From the Bar Stool: Seat Wars

30 06 2012

Being at a bar is often like being at war.  Alliances rise and fade, supply lines run thin and, like any war, territory is key.  Also, the ground is dirty and sometimes covered in blood.

Here, territory equals seating, and seating is one of the most important strategies in any bar.  There are many key spots in a typical bar, and many details associated with securing and defending them.

Seat wars (like all wars) are a two-stage affair:  attack and defend.


If you enter a mostly empty bar, the choice of seat is entirely yours, and that choice depends on intent.  The only real universal guideline is not to sit right in front of a bathroom or “Employees Only” door, unless you want to get pumped into by almost-pissing-in-their-pants drunks and guys carrying kegs all night.

THE TAPS- If you want to talk to the bartender(s), whether you’re flirting or just buddying up, the seat closest to (but NOT directly in front of) the beer taps is best.  One might think catching them near the register or at a liquor well is just as good, but that’s incorrect.  You don’t want to bug someone while they’re punching something up or dealing with a half-dozen ingredients.  Tap time, on the other hand, is slow time.  Just don’t launch into long stories that they’ll feel awkward walking away from when the foam begins to dome.  And as a bonus, you may get any beer mispours (though you should never ask for it).

Sitting directly in front of the beer taps is okay, but eye contact will be trickier from there and may increase your wait time for fresh booze (an awful proposition).

THE WAITSTAND- The waiter/waitress landing pad is a high-traffic area and is best avoided, though it will give the best dialogue and insight into the workings of the bar.  In slow times, both the waitstaff and bartenders will tend to congregate around it and (once you’re a known regular and in a circle of trust) will rap about all of the best stories and bar-related gossip.  But be warned:  when things get a bit busy, it’s the spot that you’re most likely to get a spill on you.  You’ll suddenly go from compatriot to obstacle, and genuine smiles from the staff may morph into stiff, forced grimaces.  Stay out of the way.

TABLES- If the bar has tables and there’s no server on yet, it’s best to avoid the tables.  The bartender may tell you to get your drinks (and food) at the bar anyway, and if he/she does take the trouble to leave the bar to take your order, you’ll both feel pretty awkward about it.  When things are busier and there is a server on duty, the tables can be just fine, but be aware that your wait time may be more than it is at the bar.  The reason for this (aside from possible understaffing and distance-to-walk issues) is simple:  the waiter/waitress adds an extra layer of communication to a drink or food transaction.  While getting a drink at the bar involves a simple two-person circuit, the server adds a messenger and delivery element, not only for you but for all other table customers being served.  Table seating is obviously better for groups to converse, but singles or doubles should take the bar when possible.  The bar is more fun anyway.

“CORNER” SEATS- Corner seats are seats taken at the L-shaped section or the literal “corner” of a bar.

In yellow: “corner” seats at the bar.  The four in between are “seat” seats.

These seats are tricky and have some positives and negatives to them.  On the one hand, if you and your companion both secure seats at the same corner, eye contact is easier to maintain.  Also, bar space (for meals) is usually better, though that depends heavily on seat spacing and alignment.  Negatively, these seats leave you more likely to get bumped into by walking passersby who attempt to cut a corner (we’ll call them “Danica Patricks”) and you could end up getting slammed into the painful wooden corner.  In addition, departing customers (or possibly employees) may utilize the extra space to place dirty dishes.  Corpse dumping is sometimes the price you pay for extra real estate- just ask any farmer in a high-murder area.

SEAT SEATS- These (“seat” seats or “edge” seats) are more or less equal, though there can still be strategic benefits.  Mainly, you want a seat buffer between yourself and other customers, particularly if you have a coat or bag to set down.  If you regularly order the same type of cocktail or shot, seating near the bottle may save time and/or allow you to easily point out your choice to bartenders who don’t know you very well.  Other concerns could be:  stool comfort, television positioning, knee-level coat hanger location, under-the-bar gum population (check carefully, with a napkin), and attractive drinker proximity (you want to be close, but not too close to that sexy neighbor).  It’s fine to shift positions here between bathroom/jukebox/Ms. PacMan trips, as needed.

WALL SEATS- For advanced barflies and regulars, “wall” seats are ideal.  Simply, these are seats that allow the best observational vantage point, and they’re often up against a wall.  Savvy drinkers need to be prepared for anything from promotional shot girls to armed robberies, and a seat that allows a clear view of all entrances, exits, patrons, employees, and furniture is best.  Law enforcement members and Jason Bourne wannabes may instinctively choose these seats anyway, but mainly they’ll be populated by cynical and judgmental people-watchers who wish to point out flaws to anyone who will listen.  The Statler and Waldorf of any bar will usually end up here.

“How does a hipster spell ‘beer’?” “Easy: P-B-R!”

