the art of the bar conversation.

02 01 20 — Culture
Justin Sisson

And yes, it begins with tact.

For the most part, conversational etiquette is fixed. We open with a greeting, we exit with a farewell, we ask questions and await their answers before chiming in. The particulars are nuanced but the shape is fairly constant — until, it comes to the storied art of approaching strangers at bars. 

Naturally, the SEO hits around this particular search query are enormous. Reddit is littered with questions about bar conversation decorum, housed under the tagline “social skills.” Memes poke fun at our social inadequacies. And, in all fairness, this is merely par for the course: What with The Apps, we have the luxury of guaranteeing that our advances are warranted before we make them. Real-life social cues are far harder to navigate. “Normally, at bars, I just see people in groups, all talking with each other. I don't go talk to them, since they seem busy. If I do see someone alone, it's usually at a completely different part of the bar. Is it normal to get out of my seat, sit near them and talk?” writes one Reddit user. In turn, the responses are multifarious — there seems to be no consensus. 

So, in the interest of your future serendipitous exchanges, we reached out to bar-attendees of varying ages and sexual preferences, scoured the internet, and combed through our DMs, in search of an answer. And much to our chagrin, we didn’t find one. As it turns out, there is no template.

That said, even without a manual, we can all exercise a little more tact. Here’s where to start:

Speak with your mouth, not your hands. This one is self explanatory.

Pay attention to cues. Unless you are Timothée Chalamet in full Little Women period wear, not everyone you approach in a public space will want to engage. Read the room — if you say hello and someone recoils, leave it at that. 

Get comfortable with rejection. Stop panicking about whether or not you should, in fact, approach. The more comfortable you grow with rejection, the easier it will be to say hello to a stranger — and to stand down, promptly, if your advances are unwanted. 

Talk about something. If you want to have a GOOD conversation with a stranger, have something to talk about. Do they have a book with them? Do you know something about the wine they’re drinking? Are you both members of a knitting collective? Find some actual content to discuss. It will always work better than, “how’s your night?”

Make a plan. If you’ve made it though your fair share of pleasurable small talk without setting any fires, make a plan for later. Let it be known that your end game here is not merely sex  — unless, of course, it is, in which case, see #6

Be frank. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with going home with someone you meet at a bar. So, if this is, in fact, your game plan, rules one through four still apply. Then, once you’ve established some sort of flirty (consensual) rapport, pose the whole “let’s go home” thing as a question. Be frank. And be prepared to take no for an answer (that one’s important). 

Remember: You have no obligations (and neither does anyone else). Here’s the thing: Nobody wants to feel a sense of obligation towards a stranger (unless said stranger recently administered CPR after you choked on a martini olive etc etc). If someone buys you a drink, talks to you for X amount of time, offers you their number, the question often arises: What do you owe them? The answer is: Absolutely nothing. Try not to be a jerk, sure, but remember that conversation is sometimes just that: Conversation.