Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Tiny patrons" in the bar -- but not the way you'd think.

Now, this one’s really good.


“The City Life: Guy Walks into a Bar,”

Nicholas Kulish (published in the New York Times on February 5, 2006).

Recently my friend Brandon and I walked along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn looking for a place to watch a football game and to quench our thirst for a cold brew. I pushed open the door and we were headed for a pair of empty stools when we both stopped cold. The bar was packed with under-age patrons.

Some of them stumbled around the pub, others stood on chairs shouting. A few lay back, heads lolling, looking ready to be carried out.

"Stroller derby," Brandon muttered, and we left.

Call me a hard-liner or a party pooper, but I say 21 means 21. No more babies in bars.

Obviously, today's working parents are eager to spend a little quality time with their youngsters, and we're used to seeing small fry everywhere from fancy restaurants to art gallery openings. I've adjusted to the idea that many otherwise reasonable people believe there's no point in paying for a baby sitter on movie night when their toddler can entertain himself by kicking the back of my chair.

But bars? A group of 19-year-olds would be stopped at the door, but no one has the guts to card the really little ones. I blame the law of unintended consequences — in this case, the no-smoking movement. Sure, cigarettes are a public health problem. But the smoky bar filled with unhealthy grown-ups at least felt like a bar. Now, the local gin joints look more like jungle gyms.

It was the bartenders' exposure to secondhand smoke that inspired the tobacco ban. Now their lungs are presumably healthier. But they are saddled with a raft of tiny patrons who never buy drinks. They bring their own bottles. And they never tip.


Indiana state law defines an establishment’s floor plan in terms of family room seating and barroom seating, and any person under the age of 21 is not supposed to be in a barroom, even babies. There exists a vague exception about children dining with parents if no other seating is open, but given the thickness of the state’s alcohol rulebook and the varying interpretations it conceivably affords, it’s better to be literal in most cases.

During my travels in Europe, I’ve watered at bars, cafes and pubs far too many to enumerate, and watched patrons dining and drinking alongside children of all ages and sizes, as well as with dogs, cats and other pets. You’d like to think that such egalitarianism contributes to kids learning the proper way to enjoy alcoholic beverages, i.e., in a family atmosphere, rather than surreptitiously and abusively.

Obviously, parents must be cognizant of their responsibility in such a setting, and also aware that they have an obligation to instruct their children how to behave. Nothing’s worse than an adult food and drink venue being used as a romper room for young children, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

The European approach -- presence and parenting -- is the one that appeals to me, but America’s Puritan legacy often conspires to thwart common sense. That's our loss, both in this and in many other parts of life.

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