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The Case for Kid-Friendly Restaurants and Bars

Nialls Fallon of The Fly joins Eater’s Digest to explain why he loves running a “family-friendly” restaurant

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Three white young adults (two women, one man, with a man-bun)sitting at a bar outside, toasting to pints of beer, with a toddler sitting on the man’s lap Toronto Star via Getty Images

On a recent Sunday evening in Bed-Stuy, as soon as the sign on the door at The Fly flipped from “Closed” to “Open” at promptly five o’clock, several families with young children piled into the booths, looking to grab early dinner at the buzzy rotisserie chicken before their kids’ bedtime routines.

As the comments on a recent Eater piece about bringing babies to bars would suggest, this would turn many diners off to the prospect of dinner at The Fly, or at least prompt them to grumble about the possibility of toddler shenanigans and baby squawks interrupting their meal. But Nialls Fallon, the restauranteur behind The Fly as well as Hart’s and Cervos in New York, embraces the family-friendly designation.

With a menu that revolves around simply prepared chicken and fries and a generous stack of paper napkins on each table, it’s no wonder it’s become such a magnet for families. Fallon, a father of two himself, says that his then-one-year old son was top of mind when designing The Fly.

“When we were building this out, there were multiple conversations that came up among my partners and my wife, because I really wanted this to be a place where I could bring my son,” he explained. “It just feels a lot more casual. They can be a little more noisy, and it’s okay because there are other people in here, adults, who are being a bit more noisy than they would in a restaurant setting.”

While it might sound counterintuitive, sitting at the bar feels natural for Fallon and his young family. “My son loves sitting at the bar, and I think there’s a healthy culture around it. The last few years I’ve been very pro having babies in bars.”

That doesn’t mean Fallon is cool with parents letting young children run wild while they enjoy a meal. “There’s a real flow to how a bar or a restaurant works,” he said. “There’s a lot of people moving about, employees carrying drinks and food. There are a lot of spaces where a child, never mind an adult, shouldn’t be going into — like the kitchen, for instance.” When a kid’s radius extends to those no-go zones, relaxed parenting has gone too far, says Fallon.

But the ire that young children in bars draw from other diners is baffling to him. In other parts of the world, he said, babies in bars and restaurants are the norm and even embraced. “I do think there’s a cultural difference between dining in American and dining in Europe or South America, where there are children running around everywhere,” he said. “My wife and I were in Mexico City when our child was one, and at every other restaurant, someone was like, ‘Let me hold your baby for you so you can eat.’ That doesn’t happen here. Especially in New York City! It’s a little silly to be like, ‘We’re cool with all sorts of crazy walks of life... but no kids!’”

Besides, Fallon says, kids don’t have a monopoly on poor behavior. “Especially in bars,” Fallon explains, “I’ve never thrown out a child but I’ve thrown out many adults for drinking too much, being rude, or harassing the staff. Honestly, kids are very low on our radar for problematic guests.”

On the most recent episode of Eater’s Digest, hosts Amanda Kludt and Daniel Geneen explored the pushback against babies in bars and why it’s not a new thing.

Listen and subscribe to Eater’s Digest on Apple Podcasts.

Below, a lightly edited transcript of our interviews with writer Kate Willsky, filmmaker Alison Grasso, and restaurateur Nialls Fallon.

Amanda Kludt: Daniel, welcome back.

Daniel Geneen: Thank you.

Amanda: While you were traveling, a piece went up on Eater called, How to Bring a Baby Into a Bar.

Daniel: Right.

Amanda: Very straightforward: This is my advice based on my experience, how to do this thing that you probably want to do. The commentary on social media was shocking to me. All negative! People were very upset and I would like to read them out. All right, so the tweet says, “The right way to bring a baby into a bar.” The response, “Don’t.”

Daniel: That was me!

Amanda: The next one, “I don’t know. Have a drink at home.” Most of them just say, “Never,” “Don’t,” “NOPE.” All caps. “I go to bars to escape babies.” This other person says, “Step one, hire a damn sitter, you troglodytes.” Literally hundreds of comments.

Daniel: Right.

Amanda: Almost all negative. It was shocking to me because I live in my bubble of being a parent of two kids. I brought them both to bars when they were very little.

Daniel: If we were to zoom out for a second though, I feel like what we’re talking about here is, as someone that’s been covering this world for a long time, you were surprised with the reaction to the statement, not necessarily that it’s a big sticking point for you in your life.

