The Literate Lush…get polite, THEN come to my bar

Our fearless bartender I love to drink. So do you. So does most of Denver. It’s a wonderful thing to be in a city so permissive and encouraging of the wreckless pursuit of beverage-related geekery. Now that we’ve caught up with the coasts in terms of Cocktailian Pleasures, we can talk about the etiquette of drinking. I’ll skip over the old “don’t wave money at your bartender” and “don’t call your bartender by name simply because you overheard his/her name used by another guest”. We don’t need to cover that, because you’re a cocktail hipster; you have favorite bartenders, read David Wondrich and have a bottle of Ramazotti in your liquor cabinet. No, we’ll skip ahead to some more nuanced points, because let’s be honest, there are times when we all forget that your bartender is a person with a social life, feelings and (possibly) someone to have sex with at times. What to discuss first…?

On ordering a drink: I can tell you that I’m guilty of frequently sitting down at a bar and being promptly flummoxed as to what I would care to enjoy. However, since I KNOW that this is both annoying to most barmen and obtrusive to the rest of the party, I pull the trigger, it’s the right thing to do. It’s only one drink, think hard about what you want next. But here’s the catch, if you ask for a suggestion, be ready to ENGAGE. Most barmen worth their salt are going to ask you questions: have definitive answers, don’t vascilate, be ready to possibly be challenged (and usually impressed) by what the fine person behind-the-stick has to offer.

last_call Regarding changing tables: We’ve all been out for a drink and decided to invite friends to join us on-the-fly. Or perhaps we’ve run into friends and decided to combine our parties for some serious merry-making. Sometimes you can’t stay at the bar, from time-to-time you have no choice but to move to a lounge or a bar table. When this happens, please remember this lesson. SETTLE UP WITH YOUR BARMAN! At most establishments, when you leave your post at the bar and transfer to a table, you can move your tab with you. But here’s the thing, when you do that your talented and engaging barman loses his or her gratuity (either in large part or entirely). Do you enjoy doing lots of work and then not getting rewarded? Didn’t think  so. Settle with your barman before you go, it’s a nice thing to do.

Empty bar is empty

Probably a good time to go home

Showing up late: The bar-tending game does involve late hours, we knew this job was dangerous when we took it. But here’s the thing, bartenders need sleep, too. We also need late-night drinks, just like you. Skip the following entry if your favorite bar is a late-night joint, where it’s part-and-parcel for the bar staff to be around until the small hours. If, however, you frequent an establishment with earlier hours of closing, take the following to heart. Say your favorite bar closes at 11:30, or at least does last call at that time. If you’re walking by at 11:15 and there is a rocking crowd, stop in, most bartenders don’t like to to shut a smoking bar down too early. Chances are, you’re going to walk in to one hell of a party. If, on-the-other-hand, you walk past the same place at 11:15 and there is nobody in the restaurant except for one waiter and a bartender polishing glasses, keep on walking. In this case, the lone barman has probably written off the rest of the night and is ready to go home (or to HIS favorite bar). By extension, this means knowing the hours (at least somewhat) of your favorite bar; if it’s in a restaurant, chances are it won’t be open too much past when their kitchen closes (normally around 10:30 at most fine-dining establishments). Use your best judgement, be conscious of what you’re walking into. Most bartenders give a pretty good read on their mood when you walk in; a big smile and a warm greeting, maybe we’re not quite ready to go home. A tight smile and hesitation when you ask if I’m still serving? You’re interrupting MY chance at one last drink.

Cocktail Cadius Marzo 2009

You don’t have to go home: But you can’t stay here. At a certain point we all close a bar or restaurant. Don’t be that guy. There is nothing more awkward (or annoying) for staff than to have to stand around while you cuddle with your latest Match.com date or drunkenly ramble on about March Madness or politics. When you notice that you are the last person or party, wrap up your conversations, ask for the check if you haven’t already, and take your leave. Most restaurant staff aren’t paid by-the-hour, and while it’s our pleasure to serve (seriously!), we’re not servants. Besides, you can’t screw on my bar.

So, what’s the bottom line? Well, by-and-large most people in Denver are polite and wonderful, my adopted hometown is one of the most fantastic places to eat, drink and galavant that I’ve ever enjoyed. These just happen to be my momentary beefs, and I thought a teachable moment would be easily gleaned. So, let’s have some drinks.

About Kelly Wooldridge


A sommelier, barman, writer, lecturer, nerd. Kelly works as the sommelier, beverage director and bar manager at Trillium in Denver's Ballpark District, he is also an Adjunct Instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. An Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Kelly has dedicated his life to wine-related nerdery. And of course he also doles out advice and guidance to wine collectors in Colorado and elsewhere under the aegis (and isn't that an awesome word?) of VinCierge, a consultancy based in Denver. Sometimes he rides a bike, but most times you can find him wherever you see Denver's most beloved FrankenFord, Goldie, our wino's trusty Hoopty.

  • Kevin Burke

    Well put sir. I would like to suggest that as an exception to the “showing up late” post that if you personally know the tender on duty and are comfortable having a short beer with him or her as they are bustling around cleaning and polishing for the end of the night this is usually ok. Just remember it’s usually a one and done situation, and the bartender is no longer making any money as there isn’t a packed bar, leave an appropriate PourBoire.