Social Skills, Spotlight

My New Policy on Bars

I like bars. I like alcohol. Moderate drinking is my vice and I accept that about myself. There are few activities I like doing with friends as much as chatting over wine, beer or good liquor.

But some bar experiences I really, really don’t like. Usually the really busy kind. It’s hard to explain this to enthusiastic friends, so I say things like “I’m an introvert” or “I prefer small groups” or “it isn’t my scene.” Those work, but they all basically make it sound like I’m the one not fitting in, and the bar scene itself is great.

But this piece by Tim Urban at Wait But Why says I’m not the problem. His thesis is that a cool bar, on a busy night, is by definition a bad life experience. It’s bad no matter who you are because of the combination of loud, dark and crowded:

The first moment you walk into a scene like this brings a distinct mix of dread and hopelessness. It’s an unbearably loud, dark, crowded cauldron of hell, and nothing fun can possibly occur here.

After wedging your coat into a nook in the wall and saying goodbye to it for the last time, it’s time to go get your first drink. You were the first one of your friends to walk in the door, so you’re in the lead as your group works its way through the crowd, which means you’re the one who’s gonna drop the worst $54 a human can spend on a round of drinks no one will remember. But that’s the end goal—first, you need to figure out how to get through the three layers of people also trying to order drinks.

The problem isn’t the frat-ish guys or any of the other stuff people usually blame. The bar gets 0% more fun if it’s all interesting people in there, because you can’t have meaningful contact with any of them. The problem is the specific combination of being loud, dark, and crowded.

There are a couple of exceptions to this:

  • If you’re young and just the sensory experience of a cool crowded bar is awesome because it’s like you’re coming of age
  • If you are there primarily to dance—like for real, you’re going to be moving on the dance floor the whole time. But it better be some truly earth-shattering dubstep or really trancey house music, or the L/D/C mix will still make it terrible.

When I think about it, Loud/Dark/Crowded is the common factor of every bar I’ve ever disliked. Sure I’m an introvert, but I’ll have a good time with my friends and even talk to strangers if it’s not loud and not crowded. I do like small groups, but I’m fine with 100 people at a large house party with a quieter atmosphere.

So I’m posting this here first of all so you can go read the hilarious full article. But secondly because this is my new policy whenever I get invited out. I’m just not going to Loud/Dark/Crowded bars anymore. And when someone asks me why I don’t want to go, I’m not going to say it’s because it’s not my scene, I’m going to say “It’s because loud, dark, crowded bars are never fun.” I’m going to say it like it’s a scientific fact.

Full piece: Why You Secretly Hate Cool Bars

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.


6 thoughts on “My New Policy on Bars

  1. Luminous Pretense says:

    Oh, indeed. I never liked loud, dark and crowded either. Why say it like it’s a scientific fact, though? It’s a good theory, sure, but maybe you’re talking to someone who *likes* L/D/C.

    On another topic, I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say you’re an introvert. I’ve come across a few different ideas of what that means specifically; which definition are you going by here?

    • Well, like all social science facts, it represents a trend or general trait and the existence of outliers/exceptions is presumed :]

      But, to be less cheeky, the reason I’m going to state it with such confidence is because I agree not just with the author’s premise, but with his conclusion: that people still have fun in such places not because such places are fun, but because being drunk is kind of fun on its own and such places, although unfun, usually manage not to completely ruin the fun of being drunk. And, secondly, because of cognitive dissonance: you just went and spent a lot of money and waited in a lot of lines and failed to talk to your friends or flirt with the opposite preferred sex and were probably too hot or too cold and maybe now have sticky shoes, but you wouldn’t have done all that for nothing, right? Besides, everyone else thinks it’s fun!

      In other words, I think most of those who “like” L/D/C are fooling themselves, one way or another. They’d actually like it more if they had the same drinks and the same music and the same friends and a chance to flirt with the same strangers… in a location where they could have meaningful interactions and a few inches of personal space.

      Obviously, if someone’s on a self-destructive drinking streak or just wants to be totally left alone or is just looking to mosh, then they might be one of the outliers.

      As for introvert I agree with the now-popular definition: introverts feel energized by alone time and find social time to get draining after a while, even if they enjoy the people they’re with. That’s me to a T.

  2. Yup. That is why I describe the bar scene I’d prefer to be as a pub. Overall, it is a rare thing to find me at any bar. I really prefer to just be with friends in our own homes, or the park – playing Frisbee horribly :D

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