The biggest problem with taking these seats is that, depending on the bar layout, your visibility to a bartender may be obscured.  Overall, though, it’s probably the best spot in the house.

ATTACK SUMMARY- Choose quickly and decisively depending on your preconceived goals.  Like when you pick a Monopoly piece.


Once a chosen seat is secured, the real battle begins.  Defending your seat might be easy, or it may be tougher than calculating a tab after eight Long Islands.  Of course, saving your seat in an empty bar is much easier than fighting a crowd, but these strategies should be applicable in nearly any level of traffic.  The secret is to read the environment and never assume anything about anyone.

Note: With all defenses, pushing the chair in as close to the bar as possible is optimal.

THE BUDDY SYSTEM- Obviously telling a friend “save my seat” is the easiest and most effective way to keep your seat, but it isn’t foolproof.  You have to anticipate how long you’ll be MIA, along with how reliable your buddy is.  If it’s a dear friend you came in with, they’ll probably watch your chair until the bouncer tosses them out at closing, if need be.  A casual acquaintance may get distracted or impatient or give your seat to an attractive member of their desired gender or just someone who really negotiates for it.  Gauge your buddy’s tolerance for your missing time and don’t dilly-dally- a smoke break should be just one cigarette, a bathroom trip should be expedient (though capped with a hand wash), and a hop out to get food or something from the car should be done with pep and urgency.  Don’t take advantage of your buddy, and be sure to do the same for him or her when they need to break away.

Of course, always be sure your drinking buddy is a real person.

THE LEAVE BEHIND- The leave behind is somewhat risky but effective in all but the busiest and most douchey of bar crowd scenarios.  It’s really simple- leave a jacket, hat, bag, or other fairly large personal item behind (on your seat or on the bar right in front of it).  Beware of leaving small, pocketable (aka stealable) items like sunglasses or cell phones.  A cheap(ish) jacket that clashes with the color of the seat or bar it’s set upon works best here, as it is very hard to miss.

My sweatshirt is sitting here right now, and he’s had a few

There is some risk here:  without anyone to watch over your item, it could easily be stolen or knocked to the floor.  And no, you cannot ask the bartender to “watch your stuff” or your seat- they (perhaps like your non-existent buddy) have better things to do.  Also, don’t set a napkin on a seat and expect that to do the trick for you, as it will just be perceived as trash.

THE COVERUP- The coverup is the most common and most successful form of seat defense, though it has its problems as well.  Simply, leave your drink in front of your seat with a coaster (made of cardboard) or a napkin (or several, depending on sturdiness and bar crosswinds) on top of your glass.  This is less stable with wine glasses, but most cocktail and beer glasses make strong bases.

“I’ve got you covered.” -Talking Napkin

A drinker not only secures a seat via the coverup, but his/her drink as well (losing one’s seat and a fresh drink to an over-exuberant bartender would indeed be adding insult to injury).   It might be obvious, but having a fuller drink adds validity to the coverup, as covering an empty or near-empty glass with a napkin or coaster might look like an accident of circumstance and get both tossed in the sink.  There is, sadly, a chance that a not-so-savvy drinker will not recognize a coverup as a seat/drink saving technique, but a bartender or bouncer usually will and will usually back you up on any misunderstanding, assuming you’re not a dick about it.

Note: Don’t be a dick about things.

However, the coverup is a very unstable proposition with bottles of beer (or wine coolers, if you’re in that kind of place, you oddball), so there’s a modified version…

THE BOTTLE STUFF- This is a pretty self-explanatory, slightly-altered version of the coverup, but there is one important aspect to not overlook:  folding.  If you haphazardly crunch a napkin into a bottle of beer (particularly a near-empty one or an opaque brown bottle or one with a large label that obscures the liquid level inside) a bar employee (or even another patron attempting to be “helpful”) may assume it to be trash.  You don’t have to fold the napkin with the precision and expertise of an origami artist (though that may help), but pretending it’s a tuxedo pocket square might do the trick.

Now that’s one good-looking bottle!

This might be some crap somebody left behind.

DEFENSE SUMMARY- It’s essential to do something to mark your territory (and no, don’t do it like animals do- the bouncers won’t understand), because even the most embedded bar regular can lose a seat and be forced into an annexation strategy.

Usually, asking politely will do the trick.  Waiting for a fellow patron hovering over your spot to collect and carry several drinks is perfectly reasonable too, so long as they don’t linger without reason.  Be patient and let your intentions be known and it usually works out in your favor.  If it doesn’t and things get confrontational, don’t worry too much.  Following the above guidelines should give you no problem securing your seat and continuing your evening at the bar.  When you’re no longer able to stand, you’ll be glad that you took the time to lay claim to your territory with such preparation and vigor.  Cheers.



One response

30 06 2012

Clever and practical!

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