Drinking with Strangers: How to Go to a Bar Alone
by Reannon Muth
For many, going to a bar solo is akin to going to a friend’s wedding dateless: an embarrassing and painfully awkward experience oftentimes made worse with one-too-many fruity cocktails. But if you’re a solo-traveler who also happens to enjoy your adult beverages, frequenting bars without a date is a great skill to master.
Though going out alone may feel nerve-wracking at first, it’s worth it. Visiting the town tavern not only provides a glimpse into a part of the local culture rarely seen at hotel buffets or national monuments, but it provides excellent people-watching opportunities, and if you’re brave, a chance to make a few new friends.
So grab a pint or some peppermint schnapps and read this six-step guide to drinking with strangers and actually enjoying yourself.
Step 1: Choose your bar carefully.
Certain bars attract certain types of people. You don’t want to end up as the only female in an all-male biker bar or Mexican cantina, so do your research. In many parts of the world, a woman seen drinking (alone or otherwise) is viewed as promiscuous. Thus, if you don’t want to be mistaken for a prostitute, it’s best to save the bar-hopping for less conservative countries like Ireland or Australia.
However, if you’re craving a cocktail and you’re in a traditional country like Guatemala or Colombia, find a hostel. Hostels often arrange group pub crawls and host BBQs and parties or if nothing else, they’ll have a bar where you can meet other solo travelers.
Step 2: Sit at the bar.
While sitting hunched on a barstool may make you self-conscious, it’s the best way to meet people. Sitting at a table by yourself may be great for people-watching, but it makes you virtually unapproachable. Sitting at the bar, however, allows you to talk to the bartender or strike up a conversation with your fellow solo drinkers.
Step 3: Ask people for drink recommendations.
Once you’re seated at the bar, ask those around you if they can recommend a favorite drink or popular menu item. This works great as a conversation starter and can easily lead to questions about where you’re from or how long they’ve been coming to the bar. If you’re visiting a country where you don’t speak the language well, you can use this opportunity to ask for help reading the menu, which is another useful way to kick-start a conversation.
Step 4: Find an activity.
The best bars to visit alone are ones that offer an activity other than drinking. Pool halls or bars with dart boards can be found nearly everywhere and offer an easy excuse to interact with people. Pub trivia games are also great ways to meet new people and unlike pool or darts, participation is normally free. Pick a friendly table, explain that you’re just visiting and then ask if they would mind having an extra player. They’ll almost always say yes, as the more players a team has, the more likely they are to win the game.
Step 5: Talk to the tipsy patrons.
If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language very well and are too shy to start a conversation with someone, approach the drunk people. They’ll be too intoxicated to judge your accent too harshly and aren’t likely to notice your grammar mistakes. It’s an excellent way to practice with a native speaker without worrying about embarrassing yourself.
Step 6: Smile and look friendly.
If you’re still feeling hesitant about approaching people, let them approach you. Look around, make eye-contact and smile. It’s a simple and obvious trick, but it’s extremely effective because it shows those around you that you’re friendly and interested in starting a conversation. Sometimes it helps to bring a guidebook to read until you’re feeling comfortable enough to make a move, and a guidebook provides a subtle way to engage people in conversation about a particular park or interesting museum.