How to drink with strangers: bartenders share their tips

By Andrew Dickens

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Most solo travellers will agree that the most awkward time of any trip is the evenings. The galleries are closed, you’ve done 17 laps of the open-top tour bus, there are no more ‘activities’ to occupy you, and you begin to wonder: what would I do if my friends were here?

But this shouldn’t be the case. Evenings are a land of glorious opportunity. It’s when the world comes out and people relax. Horizons are there to be broadened, minds expanded, adventures had. It’s your chance to make new friends. Heck, to make better friends.

drink with strangers

This process will often involve alcohol. It’s the world’s most effective social lubricant. However, it’s also the world’s most impish influence, tempting us into words and actions we might later regret, so if you’re going to mix alcohol with people whose names you barely know, caution is advised.

Which is why we’ve consulted four bartenders from some of the best bars in New Orleans – possibly the most sociable city on Earth to get their advice on supping booze with strangers.

drink with strangers

Our team comprises: Marcela Anderson and Morgan Roberts of the Apple Barrel; Laura Bellucci of Rue Bourbon and Liam Deegan of Barrel Proof.

Here are their words of wisdom:

Get to know your bartender

drink with strangers

Marcela: “Talk to the bartender. They connect people at the bar and they’re a great source of local knowledge. They’ll also watch out for you. You might even become friends with them.”

Liam: ‘The bartender will give you the best advice of where to go and who to talk to. They’re very generous when it comes to recommending other bars and they’ll often give you a name of someone to ask for. In New Orleans we might even give you a drink to take to another bartender. We call that a boomerang.”

Don’t be shy

Morgan: “Follow your gut feeling. If you don’t like the look of a bar – or a bartender – don’t be afraid to turn around and walk right out. There’ll be another bar. When you find one you like, sit at the bar, somewhere near the middle, and order a drink. Don’t be too needy at first. Eavesdrop and wait for a moment where you can relate to what people are saying or interject humour – become part of the conversation.”

Laura: “Put yourself out there. I’ve seen people make great connections and great friends. If you’re with a group, don’t be afraid to break away from it, otherwise you might miss out on some amazing experiences.”

Marcela: “Have no plan. It’s an organic thing. Sit, watch, work out what’s going on, then open up a conversation.”

Avoid clichéd ice-breakers

Marcela: “Don’t ask where people are from or what brought them to wherever you are. Ask ‘in the moment’ things – what’s going on, what beers to drink, have they got any insider tips.”

Laura: “Ask people what they’re drinking. People like to talk about that – it says something about them and what they enjoy and maybe where they’re from. Also, just saying that you’re travelling opens people up. You could ask what’s going on tonight or where’s good to eat or drink. Ask locals about their town – they’ll want to talk about it.”

Liam: “Be genuinely interested in the place. It’s not hard and it will help you make connections.”

Morgan: “Don’t worry about offending anyone or having fun with them. Take risks in a conversation – I hear so many boring ones. If it doesn’t work out, you can move on.”

Don’t overshare

drink with strangers

Laura: “Be careful about how much you reveal. I’ve given my number to people and woken up the next morning regretting it – especially when they’re trying to meet up with you and you don’t want to. My go-to is Facebook.”

Marcela: “Don’t talk about your dog dying or anything like that. If you’re travelling, talk about travelling. If you’re in town for music, talk about that.”

Know your limits

Laura: “It’s not a good idea to slam shots. Low-proof cocktails are the way to go and a great thing to talk about. I usually have a club soda with bitters between drinks – it looks like a cocktail so nobody asks why you’re not drinking.”

Liam: “Don’t get too drunk. If you’re travelling with a group, you don’t want to be ‘that guy’, because it will stick with you for the rest of the trip. They say there’s one in every group and if you don’t know who it is, it’s you.”

Morgan: “Get a buzz and maintain it. At least until you’ve made friends. And go home when people tell you you’re not doing OK. I’ve seen so many people embarrass themselves; men being creeps, married women telling themselves an indiscretion won’t matter. It’s not a good look.”

Play nice

drink with strangers

Liam: “It’s nice to be the first, but everyone needs to get their round in. It’s an important gesture, especially with strangers, wherever you drink. Be polite and don’t be pushy. Treat people how you’d want your brother or sister to be treated.”

Marcela: “Guys need to be careful when buying a girl a drink. Talk to them first and make sure that they want to talk or have a drink. Wait a couple of rounds and buy the bartender one, too, so it feels less targeted.”

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Images: Shutterstock and Flash Pack

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