Amanda: No. Yeah, I was just surprised, maybe I should have known this, but that it’s just such a divisive issue. That it wasn’t just a couple people saying like, “Oh, don’t do it.” And then a bunch of people saying, “No, it’s great.” It’s just like so many people so angry.

Daniel: What we want to do is dig into why this is a thing that is so polarizing.

Amanda: Alright. First, we’re going to talk to Kate Willsky, who has written about bringing babies to bars. Kate, welcome to the show.

Kate Willsky: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: You have a five month old, you have brought the baby to bars. Tell us your tips for parents who want to do this and do it in the right way and not the wrong way.

Kate: Well, I think you need to keep in mind primarily what the ultimate purpose of the bar is and respect that. It’s for people to hang out, relax, have a drink and ultimately, if your baby is impeding others from doing that, you need to change your strategies. We’re not going to bring her to a venue where there’s a lot of people who are really looking to throw back shots and be there until the end of the night. Look for more of a low-key atmosphere like a brew pub or like a beer garden, someplace where there’s food and lots of space, and lots of ambient noise.

Amanda: Yeah. I brought a two month old to a cocktail bar once on a Saturday night at eight o’clock, and it did not go well. I immediately regretted my decision as soon as I got there.

Kate: So, thinking about the space, really picking the venue correctly so that you’re not going to be disrupting it for everyone when you walk in. People are not pumped when you’re, for instance, asking them to move their chairs so that you can fit the stroller next to you and rock it back and forth to keep your baby from crying.

Amanda: I mean, this is very obvious to me, but can you talk about why parents want to go to bars?

Kate: Having a baby is really hard — little known fact. And for us at least, we spend so much more time in our house than we used to before we had a baby just because you’re beholden to nap schedules and bedtimes, and you just need to reconnect with what your life was before you had a child sometimes. A bar is a really easy way to do that because you’re not committing to a sit-down dinner. You don’t have to plan a trip to a museum or a vacation. It’s just an hour or two of your day where you can go have a beer, feel like an adult again for a minute, relax.

Daniel: But don’t you think part of what is refreshing about being in a bar with a baby is the fact that inherently it’s not the place you should be?

Kate: Yeah, I mean there is something kind of that feels like extra fun about ordering a Negroni and drinking it while I’m bouncing my baby on my lap. I’m not really sure what that is. I guess it feels a little bit transgressive or like, “Hey, I’m a cool mom. Like, I drink with my baby.”

Kate: I’m sure there’s many different schools of thought on this, but I like to bring my baby out in the world in different environments, and every baby is so different. But for our baby at least, she loves being out in the world and looking at people and seeing things. I think that it’s important to not sequester your child inside. I think hanging out in a place where there’s adults and children and looking around, and observing things is a good thing for them.

Amanda: I think to your point, yeah, it might feel transgressive, but it is, I think, pushing the culture forward.

Daniel: Absolutely.

Amanda: We should be more open to seeing parents everywhere and we should not be segregating babies to baby things and single adults to single adult things.

Kate: For sure.

Daniel: What do you feel like the reaction is online when you write something like this? Are people angry about it? Do you notice that people are more aggressive than you would expect?

Kate: Yes, 100%. There were a lot of angry comments about this particular piece, basically saying that anyone who brings her baby to a bar is a bad parent. I guess I’m not that surprised because parenting is a very, very touchy issue and people love to get super judgey about the way other people parent. People get really angry about this topic.

Daniel: Thanks so much for calling in.

Amanda: Thank you, Kate!

Kate: Yeah, thanks so much for talking. This was fun.

Amanda: So Daniel, it seems like in this modern age, people have a lot of strong feelings about babies in bars as if it’s a new thing, but it is not a new thing. We asked Alison Grasso, a beer aficionado and filmmaker to join us to provide some historical context for this debate. Welcome, Alison.

Alison Grasso: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: So, babies in bars is not a new thing. Can you walk us through some of the history about babies and families in bars and breweries?

