Behind "Bar Codes"



I'll admit I felt vindicated when my editor at Gambit asked if I would take on a story called "Bar Codes," a feature for the magazine's drinking and nightlife pull-out section, Swizzle.


The story is a look at barroom etiquette and the ways in which the seemingly straightforward relationship between bartender and bar patron can go horribly awry. Finally, I thought, all that time hanging around bars and clubs can be considered research. And surely, with all those credit hours booked, I could practically write the story in my sleep.

But the more I interviewed bartenders for the story, the more I learned about the nuances of the simple money-for-drinks transactions I had witnessed and been part of so many countless times. Perhaps it should have been obvious that there usually is a lot more going on than meets the eye, and I'm grateful that the bartenders I interviewed opened up and shared their perspectives with me.

I spoke with most of my sources over the phone, and after our interviews decided it was necessary to pay a few visits on a variety of watering holes with their observations fresh in my head (yes, this job beats digging ditches). So I'd plant myself at a bar or do a tour of a late-night hang-out and watch then shenanigans unfold.

And sure enough, so many of the scenarios my bartender sources described in our interviews were being acted out all around me. The guy waving the money and shouting "hey" to the busy bartender? A whole raft of people were served before him. The 21-year-old woman who looked too young to vote, the one ordering a cosmo-apple-choco-green-frog-tini (or whatever)? Yes, she was the one who made the biggest fuss about getting carded.

I've always considered myself a fairly conscientious bar patron, but since talking with these bartenders I've been much more aware of my conduct and those around me. I can't say the drinks taste any better these days, but they do come faster.

- Ian McNulty

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