You’d never show up to pick up your babysitter while gulping down your third Red Bull and vodka, explaining, “Sorry, but I couldn’t get a bartender!” Yet, you don’t feel strange about bringing your baby to the bar every once in while when you can’t get a sitter?
Although your bartender makes a little more than twice as much as your babysitter, approximately $30/hour on a good night, most babysitters live and eat at home, get their healthcare paid for by their parents, get paid in cash, and never see a W-2. So really, your bartender makes a little less in the way of disposable income.
Does this cause any kind of resentment from the other side of the bar?
To get some straight dish, I visited and talked to bartenders, current and former, from Grand Cru, Brewers Art, Tapas Teatro, Clementine, The Dizz, the Mount Royal Tavern, Fraizer’s, Holy Frijoles, Ryan’s Daughter, and Zen West. The bartenders ranged in age from 25 to “none of your business,” with a combined 70-plus years of bartending experience in some of Baltimore’s most popular and entrenched drinking establishments. By giving them the liberty to speak without attribution, they were able to let you know some things here that they aren’t always comfortable saying in front of your credit card their tip bucket directly to your face.
It’s Not Your Imagination. They Do Like You
First, you should know that your bartenders love you. It was the first thing they said. Bartenders are in this business because they like to be with people. In fact, all but one made a point to say that they actually mostly like your kids too. One sympathetic bartender, a father himself declared, without hesitation, that when he’s not working, he’ll often take his five-month-old out and plop the carrier on a stool right next to him at the bar. “I like to sit at the bar because I like to talk to the bartender,” he explains, “bartenders are good company and I don’t want to sit off in the corner just because I have a kid.”
Yet, as much as they enjoy your company, as charming and amused by you as they seem, it’s important to remember that while you’re drinking, they’re working. On a scale from you to your kids, most bartenders are going to rank their preference closer to the former, preferring juicy tips to Juicy Juice boxes.
Another bartender put it more succinctly: “Honestly, I don’t care if there are seven babies all lined up right at the bar in car seats –as long as they’re all going to tip me.”
No Laws on These Babies
At the third bar I visited, I began to explain that I already knew that it’s illegal for kids to sit at the bar. And the bartender quietly correct me, inadvertently letting me in on one of the bartenders’ most-closely guarded secrets: it is not actually illegal to have a child in a bar in Baltimore City.
In fact they can sit right at the bar, without breaking the law at all.
A quick call to the Liquor Licensing Board confirms this. I spoke with Jane Schroeder, deputy executive secretary for the Board of Liquor License Commission for Baltimore City. Schroeder was very clear that this only applies to Baltimore City, and that other jurisdictions can make there own laws. “But there is no legislation that specifically addresses people under 21 being in a bar,” said Shroeder. “They just can’t drink there.”
But privately owned establishments can refuse service to anyone they choose, right?
Yes, she said, as long as it’s not based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Likewise, to keep things fair, places aren’t allowed just to arbitrarily deny customers because of say, a strange hairdo, too many facial piercings, or a preference for the Yankees.
Some legitimate reasons service could be refused:
• Unreasonably rowdiness
• Overfilled capacity
• Closing time or the kitchen is closed
• Large groups of non-customers looking to just sit
• Inadequate hygiene (e.g. excess dirt, extreme body odor, etc.)
In most cases, refusal of service is warranted where a customer’s presence in the restaurant detracts from the safety, welfare and well-being of other patrons and the restaurant itself.
Can you think of anyone who might meet one or all of the criteria for refusal of service?
Anyone who often raises his voice to its highest level despite being asked to quiet down?
Who travels with a very large stroller, big bag of toys that he strews out over 2 tables?
Who can sit for hours without paying, and then, doesn’t wash her hands after going to the bathroom?
Some places, like Grand Cru, have instituted an “adult swim” policy to keep kids out after 6 p.m. You’d be wise to respect this. The truth is, your baby’s always on the verge of getting bounced from a bar; it’s what you do that makes the bough break.
Naps and Nappies
While most parents will readily tell you that they wouldn’t dream of keeping a child in a bar after 8 p.m., it seems that early-to-late afternoon drinking with the tots is deemed acceptable. Not too early, so as to seem problematic, and not too late, so as to seem neglectful. In the bartending world the earlier time of day is known as Happy Hour, a time for cheap drinks and eats. A time for illicit office romances to begin and people to ruefully complain about bosses. For better or worse, Happy Hour is an adult way to wash off and down the workday doldrums or for those who have been home all day with the kids (and gone to the trouble and expense of getting a babysitter) to get away from the kids. In the world of small children, this same time of day is known as the Witching Hour, a frightful stretch somewhere between afternoon nap and dinnertime. Just when you’re winding down, they’re just getting started. A few pops may take the edge off for mommy and daddy, but this can just fan the flames for a little one who feels that every hour is his Right-to-be-Happy Hour.
Be mindful of boundaries, both physical and societal, especially in smaller spaces. Yet another bartender tells a story of looking to the back of his bar and seeing “six giant strollers blocking the way to the bathroom, so people who weren’t wearing diapers had trouble getting back there.”
Almost all of them squeamishly recalled at least one public changing of the underguards right at a table that was next to another table of people eating. If you don’t see a changing table in the bathroom, that may be a good indicator that they don’t want you to make one out of one in the dining room.
Don’t Just Unpack-N-Play
One of the biggest single gripes that your server has is with the expansion of Baby A into Sections 1, 2, and 3. Bars (and restaurants) are dangerous places. Knives, flames, boiling liquid, shard-prone glass are the things that make these places run. Wee ones tend to reside below eye level, the perfect target for harried feet. Mashed bananas, flung cookies, and rolling crayons can become lubricants for a busy bartender’s feet. “The scariest thing to me when kids are around: carrying a big tray of hot coffee or tea,” said one.
Before setting up camp for your little ones in a tavern or restaurant, survey the scene to make sure that you’re not in the shipping lanes.
Time Outs All Around (and Make it a Double)
Best advice: know your kids and respect their habits. If Delilah gets fussy after an hour, remember to order your drinks by the glass, not the bottle, and be emotionally prepared to leave after just one. As frustrating as it can be, there’s no need for you to get upset and throw a tantrum when it’s time to go home. If you’re good, you can come back another day. He’ll make it one more for your baby–just make it one more for the road.
In fact, your bartenders want you to come back and enjoy yourself. And they’re definitely looking forward to seeing your kids again…say in 15 or 20 years…