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Since giving birth to a baby girl back in April, I’ve come to understand something that may shock many of you: Having a baby is hard. Parenting involves waking in the middle of the night to hold a pacifier in place, shoveling down meals while waving a rattle in the air, and wearing exclusively spit up-covered clothing. By 10 a.m., I need a nap. By 2 p.m., I need a drink. The point here, to paraphrase my doula, is that if anyone deserves a drink, it’s a new mom.
But sometimes, a glass of wine on the couch isn’t enough to wash away the day’s accumulation of missed naps and diaper blowouts. Sometimes, after being cooped up at home with a baby all day long, you need to get the fuck out of the house and have a drink at a bar.
The question of whether people should bring babies to bars tends to spark heated debates. Before I had a baby, I remember looking askance at frazzled parents sipping cocktails while their little ones squawked and shrieked and ran fire trucks over my legs. But now, I get it. You sacrifice so much when you have a baby — you shouldn’t also have to sacrifice occasionally leaving the house for a much-needed beer.
The thing is, there’s a right and a wrong way to grab a pint with your kid in tow. You can bring a baby to a bar and ruin everyone’s experience or you can take the right steps to ensure that everyone has a grand time. Here are some tips for a successful bar excursion with a baby.
1) Pick the correct venue
Some bars are good for babies, and others bars are not. Use your best judgement and common sense to tell the difference, and accept the fact that occasionally a place that you really want to check out — say, a new speakeasy with dim lighting and live jazz — is just going to have to wait until you have a babysitter. Look for somewhere that has a good amount of space, no dress code, a lot of ambient noise to mask any errant baby squeals or screams, and a low quotient of clientele whose main objective is to get obliterated. If the bar is lined with regulars throwing back shots and gaggles of 20-somethings taking Jägerbombs, you and your baby should probably go elsewhere.
Spots such as breweries and gastropubs are great options for drinking with babies, as are most bars with a big outdoor space. Note that in some states, it’s illegal to bring a baby (or anyone underage) into a bar unless they also serve food, so check online to make sure there’s a menu before you plan an outing. Also, it goes without saying that if you’re driving, you should be drinking responsibly.
2) Time it right
Even the right venue isn’t always right. There’s a German beer and sausage place near my house that fits my criteria for a kid-friendly bar. However, after a certain hour, it becomes, definitively, a nighttime spot: tube tops and hair gel abound, people are ordering more Patrón than pretzels, and everyone is vaping. It’s not a great environment for a baby. Observe the establishments in your neighborhood, and get a sense of what times attract a child-friendly crowd.
It’s also important to consider timing as it relates to your baby. Our little girl is four months old, and while she’s an absolute angel during that first hour after a nap, we know that once she’s been awake for about 90 minutes, she becomes less angelic. So, we adjust our plans to fit her schedule and go immediately after she wakes up. If that means we don’t time it right to catch happy hour or meet up with our friends, that’s a bummer, but it’s better than walking into a bar with a ticking time bomb.
3) Know where to sit
I love sitting at the bar. The bar is where the action is. But now that I travel with a tiny human, those days are over. Instead, I survey the room and find the place where my family and our stroller will be as unobtrusive as possible. The best spot is a corner. If that’s not available, pick a table that has a good amount of space next to it; this allows you to push your stroller back and forth if your baby likes that, or provides room to pick the baby up and play if she needs some attention.
When choosing a spot, you also want to be aware of the sources of light, sound, and heating or cooling. If you’re trying to get your baby to nap, you’ll want to be far from the light; almost always, you’ll want to get as much distance between your baby and the speaker as possible; and proximity to the heater or air conditioning will depend on your baby’s temperature preferences.
4) Pack light
Some parents show up to bars looking like they’re moving in. They’re toting diaper bags, strollers, carriers, and multiple canvas bags of god knows what. And while it’s true that babies require a fair amount of physical stuff, it shouldn’t be more than can fit in a diaper bag. All you really need are diaper supplies, some blankets and burp cloths, and a pacifier. There’s no need to bring blocks and stuffed animals. A napkin or a coaster can be a toy. It’s a baby, after all. Packing light allows you to take up a smaller footprint and also helps you make a speedy exit if things start to go south.
5) Respect the space (and please use the changing table)
Babies are pretty gross, and if you bring one out in public, you’re responsible for making sure that their grossness doesn’t get on other people’s things (or other people). That means not letting your child sit, stand, or crawl on tables; destroy menus or other bar property; and kick or hit other people’s chairs or tables. Also, this should go without saying, but: Don’t change your baby’s diaper on a table. Even if the establishment isn’t equipped with a changing table, a couple blankets laid down on the bathroom floor is better than using a surface where people eat.
6) Don’t even bother opening a tab
Opening a tab is an incredibly convenient way to sustain a long afternoon or evening of drinking amongst friends, but with a baby it’s best to pay as you go. It may be annoying to individually pay for each drink, but here’s what’s far more annoying: attempting to get the bartender’s attention to close your tab when a 4-month-old is screaming bloody murder in the stroller and everyone in the establishment — yourself and your baby included — want you to Get. The. Heck. Out.
7) Have an escape plan
If your friend gets too drunk and starts puking or getting in a fight at a bar, it’s your job to take him or her home immediately. The same goes for your baby — just replace “gets too drunk” with “gets tired, fussy, or cranky” and “puking or getting in a fight” with “pooping, screaming, or crying.” The instant your baby begins ruining anyone’s experience (and make no mistake: A crying baby ruins everyone’s experience), your bar time has expired. Your mission is to get out of there as quickly as possible.
You and your partner should agree upon an escape plan ahead of time; or, if your baby is your only drinking partner (no judgment), at least lay a plan out clearly in your head. Designate a person to make a getaway with the baby while the other adult deals with gathering your stuff, settling the tab (if you didn’t abide by the tip above), and, let’s be honest, downing the remainder of your drinks. The plan should cover simple logistics like which route you’ll use to exit, since it can often be difficult to maneuver a bulky stroller through a bar. If you’re out with friends, let them know that you might need to bolt at any minute without the chance for a proper goodbye.
Finally, your escape plan means adopting the mentality that you don’t get to do the final leaving-the-bar things you used to do: having your sweet potato fries boxed up, going pee, or drinking that last sip of beer. You have to leave, immediately, to deal with your baby — and then maybe pour yourself a glass of wine when once you get home. You deserve it.
Kate Willsky is a writer, apple connoisseur, and crossword puzzle enthusiast based in Brooklyn.
Editor: Brenna Houck
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