Alison: Actually, I think this predates bars. In Europe, historically, different regions developed different beverages, largely in response to the fact that during the Middle Ages, thousands of years ago, there were a lot of issues with sanitation and hygiene, and water was often not safe to drink. In the southern parts of Europe, you had Spain and France and Italy where the climate and topography were friendly to developing wine, growing grapes. Northern countries, more like Belgium and Germany, they did not have the climate or typography for grapes, so they developed beer. That was just kind of the beverage of the day in this part of the world. But they were typically like more low ABV, substitute for water, sometimes even a meal substitute, and the sort of thing a farmer might drink during the day while they’re plowing the field, and it would be on the table at dinner time. This is just a regular part of life. No different than bread or cheese or something you would have as a meal or with a meal. As communities develop, you need gathering places and that would be maybe your tavern, your town hall, your town square. If this is just kind of what you have, then you bring your family because you don’t have the babysitter and this is the only way of getting together and sharing information. This is all just kind of the evolution of regular life. When I was in Belgium, I talked to loads of people there. I was doing content on Belgian beer and just would ask them, “Tell me about Belgian beer culture.” And they’d be like, “What are you talking about? That’s like someone walking in here and being like, tell me about milk. You’d be like, what?

Amanda: It does seem very stringent where drinking time, it’s for adults and it’s at night, and it happens in these cordoned off places. Whereas in Europe, it’s much more common to drink at lunch. It’s much more common to see kids everywhere all the time, like running around the plazas, and restaurants, and bars.

Alison: In Europe, it was always a thing. In the United States, it wasn’t so much because everybody came over here, you’ve got the Puritans, you’ve got religion, you’ve got social prohibitions and all this sort of thing against booze and alcohol —

Amanda: And then the literal Prohibition.

Alison: Then the literal Prohibition that was put into place by who I like to call the fun police, all the sort of people who just don’t want anyone to have a good time. I think that did change things, too, in the United States.

Daniel: I feel like to me, this isn’t really about babies. It’s what babies represent.

Amanda: Interesting.

Daniel: What do you think a baby represents in a bar?

Alison: Maturity, I guess. I don’t know, the next phase of life. It’s like leaving one phase of life and entering another. We’re all living in this kind of state of delayed leveling up because we want to hang onto things like going to the bar with our friends or having a day out, or whatever. So, you see people with kids there too, and you’re kind of like, you can have it all or like, can you? It feels like, hmm, like what? They’re trying to sell me something, they’re trying to sell me this idea of having a kid, like, this can work for me.

Amanda: Right. That’s a lot of what I pick up from the online debate and from those blogs —

Daniel: It’s probably because people are jealous.

Amanda: It’s this whole idea of like, oh, the breeders are taking over. And it’s like, dude, we’re all part of the same team here, why do you have to make it about these people versus these people?

Alison: That’s such an interesting thing, and I feel like that’s also kind of like a hot topic right now — birth rates are falling and why — and it’s also a huge financial thing. People can’t afford it or they feel like they can’t afford it and so it’s like, are we now looking at this person in the bar with the baby and like, oh, how much money do they have that they can have a baby and bring them to the bar on Saturday? Oh, must be nice —

Daniel: Babies are the new Rolexes.

Alison: Yeah, right? They’re expensive. Especially when they’re drinking craft beer all the time.

Amanda: This episode about babies in bars wouldn’t be complete without me bringing a baby to a bar. We are going to go over to one of my favorite spots. It is a place called The Fly in Bed-Stuy near my house, and we’re going to talk to one of the restaurant’s partners about running a family friendly bar and restaurant.

Amanda: We are here at The Fly with Nialls Fallon and some very special guests, which are my children. Can you say hi, Ansel?

Ansel: Hi!

Amanda: From your time in the industry and also as a parent, what’s your take?

Nialls Fallon: I mean, I’m very pro-children in bars. It’s funny because when we were building this out, my son was a year old and there were multiple conversations that came up amongst my partners and my wife, and it was like I really wanted this to be a place where I could bring my son.

Amanda: Right.

Nialls: There aren’t enough places that allow that to happen. My wife and I were in Mexico City when our child was one and like every other restaurant someone was like, let me hold your baby for you, so you can eat. It’s just a different... it doesn’t happen here. I think it’s cultural. I think it’s kind of weird, and also, especially in New York City, it’s a little silly to be like, we’re cool with all different, crazy different walks of life, but no kids. It’s like, I don’t know, come on.

Amanda: Have you seen parents do things that you wish they didn’t do?

Nialls: I mean, I really think that my only pet peeve with it or like point where it starts to get frustrating for me is when a child is constantly screaming. If it happens for a moment and you try and calm your kid down, like that’s pretty normal. But just going, and going, and going and the parents like making a very clear effort. They’re like, nope, I’m not going to pick you up. We’re not going to go outside. You need to be quiet in the restaurant, and it therefore, becomes like a learning and discipline experience for the entire restaurant.

