time i arrived, and they didn't seem to recognize me which was actually a big relief.) I made sure to order regularly and tip well. Thank you everyone for your advice and for helping me overcome yet another social-anxiety hurdle!
posted by TinyChicken at 5:14 PM on June 24, 2022 [23 favorites]

I became a regular at a bar-and-grill a few blocks from my house by dint of coming in once a week or so right after work (so, before any dinner rush) for a meal, an economy-size ginger beer, and an ebook on my phone.

They liked me enough that the ginger beer started getting to my favorite table before I did. I was so sad when the pandemic closed that place.

You're fine. We're both fine.
posted by humbug at 5:19 PM on June 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm happy you went!
posted by kevinbelt at 6:18 PM on June 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Reading alone in a bar one night is how I ended up meeting Suggs from Madness. I've told the story in the 1998 section here (scroll down).
posted by Paul Slade at 3:09 AM on June 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

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