Nialls: Honestly, in bars in particular, I’ve never thrown a child out of here, but I’ve thrown out many adults for drinking too much, being rude, or harassing the staff, or any number of things that come from a multitude of guests that we’re serving. Honestly, kids are very low on our radar for problematic guests.

Amanda: Okay. So Daniel, we’ve talked to a bunch of people about babies in bars and I think I still want to talk a little bit more with you about why we think people get so angry because I’m coming to believe that there are two main camps. One is this argument that it’s an inappropriate place for a child and that you are being a bad parent to do it, so kind of like judgey parents and also people who just think like it is inappropriate.

Daniel: Right.

Amanda: I think the second camp is people who are upset that you’re messing with the space.

Daniel: Killing their vibe.

Amanda: Killing the vibe. I’m trying to pick up on some ladies, and there’s a baby there and it’s messing things up or I’m on a date and I want sexiness and I’m sitting next to a baby, there’s a stroller — like, the most un-sexy thing of all time is a stroller.

Daniel: I, obviously, curse more than I would like, and when there is a baby in the elevator with me, I usually still curse, but I feel bad about it because they are yet untainted by the scourge of humanity. I am trying to keep them that way. At least from my —

Amanda: So, it makes you behave in a different way when there’s a baby.

Daniel: All I’m saying is I don’t want to rip a shot in front of a baby.

Amanda: I don’t want to reign things in.

Daniel: I don’t want to be like, “Yo Neal, let’s go. Let’s Jägerbomb,” in front of a baby because I don’t want the baby to know what a Jägerbomb is.

Amanda: What about on a date? Have you experienced this where you’re on a date at a bar and there’s a baby there? Does it like mess with you or is that okay?

Daniel: I’ve never been on a date.

Amanda: *Laughs* Okay.

Daniel: Like, does it kill my vibe?

Amanda: Do you think some single people just don’t want to be faced with this potential future or they don’t like what it represents or is it just like sexiness killer?

Daniel: Yeah, the cycle of life. Personally, I mean, I find that I navigate best in unorthodox environments. I want as much disturbance to go on during my —

Amanda: Big bonus for you.

Daniel: Yeah, I flail when things are status quo. So, if there’s a baby and a parent to interact with, I at least now obviously have listened to this podcast —

Amanda: I’ve got an icebreaker now.

Daniel: And really understanding all this controversy. I feel like I could level with those people and be like, good for you. You know, you’re really showing your baby the world and I appreciate that and you know what, I may end up going home with the family just as friends and leaving the girl behind. Does that answer your question?

Amanda: Yes. Yes, it does.

Daniel: I can’t imagine myself getting upset about this. That’s just because I would adapt. I would act slightly differently, but maybe that’s a problem. Like I would act differently, therefore the thing shouldn’t be there. I don’t know. Remember you told me that there’s a window where you can do anything with the baby because they just sleep?

Amanda: Yes. Yeah, like zero to four months. You could just go out all the time because the baby just sleeps constantly.

Daniel: Yeah. Once they start walking, they immediately pick up on my insecurity and they fuck with me so hard.

Amanda: Yeah. You’re not bringing a walking baby to a bar at night.

Daniel: Maybe this is a larger picture question, but as family norms start to shift and it is no longer that the wife stays home with the child, the places that you see babies are going to start to change, right?

Amanda: Sure. Yeah, I do think some of this does go back to gender, because it’s often going to be the mom bringing the baby to the bar and I think if dads were the ones taking care of kids more, you might’ve seen that sooner or more often.

Daniel: Right.

Amanda: People maybe wouldn’t care as much, but there is this kind of, I don’t know, stereotype of “mommy juice” and moms drinking home alone with the kid once it hits five o’clock, that’s so like weird and depressing, and it’s like, let’s all like be out in the open about what we’re doing and that this is normal.

Daniel: Yeah.

Amanda: Mommy juice.

Daniel: What’s so crazy about this is you were like, we have Take your Kids to Work Day to show people that your coworkers with babies are the same, and that is how family life works. And you’re like, it’s not about letting your babysitter, your daycare take a day off or your babysitter have a day. And I was like, it isn’t?

Amanda: I think when they’re older, it’s also about teaching them what you do all day —

Daniel: What goes on.

Amanda: And blah, blah, blah. But, I think a lot of it is to try to model out like, oh, people have complex and different lives. But yeah, and parents, to Kate’s point, they need a break. They need a drink, let them have it.

Daniel: Right.

Amanda: It’s fine.